Ahead By A Nose

Let’s go to a stoning…

(c) CNET

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.

(c) motor authority

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.

(c) consumer reports

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

33 thoughts on “Ahead By A Nose”

  1. Is it possible that no one at board level finds this repugnant?
    Or are they so unsure of themselves that they don’t want to risk going against the grain?

  2. Not a fan of how the 4 series looks, but in my opinion it’s different enough from the A5 to get the two mixed up.

    Also I wonder what measure do you use to draw the conclusion that BMW is losing it’s relevance in today’s world? I prefer data over sentiments. and when I look at the sales figures worldwide from 2007 to 2019, you first see a drop in sales with 2009 as a low (less than 1.3 million cars sold. Then sales keep on rising till just over 2.5 million cars in 2019. In truth the growth in sales volume is declining, but that alone isn’t nearly enough to proclaim the brand has lost relevance.

    1. Fair point, but the problem with metrics-based analysis as favoured by McKinsey and their ilk is that you miss the underlying causes.

      Time will tell, but I would suggest that BMW’s sales performance is a legacy of many decades of careful brand management and genuine engineering integrity, now followed by a more recent dash for growth. I think they’ve peaked and are now in a downward spiral which will be very difficult to turn around.

      Interestingly, Mercedes has been hailed as a huge success story over the past decade, but the new management have recently been rather candid about the company’s problems. All that sales growth has been underpinned by attractive finance on A class and C class.

      Similarly, the anecdotal evidence from the UK at least is that you only need to walk through the door of a showroom to be offered a five figure discount on anything 5 series and up. Used BMWs are similarly heavily discounted. This cannot be sustainable.

    2. Freerk’s comment suggests that perhaps I didn’t make myself as clear as I ought. My point was that all mainstream carmakers (BMW included) are losing relevance as the driver-piloted automobile is losing its position in the world, both as symbol and tool of emancipation. And while I would never suggest that the points raised in this or the enclosed article are in any way conclusive, I’m not at all confident that sales figures offer anything but a very one-dimensional view of where any business stands – or falls.


      Richard makes a point about similarities to GM. It has been said more than once that the German carmakers have entered a late ’50s American design idiom, where they are simply attempting to out-do one another in how much ostentation and vulgar frippery they could ladle onto the buying public. Looking at the grille treatment of the 4-Series, it occurred to me that if this isn’t the equivalent to the tailfins on a ’59 Cadillac, it really isn’t very far off.

      I know the argument goes that car design tends to reflect the politics and attitudes of the times, and given that both of those (even before the pandemic) are increasingly characterised by fear, a lurch toward authoritarianism, protectionism and a more inward gaze towards society, we get the car designs we deserve.

      But as the argument for the car is incrementally lost, surely it behoves carmakers to at try to stem the tide? Where is the joy, the exuberance, the pleasure to be derived from something so intentionally repellent, so heedlessly aggressive, in what should be an elegant, indulgent conveyance?

      To be honest, the last thing I wanted to write about was how far BMW have dived into their metaphorical bucket of lard this time. But I didn’t really feel right ignoring it either. And the Life of Brian references were just irresistible. Sorry.

  3. And then we thought Chris Bangle-designed BMWs were bad. Sure, he experimented, but he crucially kept some of the key design features and elements that were recognisably, a BMW.

    The Hofmeister kink and the kidney grille are what are firmly planted in the Munichen company’s DNA. It’s what gave them a clear identity. Thus, BMW become a strong brand.

    To come from this, it looks like BMW are going to have something of an identity crisis. Which could cheapen and damage the brand in the pursuit for sales.

    1. Say what you like about Bangle (personally I think his tenure was a mixed bag), but he knew what he was doing.

      The current team do not.

      This 4 series is an abomination. I don’t need to add anything more about that grille, but the rest of the car is borderline inept. I have no idea what the ‘shaved shadow line’ was or is, but I do not see a simplified less complex shape here – rather, it presents as a discordant mess.

      And why did they get rid of the Hoffmeister kink? I simply cannot understand this at all.

  4. I am happy to leave the detailed critique of this car to the more-than-capable Brains Trust here and focus on a couple of points related to the presentation of this car in the press. Firstly, in the Autocar press release, er, interview, Dukec is quoted as saying:

    “In design, you can’t listen to social media reactions. Design is emotional, and everybody has an opinion and different taste. There’s no right or wrong in design. The criteria for design is to make something unique, something daring.”

    On the first point, at least, he is doubtless correct. As for the rest, I am not so sure. It’s certainly true everyone has an opinion and different tastes. That doesn’t mean they are all equally valid or worth listening to for a man in Dukec’s position. More worryingly, the notion that there is ‘no wrong’ in design is fairly clearly disproved via a quick stroll through the DTW archives and I suspect may explain quite a lot about this car. The next sentence explains the rest: uniqueness and a willingness to be avant-garde may be ONE criterion, but I rather suspect the choice of pronoun employed by Dukec there was not accidental and says rather a lot about BMW’s current design priorities.

