Some car designs either mature with age or wait for the beholder’s eye to mature. The second-generation BMW Einser is an example of this phenomenon.
The passage of time can have peculiar side effects, in that both one’s own tastes tend to change, just as changing context can significantly alter one’s perception and hence opinion.
In automotive terms, for example, my (much) younger self was left unreservedly enchanted by the Rover 75 upon its unveiling. The attention to detail of its styling, as well as the obvious nods to historic British car designs completely won me over; to me, the 75 was everything the Jaguar S-type most equivocally was not.
Two decades later, the Jaguar remains no caterpillar-turned-butterfly, but the Rover has lost quite a lot of its charm. The care and attention to detail that went into its design remain as obvious as they were back in 1998, but the entire concept of a twee retro saloon so unashamedly attempting to evoke a nostalgic allure does appear a bit silly from today’s perspective – or at least to a set of eyes that has received twenty more years of visual education.
However, the opposite can occur just as easily, and doesn’t necessarily require the passing of decades to take place. For this is what has happened to me recently, when I took the time to study the second-generation BMW 1 series with that metaphorical set of fresh eyes.
Back in the day (or, more specifically: eight years ago), I wasn’t immediately enamoured. This Einser wasn’t as striking as its predecessor, nor was it a classical beauty. Its RWD proportions remained interesting in a category of motor car that was very homogenous in that regard (and is even more so now), and the F20 generation did immediately appear as though it spent quite a bit more time at the clay modellers than its dramatic, yet somewhat coarse predecessor.
What I did catch immediately was the intricate connection of rear and front lights (both of which are pointed inwards) and the rather neat, arrow-shaped side crease – the latter of which was later shared with the very pleasant 4 series coupé that also happens to be credited to former BMW exterior designer, Nicolas Huet. But in total, this second One seemed to be rather less than the sum of its parts.
A first cause to reconsider my stance presented itself once the Einser received its facelift. In that process, it gained rather more ordinary, decidedly horizontal light units front and rear. While the less squinty front and more planted rear did make the car appear more broadly palatable, they also made for far less consistent and less delicate an appearance than before. But only recently did the quality of the F20’s design truly strike me.
Even to those of us open to Chris Bangle’s BMW oeuvre, there’s no escaping the realisation that it’s mostly defined by broad brushstrokes than intricate delicacy. The F20 makes for a particularly interesting case in that it combines Bangleesque peculiarity with unusual attention to detail, and even a certain subtlety.
A particularly colour-sensitive design, the F20’s best comes to the fore in tones like gunmetal grey or light metallic blue. Then the sculpting of the front becomes apparent, where a slash above the headlights somewhat distracts from the subtle, arrow-shaped sculpting next to the kidney grille. This is picked up by the three-dimensional slats in the grille – a feature that has been incorporated in most recent BMW designs, albeit in offensively poorly executed form.
Only very rarely does a front end design offer more than one ‘layer’ of graphics, but in the F20’s case, the sculpting adds an unusual subtlety to the design – despite the simplicity of the arrow theme. Maybe the esteemed Mr Herriott, should he not totally disagree with my findings here, might take it upon himself to explain this in detail at some stage.
The side is defined by fine craftsmanship. As with the (also Huet-designed) 4 series, the wheel arches are subtly accentuated. There’s a concave stretch of metal on the flanks, below the BMW ‘character line’, that is clearly set apart from the rear wheel arch (again à la 4 series) and only very few lines and creases apart from this.
At the rear, the pointed shape of the light units pays tribute to the front-end design, with the ‘arrowhead’ again being continued by sheetmetal sculpting, on the boot lid in this instance. As a consequence, this Einser lacks the L-shape rear lights that have become a key BMW styling feature, although a very subtle reference to the Neue Klasse and some ’02 models’ rear lights could be read into this shape, if one was hellbent on doing so.
While the F20 Einser may not be a BMW design for the ages, I thoroughly enjoyed giving the car another chance. Firstly because of the fine, if not glaringly obvious craftsmanship the design betrays, but also because it proved to me that any aesthetic judgement is only final until the next opportunity to examine an object presents itself.
Clearly, any piece of design created with care – as has been the case here – deserves attention. Or at least a second chance.