Chris Bangle may have moved on from BMW (and the automotive industry altogether) but he leaves behind an incredible design legacy at the Bavarian manufacturer. To endure the venomous criticism and general distain from the automotive press and designers alike, it is testament to Bangle’s strength of character and conviction to his design philosophy that he didn’t move on earlier.
Credit also goes to the BMW Board for their staunch backing for the Chief of Design as they were adamant the brand should project a forward-thinking personality rather than take a softer evolutionary approach (take note VW and Audi).
Bangle’s first controversial design emerged with the 7 Series, displaying ‘flame surfacing’, concave panels with intersecting lines and the stepped boot lid that was later to appear on the 5 and 6 series. Today, the entire BMW range conveys the same design language but things are about to move on with the appearance of the ‘Vision Efficient Dynamics’ concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show and the introduction of ‘layered surfacing’.
This vehicle is the first to arrive under the stewardship of new Design Chief Adrian van Hooydonk and takes the current Efficient Dynamics technology employed across the BMW range to a whole new level, showcasing lightweight body construction, advanced diesel-electric hybrid-drive technology and innovative aerodynamic shape and form.
An all-new 163bhp 1.5 litre three-cylinder diesel powerplant works in partnership with two electric motors, driving the front and rear wheels, supplying an M3-rivaling 0-60 sprint of only 4.8 seconds. The environmental impact of all this? A mere 99g/km CO2 output and a combined fuel consumption figure of 75.1mpg!
All the swoops and layered surfaces (hence the new design term) may make this concept look as if it has come out of termite’s lunch box, but every detail is there for a practical purpose. From nose to tail, the bodywork channels air over and through the car eliminating the need for spoilers protruding beyond the silhouette, reducing drag and maximising fuel efficiency.
The new layered surfacing extends to the inside, where the dashboard mimics the exterior to dramatic effect, hopefully a sign of interiors to come. Speaking of which, the next phase of BMW’s production vehicles has begun. The 7 series was the first model to reveal the new softer approach, taking a less angular design theme and throwing in the larger grille, shark-nose and sculptural rear lighting units.
Continuing this theme, I attended the UK launch of the all new 5 Series GT this week at the Roundhouse, Camden. The ‘Modern Spirits’ event, in partnership with The Telegraph asked “when was the last time you experienced something for the first time?” This was my first experience of the next generation cars and I’m impressed. Interior detailing (including the enormous 10 inch central display with superb on-screen graphics) is now class-leading, rather than playing catch-up with Audi.
Tony Hawks (writer/comedian, not the skateboarder) hosted the evening in a chat show format, talking with four successful individuals including Tori James, the youngest female British climber to conquer Everest and Steve Sidwell, the composer and conductor responsible for the ‘human orchestra’ featured in the Honda TV ad with a choir making up the entire automotive soundtrack.
Talented BMW designer Christopher Weil, responsible for the GT’s exterior, described the design studio’s competitive nature to me. When a new model hits the drawing board, with a group of up to 20 designers championing their personal concepts, the BMW board are responsible for making the final decision, choosing one to make it to production. This is where the teamwork begins, with responsibilities across external and internal designs, materials, engineering and colour. The GT team has managed to develop a harmonious product, though I’m sure the design will provoke the usual raft of detractors for being ‘different’. I’d call it character.
Last year, the M1 concept heralded the final flame-surfaced Bangle signature car. This bright orange homage to the original Giugiaro-penned M1 would have made a fabulous flagship supercar to rival Audi’s R8 but never made it past the concept stage – ah well, you can’t win ‘em all.
I feel confident that van Hooydonk’s Vision concept shows he has the talent and design team to keep BMW ahead of the game. The Bavarian giant’s creative future is in safe hands.