When BMW bought Rover group in 1994, it got the Land Rover brand which had rapidly expanded the SUV market in the 1980s. To keep the trend alive, BMW took what tech it could from Land Rover, and with a two-hour sketch, produced its own SUV—the BMW X5.
I knew BMW pretty much only nabbed Rover for the SUV market, or at least that seems to be the most significant product of the arrangement. I didn’t know it was designed in just two hours, under pressure from head of BMW design at the time, Chris Bangle, by designer Frank Stephenson.
In his latest video, Stephenson describes the rushed development of the X5, being instructed to have a full design prototype in just six months—a rapidly slashed schedule from what was normal. On the way to a meeting with three members of the team who would develop the X5, Stephenson was given just the duration of the flight to give something to present to them:
It turned out the workers he was meeting were all involved in the development of the Lamborghini Miura. Stephenson says it was like meeting Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Rembrandt.
The X5 design was “from ground zero,” essentially having to start from scratch. Stephenson claims he wanted more elegance than off-road influence in its design, while maintaining core BMW elements like the Hofmeister kink in the SUV’s D-pillar.
The time crunch didn’t end up so bad due to what he says is the importance of the sketching process in design. “You’re developing as your sketching it. That’s what the sketching phase is all about. It’s a path of discovery, and you’re searching for a solution. Find a path you like and refine that idea.”
Now, is the X5 the next Miura? I think history has already judged it to not be a strong candidate. And while I never called it pretty, I’ve always had an interest in the first-gen X5 design. I’ve always struggled with the word to describe it, but it’s like a modern industrialism that bled through all of BMW’s cars at the time.
If you don’t like BMW design language today, I can’t help but wonder if this two-hour flight was the beginning of the end for BMW design, considering the modern importance and weight of SUVs?