    The second point I think is worth raising nonetheless suggests none of this in any way matters. I saw two headlines on this car and both showed evidence that BMW had consulted Trump for advice on intimidation and getting the heavies in to get the press to see things the ‘correct’ way:



    I kid, of course. The press hardly needs incentivisation to tone down their useless drivel so it is acceptable to company PRs. One assumes that ‘bold’ is henceforth Autocar’s substitute for ‘radical’, which they used for a while to describe everything from Clios to Corsas; the only surprise is they haven’t yet found a way to shoehorn in a JLR angle yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

    1. If there is any rule in design, it´s that the product should meet the customer´s or user´s needs. The product should also meet the company´s requirement to (in the long run) produce a return on investment.
      I don´t think that being radical or conservative are principles that stand alone.
      There are some design principles to do with aesthetics that hold for any type of design seen in the round; they work as a set of rules or guidelines though. The problem with very unconventional design is that you can´t immediately tell if it is different-good or different-bad. In architecture there is a tendency for unsettling to be mistaken for good; it´s easy to recognise familiar-good and then reject it, leaving the next available design which might be different-good or different-bad as winning design. You can only tell five years later if the choice was right.
      Motoring journalists seem to have grabbed the most simplistic idea from design and distorted it. Some great designs were radical ergo to be good one must be radical. That´s like asking an orchestra to play a novel symphony every night. Most nights it will sound horrible.

    2. The Jalopnik headline reflects my thought that the non-M sport design is nicer … but that front three quarter view just shows how heavy the car looks aft of the rear edge of the door (and so, therefore, under-wheeled as Christopher rightly observes).

  5. Chris Bangle´s cars got better as he got used to working with the new style and it becamse very good indeed. His 5 is a masterpiece. Another thing was that it was consistently applied. The front and sides were off a piece. The current set of BMWs are like Toyotas. The bodysides are very bland and all the action is at the front.

  6. Ignoring the front and rear treatments for a moment, the rest of the design appears to me to be strangely uncertain and unresolved:

    In particular, the relationship between the sharp bodyside crease between the wheelarches and the weak feature lines that run above the front and rear wheelarches looks very odd to me. The C-pillar treatment is a bit Volvo-ish, but is pretty generic, really. Was it really worth abandoning the Hofmeister kink for this?

    The rear bumper is loaded with the usual horrible design clichés: outboard vertical vents, hexagonal exhaust outlets and the obligatory diffuser. Likewise, the new grille finds itself competing with similar clutter at the front.

    A commenter on Autocar suggested that an aftermarket supplier could clean up by offering less devisive new front (and rear?) mouldings. Maybe, but I’m not sure the rest of the design is interesting enough to warrant the effort.

    1. As many pointed out already, the The 4’s snout acts as an attempt at addressing the blandness of the rest of the car’s design, courtesy of its ‘expressiveness’.

      Daniel, frontal aspect apart, the The 4 (I’ll keep on doing this for a while) very much resembles a shrunken The 8 – which means it also features that car’s careless detail styling, odd stance (both appear chronically underwheeled, despite being based on a supposedly ideal platforms) and careless surfacing.

      When studying the The M8 at last year’s Frankfurt show, a designer friend of mine (who works for a non-‘premium’ brand) commented on the lack of sophistication of the sculpting by simply stating that ‘this wouldn’t have left my studio’.

      Which leads me to Eoin’s statement regarding BMW’s relevance. Others may look up the sales figures and profits, whereas my own perception that about half the Weber-begrilled The 7s I come across in Hamburg seem to be on Munich plates for mysterious reasons may rightfully get dismissed for being arbitrary. But I can say that each and every dyed-in-the-wool BMW enthusiast I know is appalled by the current models – to the extent that they vowed not to buy a new BMW for the foreseeable future. And these are people who grew up being driven around in Bavarian saloons, by fathers who first bought a Neue Klasse and remained loyal customers ever since. Until today. Needless to say, there’ll be plenty of ‘conquest sales’, which may of may not be driven by very favourable leasing rates and the likes. Whether these new customers will remain loyal over the course of two generations is another issue.

      Moreover, BMW design has literally become a laughing stock among the car design community. Adrian van Hooydonk isn’t the kind of ‘divisive’ personality Chris Bangle is, so there’s no J Mays to be seen anywhere who’d publicly attack the horrors devised at Knorrstraße these days. But it doesn’t take a lot to make designers speak their mind, as long as they’re assured they’re not directly quoted – and no, they’re not just being ‘bitchy’, but stunned by a former industry leader losing its standards and its way in such crass fashion.

