Evolution Of The Kidney Grille

The new BMW G07 X7 and post-life-cycle-impulse (read: facelifted) G11 7 Series created quite a stir when they were unveiled earlier this year. At the center of the matter—no pun intended—were their comically large kidney grilles; both were adorned with grilles so large that they would make Mick Jagger blush!

The 2019 BMW G07 X7.

The 2020 BMW G11 7 Series LCI

The trend to larger grilles has resulted from an arms race between automakers as they strive to distinguish their brands from what have become relatively similar cookie-cutter shapes. BMW certainly isn’t the only culprit; Lexus, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz have been model-creeping their grilles into increasingly disproportionate and disfigured forms over the last decade. And it doesn’t stop there: The full-size truck market makes all of them look downright minuscule in proportion. Take a look at the 2020 Chevy Silverado HD—if you can fit it on your screen!

For me, this begged the question: In context of the past, are the new X7 and 7 Series grilles really that disproportional? The short answer is yes, but you’ll have to wait for that opinion to print in Roundel. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the evolutions of kidney grilles leading up to the “largest kidney grilles in BMW history,” in BMW’s own words.

First, let’s put things in perspective. Two Canadian enthusiasts illustrated the X7 kidney grille’s cataclysmic leap in size recently by holding a set of E30-generation 3 Series kidney grilles in front of the X7 and sharing it on the Throttlehouse Instagram. By the looks of it, there is room for four E30 grilles, stacked two per side, inside the X7’s massive kidneys! You can follow their shenanigans on Instagram at @thethrottlehouse @jamesenglesman @Juutchin.

The X7 versus E30 Generation 3 Series grills.

In order to see the evolution that preceded the biggest kidney grilles in history, I asked a photographer friend of mine, Peter Thompson, to outline a sample of the basic kidney grille and headlight patterns of all generations of 3 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series, along with the X5 and X7. We kept it simple— no color and no extraneous details, just the headlights and grilles. Here’s what we came up with.

3 Series.

5 Series.

7 Series.

X5 and X7.

Clearly, there have been incremental steps over the last four decades, but that last step to the G07 and 2020 G11 was doozie! Reviews have been mixed at best, with many journalists and enthusiasts begging BMW (and other automakers) to call a ceasefire in the grille arms race. There may be more than meets the eye as to why BMW fashioned such large grilles to its flagship luxury models, but you’ll have to wait for my conspiracy theory in a future Roundel column.

Regardless of the reason, if the Internet memes that followed the release of the new X7 and post-facelift 7 Series are to foretell the future, then BMW design will be very simple in another forty years: just wheels and grilles!—Alex McCulloch

2025 and Beyond.

[Photos courtesy BMW AG, The Throttlehouse, Peter Tompson.]

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