Designer Frank Stephenson penned the R53 Mini Cooper, among numerous other models for Ferrari, Maserati, Fiat, and Lancia, plus five separate McLaren supercars. As it seems plenty of others in his profession are, Stephenson is passionate about design in general, and has quickly amassed well over 100,000 YouTube subscribers since launching his channel during the spring of 2020.
In a recent video, Stephenson reacts to and critiques the design of the BMW XM concept, which is slated to enter series production later in 2022 ahead of the 2023 model year. The design of some of BMW’s latest models and concepts is particularly polarizing, however, and its reception by many BMW aficionados has been less than warm and welcoming.
This latest trend—let’s not go back to the horrified reesponse to the E36 3 Series or the E65 Sieben— effectively began with the X7; as BMW’s largest vehicle yet, the three-row SAV came fitted with the largest set of kidney grilles ever used at the time of its debut. Things continued with the facelift (LCI) of the six-generation 7 Series, and reached full form on the nose of the 4 Series coupe, convertible, and Gran Coupé, along with the i4 and iX, and of course the current M3 and M4.
The XM is BMW’s latest concept, the first standalone M model since the M1, and debuted what BMW described as a new design language that will adorn future luxury models—like the 7 Series.
Stephenson’s take on the XM can easily be described as harsh, but the designer isn’t criticizing the concept simply for the sake of criticism, and he says that it’s a bit naive to simply write it off as bad or foolish design. Take, for example, the myriad of body lines worn by the XM, which seem to start and terminate with no clear direction, or the garish look of the XM’s proportions, including its large, illuminated kidney grilles and exaggerated wheel arches. These items aren’t particularly divisive or controversial in their own right, but when they’re all found together on a vehicle as large and ostentatious as the XM, they become nothing short of objectionable to some. These elements may not be particularly apparent to the average consumer of the XM’s looks, but it only takes a brief explanation to highlight them to the point where they simply can’t be overlooked.
If you find yourself a bit sensitive about BMW’s latest design language, Stephenson’s latest video picking it apart can be one of two things: You’re likely to either agree wholeheartedly and look back at the days of the E46 and E39 fondly, or find the breakdown of BMW’s latest design efforts abhorrent. After all, the company is selling more vehicles than ever these days, and the latest generations of the M3, M4, and 4 Series model range are part of that success.
In the end, Stephenson gives the design of the BMW XM a grade of F, but before the conclusion of the video, the designer offers two theories in regard to what might be going on BMW. Could the design of some of BMW’s latest vehicles merely be a prelude to a return to form, or is BMW purposefully sacrificing itself at the altar of design? We can give credence to both notions, but it’s still best if you form your own conclusions by watching the video yourself.
It also bears mentioning that not all of BMW’s upcoming models are following in the footsteps of the second-generation 4 Series. Naturally, Stephenson has some thoughts regarding these as well.—Alex Tock
[Photo courtesy BMW AG. Video courtesy Frank Stephenson on YouTube.]