The Crowe Interpretation

Don’t like our new design? Whatever…

Actually, I’m afraid that it is. Image:

Ten years have elapsed since actor, Russell Crowe was carrying out his contractual media duties on BBC’s Radio 4 to promote Ridley Scott’s feature film adaptation of Robin Hood. The notoriously thin-skinned Australian leading man, when challenged by the broadcaster’s Arts Correspondent, Dominic Lawson about the somewhat wonky Yorkshire accent in his portrayal of the folk hero (which critics characterised as sounding more akin to Irish), replied with the following immortal line; “You’ve got dead ears mate. You’ve seriously got dead ears if you think that’s an Irish accent.

When Lawson then equivocated, suggesting there were perhaps, “Hints of …“, Crowe immediately countered with, “Bollocks! I’m a little dumbfounded you could possibly find any Irish in that character. That’s kind of ridiculous… It’s your show. Whatever.” Attempting to remedy the situation, Lawson then suggested, “You’re going for northern English?“, only for Crowe to sneer: “No, I was going for an Italian, yeah. Missed it?

Petulant? Absolutely. Graceless? Some might argue that a lack of grace is Mr. Crowe’s stock in trade (I couldn’t possibly comment). But nonetheless, the interview, which promptly went global did wonders for box office takings of a movie widely considered being at best, mediocre; illustrating, as if we needed reminding, that all publicity is good publicity.

A matter which doesn’t appear to have been lost on BMW’s PR department following the recent (rather bruising) debut of their near-production iX electric crossover. Regular readers might ask how we could possibly have missed reporting on this latest confection from the van Hoydoonk dream factory, but frankly, I rather felt at the time that the sorry looking device was beneath our (although sadly not their) dignity, and I have yet to alter that view. Hence it rather pains me to be talking about it today, but I do feel that there is at least one aspect of this announcement that is worthy of comment.

To say the BMW iX’s exterior styling has been poorly received is something of an understatement. Coming swiftly on the heels of the howls of dismay issued forth from aficionados of the Vierzylinder in the wake of more recent product actions, the much ballyhooed iX, the near-production version of the 2018 i-Next concept, no matter how vehemently BMW might wish to convince us otherwise, is a rather poor show.

But rather than take the widespread criticism on the chin, BMW’s PR have gone on the offensive, countering social media critics, virtually one by one, and to all intents and purposes, giving it the full Russell Crowe treatment. In a short promotional spot for the car, BMW employ allegedly verbatim social media criticism of the design as a means of meeting their critics head-on, flagging up statements like “Let me unsee this“, or “Go back to making BMWs

Meanwhile an earnest male voiceover enquires, “Did we somehow start to feel uncomfortable with the unknown … or have we stopped being open for anything new?“, before prattling on about comfort zones, simplicity and self awareness, (I lost concentration at this point, so I may have become confused) before offering up the clincher: “What’s your reason not to change?” Or to put it another way, it’s not our fault you don’t like it Grandad, it’s yours.

Meanwhile of course, what everyone (BMW included) is getting worked up about is that Grille (it isn’t really a grille, but anyway); BMW because it realises it has a job on its hands to convince the enthusiast base to accept it, and everyone else because, well, they have eyes (even dead ones). But let’s be honest, that grille is something of a McGuffin here. The real issue is that the iX is basically a rather undistinguished, carelessly proportioned and detailed electric crossover with a good deal of applied garnish, masquerading as something new, progressive – daring even. But it’s nothing of the sort, and what’s more, you don’t need dead eyes to recognise that.

