For as long as I’ve been alive, BMW has been a symbol of the quintessential driver’s car. The Ultimate Driving Machine gave us the successful ‘Eyes Are the Windows to the Soul’ advertising campaign that embodied the essence of emotional attraction to the cars the company produced. The new BMW X3, however, brings that historic advertising tagline into question, with many decrying that the company has ‘lost its way’ since the car was unveiled earlier this week.
The reason BMW was so successful in the past was because the company stuck to a main theme; it had a clear identity, a mission that was conveyed in its design attributes and engineering capabilities. That’s what people bought into (quite literally in my case) when they visited a BMW dealership — cars were flying off the showroom floors and competitors scrambled to imitate the successful BMW formula. But since Chris Bangle, BMW Group’s previous head of design, stepped down, that brand identity has eroded.
There are numerous reasons why — some brilliantly articulated in this recent AutoExtremist article — but the most obvious is that the brand has stretched itself too thin. In wanting to appeal to a broader demographic, BMW has filled its portfolio with products that aren’t nearly as successful as the former, smaller lineup once was. And with the recent announcement that the next 1 Series will adopt a FWD layout, the company’s long-defining dash-to-axle ratio is likely set to diminish, as it has on the failed 2 Series minivan thing.
I don’t doubt that the G01 BMW X3 is a good, reliable product; it’s probably better than its predecessor in every way. What I don’t like is the massive front grille that appears as a caricature of what the brand once stood for; it’s brutish, forward canted demeanor and overwhelming size shouting at passerby as if it were a bullhorn. I’m also not a fan of the hexagonal shaped headlamps that have adorned BMW products for the last several years. What was wrong with the infinitely recognizable circular lighting graphic? Why the need to throw this integral brand identity element out with the baby and the bathwater?
I invite you to read the interview I had with former BMW design director Karim Habib last year, which provides some answers to these questions. It’s well worth a subscription. My only hope is that new design director Jozef Kaban will reinstate some of BMW’s core brand values in forthcoming car designs.
In the main video above, Australian designer Calvin Luk defends the exterior design of the BMW X3, pointing out various elements that aim to move the company’s design direction forward, but I don’t find them convincing or appealing. The only repeating theme I find remotely forward-thinking are the 3D lamps at the rear, which carry the main character line through to the rear of the car and down toward the license plate nook.
Clearly aerodynamic efficiency has played a huge role in the BMW X3’s exterior redesign, with Luk stating a .29Cd he says is “best in class”, but in the quest to achieve that the new car’s design isn’t as aesthetically compelling as some of its rivals. And with so much competition coming in every direction, I’d argue the G01 X3 just doesn’t do enough to move the game on.
The interior, led by designer Florian Sieve, is more progressive, with more embedded technology than ever manifested into the larger (10.2-inch) freestanding screen at the center of the IP and in the (optional) 12.3-inch TFT display ahead of the driver. As an effort to appeal to enthusiasts and retain some brand identity, the center stack is canted slightly towards the driver, and there are some actual buttons to press — hallelujah!
Material quality is likely to be on par with BMW’s current product range, so there’s no issue there, and the company has gone the extra distance to ensure a number of trim levels and optional equipment are on offer to cater to buyers looking to personalize their purchase. This is on trend with recent developments in the car design industry, as is the recessed and configurable ambient lighting.
Perhaps I’m being a little too harsh on BMW and the X3; the car industry is a business after all, and one that needs to adapt to changes in prospective customers’ mindsets and desires. In the case of SUVs, that market is conservative.
The truth is, I’ve never admired the X3 or the X1, which always looked a bit sad. But with the SUV format taking off as it has, there needs to be at least one such vehicle on offer within any given company. That’s abundantly clear when looking at the influx of new vehicles that have recently been unveiled in all worldwide markets — SUVs sell in huge volume and you’ve got to be in the game to win it.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if the new design appeals enough for customers to open their wallets, which remains the most important barometer for any new car design. I won’t be waiting in line to trade my 2006 335 wagon though.