2019 BMW X7

You want your next BMW to have massive kidney grilles, according to the company itself—and a designer for them, Peter Henrich, has gone as far as to say the new bold styling has been “crucial for success.” You can read the finer points in the actual interview here, but the message is a rather clear one, and a key element is that Henrich says customer data has indicated that the new designs have actually been well received.

I know that everyone reading this—or the interview linked above—is saying or thinking, “What!?” right now, but bear with me. If you’ve been following along with BMW’s sales over the past year or so, even just in the U.S., it’s clear that drivers are voting with their pocketbooks and buying new BMWs in exceptional numbers. Cars like the X5 and X7, which have some of the largest kidney grilles ever fitted to any BMW (the X7 actually has the largest kidney grilles), are selling at a brisk pace, and buyers don’t seem the least bit perturbed by the front-end styling—in fact, according to BMW, the so-called bold design language is a key component behind strong sales, because it is precisely “what customers are demanding,” per Henrich.

While nothing like the Concept 4, the iNext, or the i4 has yet hit dealership showrooms, the stuff many of us have gotten used to, like the 7 Series, the 2020 LCI version of which sports a massive kidney-grille setup, has also been experiencing respectable demand. According to spy photos and what appears to be hidden beneath camouflage wraps on test mules, the 5 Series LCI will be the next BMW to receive this treatment, and on down the line.

Generationally, BMW styling has always been defined by a few key elements, and it seems that from now on, the aggressive front end look many readers have had an adverse reaction to is the new way. While no longer needed for cooling, in most instances, the large kidney-grille space on the front clip of recent and upcoming BMW designs is functional, since it is home to the array of sensors and other equipment necessary for autonomous driving. This actually leads us to our next point, which is that according to chief iNext designer Domagoj Dukec, the kidney-grille design which features a connected section in the middle (for sensors), primarily used on the iNext but also seen in a different style on the iX3, has been nixed. Instead, BMW has invested in the development of sensors that can “see through chrome” and other materials that make up the grilles.

The success of BMW’s large-grille cars isn’t a surprise to us here at BimmerLife. While we love to celebrate the simplicity and purity of something like a 2002 or E30, we know that the world has long since moved on, and that automakers have had to become inventive and creative to differentiate themselves in a world that is only growing more homogenized. With autonomy on the eventual horizon, the very driving experience itself is essentially on its way out—a core competency that has long allowed the Bavarian carmaker to stand out from its rivals, even today, after nearly a decade of electric steering and turbocharging. After all, BMW isn’t the only brand doing what it can to remain relevant as the ground beneath it shifts.—Alex Tock

[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]



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