    2. The car reminds me of the overwrought Olds, Pontiacs and Chevrolets of the 70s. GM had an excuse in that they needed to differentiate their porridge. BMW has one brand in its stable (and Mini). They don´t need this kind of fudge.
      It could be cleaned up with a simpler bodyside, take some details off the bumpers and reduce the monstrous Pontiac grille (and no chamfers on any alternative grille). And it needs the signature H-kink to be made stronger. As it is, this is a European Pontiac.

    3. While I am here, I will ask readers to compare this 4 with the clarity of the Ford Fusion which is a really great example of clear and consistent styling. The bodyside and ends form a unity and it´s very well ordered and resolved.

  7. Well, at least if you bought one, you’d never run short of truffles.

    It does look like a mini 8 Series. I wonder if the front of the 3 Series would bolt on. Probably not.

  8. I agree with Daniel, for me the real issues are along the side and front and rear three quarter elevations of the car.

    There is a very helpful post here: https://uk.motor1.com/news/426603/2021-bmw-4-new-old/ which enables one to directly compare the previous 4 series with the new one – well, at least it helped me to clarify what it is that I don’t like about the new car’s design.

    I don’t like the way the lower edge of the side window-line rises towards where it meets the rear pillar. It looks either slightly bowed or very mildly kinked – like it has either given way under pressure or is about to do so. The extra painted panel area that fills the area it has vacated (compared to the previous model) then adds to the visual weight of the rear three quarters of the car. The corner (where the H-kink should be) now also looks pinched and awkward. It can’t help with rear visibility and comfort for rear passengers either.

    Then, as Daniel states, one has the incoherent confusion of soft and harder edge panel shapes and feature lines. I actually like the way the vent behind the front wheel arch has been done, but everything else jars, and the visual effect of the rear haunch creates a line which at odds with others in view further forward in the panel. It’s like no one actually wandered around the car taking it all in from different angles and perspectives – or maybe they did, but did not care because it least the car had ‘impact’.

    Finally, I think the white, non M Sport car shown looks a lot better than the blue one. The whole nose cone is much simpler, with fewer feature lines and vents surrounding the grille and so, actually, more confidently making more of a feature of the signature that it is clearly designed to be. I agree that it looks like the nose was added to an already matured (if that’s the right word) design as it doesn’t otherwise really fit with the rest of the design.

    1. The nose features no metal parts. As manufacture of plastic components is incredibly flexible these days, I’d actually be surprised if the ‘Domagoj’ nose wasn’t grafted onto the existing (and about three-year old) design as some ‘there’s a new sheriff in town’ statement.

      Domagoj Dukec officially ‘won’ the power struggle against Jozef Kaban a year ago, which would make for a perfectly sufficient timeframe to implement such a change.

    2. Thanks for posting the link to the motor1 website, S.V. The comparison really is a damning indictment of the new model. The old one had nice taut flanks and a strong shoulder line. The new one just looks heavy and flaccid. Such has been the wholesale abandonment of traditional BMW design cues that it looks as though someone set out to build a 4 Series competitor, but wanted to avoid any danger of being sued for copyright infringement!

  9. A friend of mine would say “don’t even ignore”.
    I don’t envy anyone who has to buy something like that.

  10. Does anyone else detect more than a hint of the Garmisch’s hexagon kidneys turned up “to eleven”?

  11. When I see any new BMW now, my senses hear the Fine Young Cannibals song “I’m Not the Man I Used to Be.” Legacy counts for nothing now, it would appear

  12. As soon as the Gandini-signed Garmisch was (majestically) rebuilt and revealed to the public, I foretold that this is the new direction that Munich has elected for its traditionally (in the post-social media & spelling-challenged era, that is…) over-debated front-end language of late.

    Having such a big name behind this entire concept, is, in this era of systematic oversimplification, vulgar generalisation and strategic polarisation, more than enough of a solid foundation, for this new ‘kidneys-are-grille’ look to be fully justified.

    Now, having a certain Designer-in-chief sign off a drastic, serious ‘dimensional upgrade’ of the Gandini-penned (almost coffin-shaped) Garmisch kidneys, is indeed debatable to an extent. There’s almost no resemblance left. If it wasn’t for the social media mentality, I am convinced that Munich would find a way to keep at least one of its archetypal HK and Kidneys-within-grille ‘design identity’ clues. However, the public caning they received for trying to, essentially, design a car to sell (apparently a major sin in the currently overarching mentality), must’ve triggered a resolute decision to start anew. They were probably forced to elect promoting this new visual prose, backed by being inspired from a true Master of the Art – who gave us E12, Stratos, Miura, Countach, BX to name but a few…).

    At the end of the day, it’s the heritage that builds the brand’s visual identity, not its current products’ crop. Any significant turnaround is done thru products which are, ultimately, rejected ‘as being unorthodox’ etc. – a long-term game, if you will.