But in a similar same way as the media furore over Mr. Crowe’s wayward Yorkshish accent overshadowed the fact that Mr. Scott’s movie wasn’t all that great, perhaps the hysteria over the iX (and that nose) has redirected our gaze, away from the broader, less comfortable truths about BMW’s current design capabilities – or indeed its communication strategy. For if the iX grille can be read as Russell’s interpretation, both overall design and messaging stand as metaphors for the movie itself. Simply second rate.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

28 thoughts on “The Crowe Interpretation”

  1. Good morning Eóin. BMW’s aggressive and confrontational approach to marketing the new iX is extraordinary. The company’s own website describes the new model as a “monolithic presence” and “nothing short of courageous”. The kidney grille is described rather disingenuously as “modernised”.

    I wonder if the marketing approach was premeditated, or a reaction to the almost universally hostile reception the iX has received? Not being a user of social media, the Twitterstorm has gone completely over my head, thankfully.

    You have been very mindful of the aesthetic sensibilities of DTW’s readership by not publishing any revealing photos of the new iX in your piece. I am not so considerate. Those of a sensitive disposition should not scroll down any further…
    Still here? You have been warned:

    Despite all BMW’s “first ever” talk, I think the underlying shape is pretty generic. They have even done the same thing with the C-pillar that I complained about a few days ago as a new design trope popping up just about everywhere. I see little that’s courageous or forward thinking here, just a lot of dissonant and poorly resolved details on a bland shape.

    Inside, you get a “hexagonal” steering wheel:

    1. Oh my…

      If they only had chosen at least another solution for the A-pillar in order to let the roof, which is separated from the base at the C-pillar, floating – maybe even in a different colour (if that wouldn’t be too much of yesterday for those Munich´pals who are striving towards the future).

      And as a reconfirmed non-customer of BMW I can only say: it’s not my fault I don’t like it Boy, it’s yours!

    2. Thanks for showing the images Daniel – very brave of you! I have owned two BMW’s and liked them both very much. Unfortunately they seem to have lost the plot completely. A hexagonal steering wheel and that front end seem to lack any “design” content whatsoever. What a shame.

  2. Well, well, the iX would appear to be a poor knock-off copy of the Nio ES8, a Chinese crossover EV that’s been on the market since 2018:

    Not quite so revolutionary then, Mr van Hoydoonk?

    1. Really, Daniel?

      The Nio has a great stance and tight surfacing. Even the blue accents work well on this car.

    2. Hi Sean. Yes, that’s what I mean: the Nio is a much better effort than the woeful iX. Here are some more photos:

      Not entirely sold on the front end, but it’s still better than the iX.

  3. It’s all Thatcher’s fault – again. When BMW managed to haul itself back from the brink of bankruptcy it did so with some attractive, even elegant, vehicles which were really rather good. Particularly the 02 series. But by the time the E21 3-series was on the road it was unfortunately adopted by the ‘yuppie’ generation (before they turned their attentions elsewhere and ruined the image of 911s). Downhill all the way ever since as BMW has raked in the money from those with far too much of it but little evidence of any taste. I detect nothing now but cynicism and arrogance in the brand and its promotion. If anything represents the ’80s incarnate in the 21st century it is a BMW – more’s the pity.
    I owned one once – a 2-door 320i (E21). It was about 4 years old and it filled a slot between SAAB 900s (I’d buy them at 3 yrs old and sell at 5) and I thought it might make an interesting comparison. It did. A great driver’s car but the build quality wasn’t a patch on the SAABs and I quickly found that every other driver on the road wanted to pick a fight with me. I soon found another 900 and the BMW went.

  4. Wotta start to a Saturday; Russell Crowe, profanity and opinions- and then this shameless hulk. Eoin’s words almost made me spill my cuppa; Daniel’s pictures did. I did give a weak smile to the steering wheel as it brought about memories of the tv quiz show Blockbusters hosted by Bob Holness. “I’ll take a B please, Bob. That’s B for Bleedin’ awful.”

