Oscar Wilde once famously said that “fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months”. That was adopted lock, stock, and lots of smoking dresses by the fashion industry – and, with greater intervals between those changes, the automotive one as well.
For what, exactly, is a car? A means of transportation, yes – but if it were just that, then we’d all be driving around in square boxes on four wheels that would get us from point A to point B. No, cars are much, much more than mere transportation. They are about freedom; not merely of mobility, but also expressing (or is it projecting?) ourselves, and that’s the reason automakers employ armies of designers who pay meticulous attention to every detail.
At the ongoing Frankfurt Motor Show, BMW caused a ruckus with its 4-Series Concept which, by and large, previews its next compact (luxury) sports coupe. And the main point of criticism by everyone, including us, is that unmissable, huge, twin gaping grille; the rest of the car seems well proportioned, taut and quite elegant.
Now, why did BMW choose to put this monster of a nose on an otherwise fine shape? Lots and lots of reasons. First, the industry has, apparently, decided that the bigger the grille, the better. The examples are too many to list here, but almost everyone, from Bentley and Lexus to Chinese EV startups, have fallen for that trend.
Then, there’s BMW itself. Very recently, it put ginormous grilles on both the X7 and the revamped 7-Series (in the former it kinda works, in the latter it grates as it’s obviously an afterthought). Yet, the truth is that the automaker had set its course way back, only we didn’t take that much of a notice at the time.
In May 2011 (that’s a whole eight years ago), BMW revealed the 328 Homage Concept at the Villa d’Este event in Italy as a celebration of the original car’s 75th birthday. One look at it and it’s obvious that it was never going to make it into production, yet if you pay attention, you might notice its grille. And, wouldn’t you know it, although it is somewhat smaller in dimensions, bears a resemblance to that of the 4-Series Concept.
Nowhere near as strong as the one on the 3.0 CSL Hommage R Concept that was released four years later, though. That, too, was paying a tribute to another iconic Bimmer of the past and. like the 328, was only ever meant as a study. Still, its grille and front apron are even more similar in appearance to those on the upcoming 4-Series. And that, surely, is no coincidence.
See, major automakers put their plans together long before the public, or journalists, can get the slightest hint of what they intend to come up with in the future. If, like BMW, they happen to be premium brands, they are in a position where they can dictate the next trend, and both customers and rivals will fall in line. That’s the way this line of business works, and although no one is immune to mistakes (Range Rover Evoque Convertible, anyone?), it’s the companies that set the tone.
That being said, we’re still not sure we like the 4-Series grille. We can, however, see where they’re coming from, and give them credit for doing something new instead of playing it safe and just rehashing the same styling theme over and over again. And to do so, they also looked in their own heritage and models such as the original 328, among others, that had long, vertical kidneys, although (obviously) they have been re-interpreted for the 21st century.
In the end, customers vote with their wallets and, like we said, no one is infallible. Something tells us that people will soon get used to it, the 4-Series will sell like hot cakes, and the competition will follow Munich’s paradigm. They’ve done it before, too: remember the Chris Bangle-era Bimmers?
So, to finish up with yet another famous quote, this time by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, albeit somewhat changed to suit the occasion: first they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you laugh your way all the way to the bank. Which, in all likelihood, is what’s going to happen in BMW’s case.