Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chris Bangle's Provocative BMW 7 Series

Chris Bangle left the top styling post at BMW several years ago and it has been more than a dozen years since his 7 Series (E65) sedan design was introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show.  So perhaps a little perspective on that noteworthy design is in order.

Bangle's Wikipedia entry is here, and here is a collection of interviews and other Bangle-related items.   Background on the 7 Series is here, and more details on the 2002-2008 model years E65-E68 are here.

From a styling standpoint, by far the greatest criticism fell on the treatment of the area around the trunk lid and upper rear fender.  Apparently it was decided to raise the top of the trunk slightly from that of previous 7 Series.  For some reason, Bangle must have thought that this functional change ought to be expressed functionally in the design by way of emphasis.  That is, the raised trunk was made more visually distinct than it probably should have been.  Images below should help me explain this.


Here is an introductory image of the E65.  From the rear wheels forward, it's a pleasant design carrying the traditional BMW divided grille theme and side-window dogleg shape.  The raised trunk can be glimpsed.

Side view.

The design problem is clearly seen in this rear three-quarter view.  The top of the trunk is nearly flat and the upper sides are extended into the rear quarter panel.  I would have been tempted to have the extension blend with top or perhaps would have increased the radius of the trunk top side curve in order to lessen the shelf-like effect.  Instead, Bangle chose to emphasize the side of the trunk lid by extending the fenders aft of the rear doors without drastically softening the side curve.  The resulting intersection is a sharp, deliberate contrast between the curved fender side and the relative flat edge of the trunk lid emphasized by the very crisp transition to the top plane.  That old "functional purity" industrial design argument could have been used to justify these design details, but I find the result clumsy, if not quite actually ugly.

This is the 2009 model year redesign of the 7 Series.  Bangle was still heading BMW styling when this car was designed.  The trunk is still high, but the roof curve extends farther aft and blends with the lid, essentially eliminating its flatness.  On the sides, the front shape of the tail lights has an interrupted alignment with the roof curve, better tying together the greenhouse and the lower body at the rear.  The top of the trunk at its sides lacks the sharp transition from top to sides as seen on the E65 version, thus softening the previous effect even though the fadeaway is similarly positioned.  Also note that the lid cuts are slightly inward from the sides here, whereas the E65 cuts were at the fender line break.  The resulting rear aspect of the car is much more pleasant than previously.  So why couldn't Bangle have done something like this in the first place?

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