The new vertical “bucktooth” grille on the all-new BMW 4 Series is perhaps one of the most hated design element on a modern vehicle, at least in recent years. It has become such a huge controversy that it’s now the first thing everyone talks about whenever BMW releases a new car – we’re guilty of this as well.
But it’s not as if BMW was helpful in easing the heat either; the company’s response to critics was that they’re not here to “please everyone”, and lest we forget the edgy, bizzare, and somewhat insulting marketing campaign for the BMW iX last year.
It’s not uncommon to see criticisms whenever a carmaker strays away from their existing design language – remember what happened with the Bangle-era BMWs? But what most people don’t realise, is that the new 4 Series isn’t the first time BMW used vertical kidney grilles. No seriously, take a look at the beloved E30 3 Series and tell us you’re not surprised.
The vertical kidney grille actually dates back all the way to 1933 with the BMW 303. The 303 was a significant milestone for the German carmaker – not only is it the first six-cylinder-equipped BMW, it’s also the first-ever model with a kidney grille. And look at that, the original kidney grille was vertical!
Back in the 1930s, grilles were commonly tall and big in order to house the larger radiators. Although a centre bar down the middle was a normal design trend for grilles during that era, then BMW designer Fritz Fielder took it a little further by physically separating the two sides into individual elements, rounding the edges, and tilting them slightly backwards to improve aerodynamic. The result kicked off a legend that has continued to appear on almost every BMW ever since.
The tall and slim kidney grille design continued throughout most of the 40s and 50s, perhaps most notably on the 328 race car that first made the BMW brand known in Europe, thanks to its success in motorsports. It was only on the BMW 503, towards the tail end of the 1950s, where the grilles began shrinking in size.
The year 1962 saw the launch of the BMW New Class Sedans model line-up, which also introduced the Hoffmeister kink, another design legacy that graced (almost) all BMWs ever since. The New Class model line-up evolved into the E9 in 1969, which also gave us the legendary 3.0 CSL homologation special.
Ever noticed how all of them have vertical kidney grilles? Even some of the most iconic BMW cars, such as the M1, had them. It wasn’t until the 1990s with the introduction of the BMW E36 3 Series that saw the switch over to horizontal-oriented kidney grilles, and as they say, the rest is history.
You may argue that it’s the sudden, drastic change on the all-new BMW 4 Series that prompted the uproar within the enthusiasts. While there’s merit to that argument, the fact is that BMW never actually moved away from the large vertical grilles, even though they’ve not released a car with one since 1990.
A recently-published video by BMW Group Classic showed off some never-before seen concepts that BMW has been working behind closed doors. Among them is the ZBF-7ER from 1996, featuring a grille design that is remarkably similar to that of the all-new 4-er.
BMW once again brought the large vertical grille back (this time publicly) with the 328 Hommage concept in 2011, and again on the 3.0 CSL Hommage concept in 2015. So even though the large upright grille on the all-new BMW 4 Series was a shock to many, the design was probably already in the works for about 10 years now.
When BMW launched the all-new 4 Series, the company’s design boss Domagoj Dukec said that the new car is a culmination of BMW’s rich heritage, reinterpreted for the modern world. And there’s so much more than just the grille that Dukec was referring to in that statement; from the subtle nod to the classic shark nose, and the redesigned Hoffmeister kink, all taking inspiration from BMW’s past models.
The large vertical grille may look odd for now, but we’re sure that with time, we’ll all eventually get used to it, and perhaps see the beauty behind it. I mean, just look at how well the Bangle-design E60 5 Series has aged over the years – and we’re now already warming up to the new 4 Series!