    And are BMW playing the Chinese at their own game? All the NiO effort requires is a propeller badge, and that grille…nurse, a fresh mop and bucket here, at the double

  5. I was curious to see what one would be left with if the controversial details of the exterior design were stripped away. Here are the original and a modified version without the broken D-pillar and blue lipstick, and with conventional wheel arch eyebrows rather than the large squared-off creases:

    What is underneath is a wholly unremarkable (if not unpleasant) profile. Is BMW’s design “revolution” is little more than the weird and dissonant detailing on a generic crossover design?

    1. Thank you, Daniel. Now one can see, that BMW ist just nothing without heavy MakeUp.

  6. Not so much applied garnish as applied Garmisch, the flared nostrils- because that’s what the kidneys have become*- and hexagonal bits are a cackhanded homage to Gandini’s unjustly revered concept BMW from 1970. What a load of PR twaddle about innovation and newness, it’s just raiding the corporate dressing up box. The X5 was a good looker and is about 20 years old now, is it too young for them to do a retro homage to the X5?

    If Mynheer van Hooydonk wants a real challenge perhaps he could start by getting the basics right, like a dashboard that won’t get reflected in the front windscreen. A tip, don’t make it shiny brown.

    Nice tail lights though, are they available on their own?

    *Rutting bison or Kenneth Williams?

  7. Is this a local BMW? We’ll have no shouting, here!

    There’s an interesting, if diplomatically positive, review of the concept’s design versus the production model, here:

    The proportions are way off.

    In other news, I fear we’re in for a heavy-handed treat with the next seven series…

    1. I know some of the iX’s design features are too generic to be pinned down to a single source of inspiration, but the bootlid reminds me too much of a 2013 C4 Picasso (and many a DS afterwards); the square wheel arches of a 2012 Fiat Panda. The side view, especially seen after Daniel’s chintz-filtering, prompts the question as to whether X1 panels were repurposed for the iX.

      Regarding BMW taking exception to criticism: it’s stunning that they chose to pit a supposedly landmark product against social media comments. While social media output may be a free, if approximative gauge of potential customers’ reactions, a confident marketing approach would have turned the focus away from the design issue, not engaged in mud wrestling about it.

  8. Spot on. The grille really is the least of this car’s problems. Or, perhaps, it is symbolic of the myriad ways in which BMW’s design department has lost its way.

    The rumour is that this iX will be priced as a premium flagship, too… I have no idea what price point that equates to, but they have resolutely failed in making something look aspirational or desirable. What a mess.

  9. I think it’s just a normal SUV with an electric powertrain shoved in; the wacky detailing is there to distract from the fact.

    BMW presumably love all the media hoo-ha, as it gives the impression that it’s something special and radical. The vehicle’s basic combustion engine proportions tell a very different story.

    Fingers were burned with the i3 and i8, I guess. Shame.

  10. It´s just irritating more than anything. Two closed loops are mathematically, topologically, profoundly different than a single closed loop. What BMW´s design team have done is not simplify a shape but fundamentally change it.
    Consider the evolution of WWF´s panda or Shell´s shell. The essence of the thing remains and is clearer as a result. The panda does not become a polar bear and the shell does not become a circle.
    By removing the vertical bar two closed loops become a single loop and that is the basic shape everyone else works with; most companies are stuck with rectangles and some have triangle and nobody´s ever succeeded with a circle. BMW have chucked away a unique bit of design real estate.
    The rest of the car is a mess of the useless and the seen-before. We don´t like it because it´s not very good. It is not in the same league as Bangle´s 5 which was also challenging. It was however, a carefully considered challenge to convention. This car isn´t.

    1. Car magazine’s article suggests that BMW are going with large squares, next. I’ll see if I can find a picture.

    2. I hope it isn’t something along these lines:

      It reminds me of a tree sloth.

    3. The 7 series shown there is heading off in the direction of Lincoln or Pontiac or some kind of imagined Lancia shield. The little residual stub does not suggest the old two-loop grille. It´s a stub. I want to write an expletive.

