The all-new 2021 BMW M3 Sedan and M4 Coupe are packed with performance technology, including optional all-wheel drive and a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine. With up to 503 horsepower in Competition specification, it promises to be devastatingly effective on road and track.
Yet all that progress is likely to be overshadowed by that enormous front grille. The elongated kidney design is said to be needed to supply the upgraded engine with cooling air. It manages to overshadow the rest of the styling efforts, that not even dramatic new paint colours like Sao Paolo Yellow can distract from.
Justifying it, Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design, argued it makes for a design that is “resoundingly function-driven, pure and reduced without compromise”.
What makes the BMW M1 design controversial is not the finished product, an impressive mid-engined sports car, but the story behind it. BMW had planned to compete against Porsche in Group 5 racing, and reached an agreement with Lamborghini to design and build a homologation special.
Worried as to whether Lamborghini could complete the project, BMW took things back in-house. Giugiaro was responsible for the wedge-shaped machine, with initial assembly taking place in Turin, Italy by a group of former Lamborghini employees at Ital Design.
Another company, Baur, was then responsible for fitting the BMW-supplied engines, before BMW’s motorsport department made final checks. This convoluted process meant BMW missed the chance to compete in Group 5 racing, and instead created the M1 Procar.
Penned by Dutch designer Harm Lagaay, the BMW Z1 looked like nothing else offered by the Bavarian company in the late 1980s. What made it more incredible was the plastic body panels were non-structural, meaning they could be completely replaced in under an hour.
For most of the 1990s, BMW concentrated on its core sedan models, with only the Z3 Roadster standing out from the range. By 1998, a team of BMW engineers had decided that the Z3 needed a coupe version, and set to work creating their own prototype. The end result was the Z3 Coupe, which made use of an unusual shooting brake design.
BMW’s management were said to have been reluctant to produce the coupe model, but finally relented. Perhaps proving BMW’s cautiousness right, buyers were wary of the unconventional styling and the Z3 Coupe remained a slow seller. Today, M Coupe versions have become collectible due to their limited numbers.
BMW’s 3 Series Compact range, featuring a truncated rear end with a hatchback design, had first been introduced in 1993. By 2000 the model moved to the new E46 chassis platform, and gained a more rounded design. What stood out most where the piercing round headlights, separated by overlapping hood elements.
Brave is possibly the kindest word used to describe the X-Coupe Concept when it appeared at the 2001 Detroit Auto Show. A crossover coupe riding on the platform from an X5, the X-Coupe was powered by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine, and featured all-wheel drive.
Chris Bangle was responsible for the dramatic ‘flame surfacing’ used on the aluminum body. This would become his trademark during his tenure at BMW, and set the scene for many of the cars which follow later on this list. It may have signalled that BMW’s future lay with crossover models, but at least the front grille was relatively small.
Sir Mixalot might have been a fan of the new 7 Series launched in 2001, although many others were put off by the sight of that big butt. The design was completed under the direction of Chris Bangle, and led to the enlarged trunk being ridiculed by outraged BMW fans.
Compared to the previous 7 Series, the E65 was radically different. Along with the challenging styling, it also became the first BMW to feature the iDrive system to control car settings and infotainment. Critics branded iDrive as complicated and unitutive, with the single rotary dial hard to master.
A later facelift attempted to fix some of the more divisive styling elements, but could never truly change the car beneath. Even viewed today, the looks of the E65 are still polarising.
The previous-generation E39 BMW 5 Series had been lauded as possibly the greatest executive car ever made. Buyers loved it, from the driving dynamics to the handsome but understated styling.
Yet looking at the E60 now, perhaps we were too hard on Chris Bangle. It still looks modern and, compared to recent designs, manages to appear almost delicate and precise. We’re sorry, Chris.
Launched in 2009, the 5 Series Gran Turismo was a five-door fastback version of BMW’s popular executive model. Bigger than the regular sedan version, the Gran Turismo offered more space and practicality. In essence, the 5 Series Gran Turismo was aimed at customers who didn’t want to commit to a 5 Series Touring wagon.
Ignore the styling for a moment, and concentrate on the fact that the 2 Series Active Tourer was the first front-wheel drive vehicle sold by BMW. Instead of being given a bespoke platform, the Active Tourer shares its underpinnings with the Mini Countryman crossover.
Intended to replace the unloved 3 Series Gran Turismo, the 2 Series Gran Coupe is aimed at rivalling the Mercedes-Benz CLA. It is based on the same platform as the new 1 Series, meaning there is no rear-wheel drive action here.
This content was originally published here.