Let’s go to a stoning…
Where Are You Two From, Nose City?
There appears to be a fairly broad consensus (outside the Forschung-und Innovationszentrum at least), that brand-BMW has, from a visual perspective in particular, lost its way. It isn’t today or yesterday that this has occurred and it certainly isn’t as if we haven’t already commented at length upon it, but to suggest that Adrian van Hoydoonk is presiding over a loss of face which brooks no retrieval is these days hardly an exaggeration.
This week we have been able to witness the announcement of only the second generation 4-Series from BMW. The latest Vierer replaces the car which rather akin to Audi’s A5, was spun-off from its saloon counterpart as a stand-alone model. Sitting on the same shared platform as that of the current 3-Series, The 4 (as it will undoubtedly be cast by Bayerische Motoren Werke’s marketers) differs significantly in most of the dimensions that count.
At 4768mm overall, it’s 128mm longer than its predecessor, 41mm of which has gone into the wheelbase. A wider rear track is said to contribute to a 21mm-lower centre of gravity than a 3-Series, and a stated 50:50 weight distribution. Efforts to seal the underbody, combined with airflow management through air flaps and over the body surfaces have resulted in a claimed drag coefficient of 0.25Cd.
Well, he has got a big nose…
Sleeker through the air it may be, but while the new 4-Series is moving through it, we are least spared the full effect of its visage. Because there really is no getting away from the fact that the new 4-Series does have a very big nose. And while this feature has dominated (what else could such an extravagant proboscis do?) most of the reportage on the car’s design, what is perhaps equally striking (much like the recent 8-Series), is the removal of almost all of BMW’s time-honoured styling features.
What this adds up to is something which borders on blandness; there being almost nothing upon which the casual observer, or indeed the Veirzylinder aficionado can hang his M-Sport jacket upon. Indeed, from some angles (not to its face of course!) one could easily mistake it now for an Audi A5, which may or may not have been the intention.
One man who would know about this is Domagoj Dukec, who now heads design for brand-BMW, under the overall leadership of Adrian van Hoydoonk. Dukec told journalists the massive grille is intentional; there to make the 4 Series look “more emotional” and to divert from the reduction of other key design elements. They always say that, don’t they. One never hears a car designer state that their aim was to make the car look ‘less emotional‘. Nevertheless, one cannot deny that he has been successful in this at least, since the 4-Series certainly has already elicited strong opinions.
You’re not so bad yourself, Conkface…
Dukec, who previously headed BMW’s i-division prior to winning the confidence of van Hoydoonk for the main BMW design gig, is believed to have been the creative lynch-pin behind the amplified grille treatment seen on the BMW-i concept cars and forthcoming production models – something he appears to brought with him to his new role. (Whether he has anything else in his goody-bag remains to be seen however). Given that the 4-Series would have been signed off under (predecessor) Karim Habib’s leadership, our DTW sources suggest that the new nose treatment might have been something of a late addition.
Whichever it was, Dukec justified the move, telling Autocar, “Customers pay more for a two-door coupé; it’s not a pragmatic decision, so it needs a more expressive, emotional design. It’s for customers who want to really show off.” A telling comment, one which perhaps crystallises why the concept of suave 2-door coupés is in seemingly terminal decline, with fastback SUVs and saloons increasingly viewed as their spiritual successors.
I’m only telling the truth. You have got a very big nose.
“The kidney is our most prominent design icon,” Dukec added. “We did so many things differently with this car: there’s no horizontal shaven line, no classic Hofmeister kink. With so many things different in the body, we wanted a very special grille.” Oh it’s special alright, Domagoj.
Perhaps what we are witnessing here is a new and rather insecure talent, keen to justify his newly elevated position and place his personal stamp upon the marque. And while it is contractually impossible to discuss BMW design without mentioning the infamous disruptor from Ohio, one could, if one concentrated really hard, see some parallels between both characters. However, on current form, I’m less than convinced that Mr. Dukec will become as much of a household name as one Christopher Edward Bangle – for better or worse.
Meanwhile we are witnessing the completion of a process which has seen BMW becoming untethered from a half century of design heritage, just as it has done with its previously inviolate engineering orthodoxies. In some ways this can be viewed as brave, since so much of the brand’s visual identity has been rooted in a number of seemingly sacrosanct stylistic flourishes, now discarded. But the risk is that without them, what does the BMW customer gravitate to in a world where brand (or at least established car brands like BMW) are losing their relevance?
When Chris Bangle upended the old ways a good twenty years ago, his critics accused him of destroying without any real sense of what to build in its place. Yet the Bangle-helmed cars, regardless of one’s opinion of them (and they were of a distinctly patchy quality) retained a distinct and recognisable BMW identity. His current equivalent is risking more, but perhaps there is less at stake now? Certainly, the current models, ever-more elaborate nose treatments apart, could really be from anywhere; the BMW identity reduced to a couple of telltale graphic flourishes.
Your nose is going to be three foot wide across your face by the time I’ve finished with you!
It’s tempting as well to read into this that BMW, spooked by the sales success of Mercedes-Benz, whose cars, designed along the revered principles of Sensual Purity®, and which have proven highly attractive to premium car customers from Hubei Province to the Hamptons, have felt at a loss, not only for their bitter rival’s marketing tagline (which might explain why we haven’t heard much of Precision and Poetry of late), but for a similarly less defined stylistic palette. Mind you, there’s more of a Determined Performance (CB©) flavour to the Vierer’s angry pair of selfish air-gobbling nostrils.
Domagoj Dukec assures us that in a couple of years we will accept this new aesthetic, but I’m not so sure I share his confidence. Nobody likes to be reminded of their own physical shortcomings, and for those trapped within the confines of a new 4, everyone is going to be looking. Gasps of admiration however, might be in shorter supply.
A convertible and four-door Gran-Coupé will debut later in the year, BMW also announced.