    As for the car itself, Christopher is totally spot on, I’ve not much to add, except that the 8’s basic shape, when shrunk to a smaller sized Coupe, seems to develop a roofline that bears (a very slight, but unnerving nevertheless) similarity to 350Z and GT86/BRZ, which some would name ‘generic’.

    The three-quarter rear view of the new 4, however, does reveal
    a certain cohesiveness that sweetens the pill somewhat. Also, the shoulder line that stems from the taillight forward, and ends abruptly, ‘shoots’ right onto the top of the rearview mirror, making a very appealing (if somewhat ‘Suprastitious’) effect.
    Such a line is unheard of for a BMW, and speaks volumes
    of the liberties that these new found freedom gives them.

    I strongly oppose those who see the car as underwheeled. It is but an optical illusion, stemming from the absurdly long rear overhang (in absolute terms too, not only as a proportion of the front one), which is the only not-front-end-related ‘major sin’ of the styling of this car. In some colours, that rear overhang will of course be less noticable, and dark-coloured wheels will be an absolute no-no (in the same way an E46 Coupe ‘hates’ big and/or dark wheels, because of its indecently short front overhang – being is a conscious sacrifice of styling to the benefit of dynamic / WD prowess).

  13. Excellent comments that I heartily enjoyed reading.

    In my unsophisticated way, I had already noted before to no response that the 8 series profile was essentially that of the 2015 to present Mustang. A closer examination shows the rest of the Mustang to be far more cleanly designed, and it is available in normal, Flat plane V8, and supercharged styles. It looks the business when you get up close, and when you open the bonnet 5 or 5.2 litres of DOHC Coyote alloy V8 look right back up at you. No excuses. Yours for half the price too and a ride in one is genuinely a bit of a thrill. It chomps at its bit that engine, in any form.

    So the threadbare 4 Series, where a back end not unlike a 2015 Chrysler 300, has been, like a badly designed cardboard model, been allowed to be rammed onto the front cardboard box and badly misaligned upwards as if by an impatient 7 year old. It’s as if the tangs of the front and rear didn’t snap into the right space, some under, some over and then someone fluffed over the mess with body filler. In haste, no less.

    Speaking as we are of the now ugly mug 4 Series, someone else brought up Pontiac, king of body cladding. Pontiac dealers always featured GMC trucks, a re-styled Chevrolet. Well, they still sell a half million or so of these beasts a year, so I can assure everyone that if Pontiac had survived, that funny little furrin car’s new grille would have had nothing on Pontiac 2020:


    Mmm, mmm. Delicious. Nightrider meets the dawn. Now where’s the nearest Micky D, feller? Need me a McLatte and an Egg McMuffin, we’re roughin’ it.

    1. BMW 8 Series vs Mustang? Absolutely no contest: the Mustang leaves it for dead. At less than half the price, the Mustang 5.0L is an absolute blast (I imagine, since I’ve only driven the 2.3L convertible, which had quite enough power for me.) It’s also much better looking than the BMW.

  14. Bill,
    that is a deeply interesting comparison. It does hold water, to a not insignificant extent, that The 8 (more The/s are preferable as a band name) does indeed resemble the Mustang.

    What with The 8 being substantially bigger than a Mustang (Mustangs are rather small for what they appear to be visually), it’s its scaled-down copy,
    The 4, that’s probably aiming to be the first Euro-Muscle car ever.

    This (purely on a styling level) was probably bound to happen, sooner or later. Stuttgart, with their Affalterbach division, essentially did that long ago on an engineering level, mastering the game of a Euro-Muscle (read: Higher-tech, Higher-price) car.

    Marrying the Musclecar product mentality with a premium (exclusive) product
    is essentially risky, as the core appeal of the Musclecar was its relative affordability and social inclusivity.

    The new PCP/finance reality that renders the MSRP/sticker irrelevant,
    probably allowed for this untoward marriage to finally take place.
    (maybe explaining, to an extent, the previously inexplicable length of The 4’s
    rear overhang. Come to think of it, a pronounced rear overhang is actually
    one of the most prominent visual denominators of a Musclecar, is it not?).

    1. The Mustang is more decisively resolved than the 8. I had a look at both and Ford have got a clear, clean and distinctive shape while the 8 looks like it´s seen through the bottom of a glass.

    2. The Mustang’s stance (wheelbase, track width) are also considerably more athletic. Not to mention that its surfacing doesn’t suggest the modellers were sent on unpaid leave well before the sign-off date.

      Generally speaking, many ‘mainstream’ brands seem to be paying rather more attention to these issues than their ‘premium’ counterparts these days. The Ford Focus and Mazda 3 are clearly stylistically far better resolved than the Mercedes A-class or, in particular the BMW The 1 (that’s what they insist it’s called these days, so don’t blame me!).

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