Last week, we all got the bitter taste of the next few years of BMW design with the new BMW M3 sedan and M4 coupe and their huge, aggressively forward, nostril kidney grilles. In the days since, many have attempted to “correct” the look, and now it’s my turn.
I’ve argued in the past that I don’t entirely hate the new beaver kidney grille that first showed up on the new production BMW 4 Series coupe. In white, that car actually looks somewhat elegant with its new nose and very unlike-BMW shoulder line.
I do think there is a good-looking car in there. The inherent shape of the new design language is still muscular, just far less reserved and dare I say, professional. BMW is trying to push away from its design legacy, forge something new and make a lot of noise. And the designers have been very successful.
But that’s not to say we can’t argue that the car can look better. We’ve tried to argue on the site before that maybe it isn’t the grille, maybe it’s the headlights. Or the general attitude. Or this new tone and direction shift for a legacy model. But I was inspired by an Instagram post over the weekend and just couldn’t stop myself from trying something: What if we brought back the BMW eyeliner and also visual bumpers?
My approach is simple. In most of my film photography, I enjoy sharp contrast, bold colors, and I try to focus on composition and blocking with the effect the light of the scene is going to have. My favorite shooting setup is a low-ISO cheap color film like Kodak Pro-Image 100, “pushed” one f-stop to 200 ISO. Pushing just means I take my photos at the “incorrect” light meter settings (underexposed) so that when the film gets developed, the timing is slightly off of the box recommendations and the resulting effect will be darker shadows and more contrast.
That’s the long way of saying I like to fill in visually unpleasant areas with dark swatches of mostly black, because it both looks dramatic and is, in fact, quite a lazy film photography style that doesn’t require too much post-processing outside of the lab I hire to develop the film for me. That’s just the truth of it.
And if you look back at the heritage of BMW design, you see that past designers have implemented color and shape blocking into the fascia of its cars to an undoubtedly iconic status, with the car-wide black headlight grille on some of the most popular BMW models, like the E30 3 Series, E28 5 Series and the E24 6 Series. Those cars surrounded the chrome-lined kidney grille and quad-headlight arrangement with a black band in a similar way to each other.
Since the modern BMW aesthetic still has the kidney grille, and still goes for a quad-headlight unit, at least for the actual internal lamp design, how hard would it be to just add some black color blocking? And does it look any good?
Well my results are rough and sloppy, but if you kind of sit back in your chair to look at them, they sell the idea I’m going for just fine. I think the most effective out of the lot of cars I edited in my bored madness over the weekend is the current BMW M5 with the black bumper “eyeliner” under the headlights.
The goal here was not to go too crazy, and to find a way of taking what BMW currently makes and finding the simplest solution to a dramatic shift of the fascia’s impression. I think to that end, I have successfully created a “new” identity for the cars, whether or not we like it any better than what we’ve currently got.
The black detailing added in the lower intake on the M5 helps emphasize the red “bumper” line above it, which when weighed down with the return of an E28-style eyeliner around the lights and grille produces a very sharp line across the car. That makes it look both less weighty from the front, and lower and wider.
Same with on the current 7 Series (with a grille swap, too, sorry):
Now that I’ve put some images in your head, I should say I don’t actually mind the new BMW M4 in its debut yellow paint scheme. If I stare at it long enough (which you end up doing in Photoshop), I accept it as a very aggressive, pronounced face that makes the intended impact and looks pretty good in a racing application.
I can see a good car design in there. We just need to figure out how to get it back out. Do you have any ideas?