    1. I’m not sure about boring, Eduardo. Each time a new BMW appears nowadays, I think, ‘that’s it, they absolutely cannot go any lower into the barrel than this’, Yet each time they confound my expectations and find another substrata of awful. BMW appear to be in some kind of mad race to the bottom in stylistic terms. A race in which only they appear to be serious about winning. It’s almost as though van Hoydoonk has failed to notice that his opposite number at Mercedes has altered tack and is no longer playing in that particular sandpit. In some respects, I would contend that BMW the very opposite of boring, but I think we can agree that whatever it is they actually are, it certainly isn’t edifying.

      I think all legacy carmakers, to a greater or lesser extent are facing a crisis of identity. BMW however, seems to be suffering more than most – not just from an identity crisis, but a crisis of faith. I genuinely get a sense of a car company that is becoming untethered from its sense of self. Something has gone truly, madly, deeply wrong at the Vierzylinder, and a change of CEO hasn’t shown any signs of arresting it.

    2. Eóin, you hit the nail on the head. I fully agree with your reply.

      When I said boring, it was more like “oh geez, here’s another car I’ll not be interested in”.

      Be it for the hideous, overdone design crowned by the new front grille, the ginormous lineup of overlapping vehicles or anything else, any new BMW is boring because it fails to deliver what we loved so much in the Bavarian offerings of the 1980s and 1990s.

      I don’t know whether the Vierzylinder management is concerned about the identity crisis, as their sales numbers seem to be strong. But if I were looking for an upmarket car, I would be far from any BMW dealer…

  11. The issue I have with ‘the grille’ (on this and the 4) is their total disregard for the license plate it must have. It looks like they designed it then realised had forgotten and got the intern to screw it on the front.
    Alfa managed to do a deep grille and side mount the plate without a problem, why didn’t BMW?

  12. There’s certainly something of the Allegro about this thing. The low belt line, the puffiness, the beige, the wheel arches, the squared off steering wheel, even the door handles seem an elongated version of the Leyland classic. Could be the beginning of the end for BMW.


    1. I hope that Harris Mann does not read your cruel words.

  13. I can recall reading a preview of the new for ’84 Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz siblings in Car & Driver, sometime in the summer of 1983. The author of the piece, whose name escapes me, remarked upon viewing the Ford twins that ‘the future might not appeal to me as much as I thought it would’. That quote immediately sprang to mind upon the unveiling of the iX. Yet another grotesque and frankly amateurish BMW, yet another major wasted opportunity, and another glaring symptom of the general German design crisis. When will it end?

  14. If cars’ front-end designs have traditionally been antropomorphic, is it a pure coincidence that most 2019 / 2020 designs display a certain large, squared-off dark shape amidst the front-end (sometimes referred
    to as grille) – which, sized & shaped the way it is, seems to actually reminisce a human wearing a face-mask? Just look at the Yaris GR, or the 2021 Subaru BRZ, for instance.

    As to the iX, one might explain it as being intentionally twisted, to make the EV-novelty less appealing in automotive terms, perhaps aiming to thus nurture two distinctly separate, antagonistic target buyers’ groups (amidst all the uncertainty, I’m afraid one might agree that it is not an especially unwise strategy).
    The visual basics of the iX (when viewed in its ‘de-chintzed’ iteration, as in Daniel’s rendering) seem to rely strongly on anti-styling, in the way
    the original iPhone played the card of honestly shrugging off
    styling for the sake of unclutterred, clean, geometrically disciplined
    surfaces. It is very clear, though, it does not work even when looked through such an exceptional set of expectations. But it still might ‘talk’ to a certain new breed of braincleansed individuals (a.k.a. Homo Appiens), whose archetypal character tends to worship discipline – as an antidot to culture, and gladly swallows the new notional normality of ‘toxic positivity’ and such.

    Come to think of it, the social mediocrity that social media seems to breed, could soon lead to a market situation when, on this particular car in question, cultivated industry analysts might even be in for
    a spectacular surprise .

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