Visual identity is a group of guidelines a company establishes to apply over years to make its products easily recognizable. They can work with colors, fonts, shapes, a specific theme… anything that strengthens the sense of brand and helps connect the products with the image and principles which its maker has been enforcing in the market.
When it comes to cars, visual identities usually affect lights, grilles, windows, and the dashboard. Automakers apply them to focus on an emotional feature, like sportiness or luxury, while minimizing the chances of their cars ending up mistaken for those of a competitor. Nevertheless, that does not mean that they get things right every time.
Even though BMW is known for venturing out of the comfort zone every once in a while, some of its latest releases have been under heavy criticism for their bold external design. Nevertheless, when we take a look at the opposite ones, the truth is… things do not look that better. That is what you are going to see using two models as examples.
Tell me more about that
Along with Audi and Mercedes-Benz, BMW has made the German automotive industry famous for its consistency. While that perfectly symbolizes their high overall quality, it creates a problem when it comes to design because it used to mean that their car models were beautiful in an inexpressive way; they simply looked generic and forgettable.
Things took a drastic turn for the Bavarian competitor after the “i” lineup was founded in the last decade with the i3 and the i8. The fully electric sub-brand was born like a much necessary alter-ego featuring bold shapes, unpredictable details, and flashy color schemes that brought a futuristic style no one would have ever expected from a BMW.
Years later, the new design guidelines have found their audience in the market and the automaker has toyed with its modern and traditional identities to find what people want. The models featured here make an interesting duo because of how well they represent each one of those sides… and how right BMW is to keep applying a little of both.
Old-school or dystopian?
Over the years, BMWs became wider to offer more internal space and shorter to preserve a sporty stance. Front design dealt with that by making the double kidney grille wider and displacing the headlights to the edges of the body; the bumper does the same with the lower grille and the auxiliary lights. The 1972 and 2020 5 Series exemplify that.
The new identity subverts that by making the grilles vertical while preserving their large area and touching them with sleek headlights; fog lights and lower grille take an auxiliary role here. The excess of empty sheetmetal is filled with aggressive creases and, in case of the electric lineup, blue accents to give them a modern, somewhat geeky look.
Although evolutionary design has its charms, the new 2 Series could easily get mistaken for its predecessor or even an older 3 Series Coupé, for example. The iX, on the other hand, shows something we can only classify as overwhelming, rather than sporty, fancy, or futuristic; it has too many elements and it is hard to see the connection between them.
Very different time machines
The new 2 Series evokes BMW’s pre-X5 era, when it had only a few body styles with traditional silhouettes. Here, there are three separate regions, low height with tall and straight waistline, smoothly rounded roof, and a laid-back cabin which makes the hood long. A coupé design that would be in place even in the body style’s golden age, in the 1970s.
The iX, in turn, stays halfway between station wagons and crossovers and uses a side profile filled with creases, blackened areas, some blue accents and even Jeep-like squared fenders. Unless seen under the exact right angle, it reminds of the first crossovers like the Peugeot 3008, whose bodies had unusual proportions and looked quite clumsy.
Here, the all-new 2 Series turns out to give enthusiasts what they want; things will get even better when the upcoming M2 arrives. On the other hand, the iX looks like when we attend an event using the wrong attire; it is not necessarily ugly, but clearly does not fit in with the crowd. In the car world, this is usually a negative characteristic to bear.
Opposites in many ways
The same concepts seen so far apply to the rear style. The 2 Series employs all the traditional BMW elements such as L-shaped taillights, license plate on the trunk lid, and a tall bumper with creases and blackened lower region. The M Sport variation features a slightly more aggressive interpretation with piano black paint and larger exhaust tips.
When it comes to the electric crossover, almost everything is different: sleek, horizontal taillights, more blue accents, bigger blackened region, and a wide trunk lid — depending on the angle, the latter resembles the rear design Audi applied on its SUV lineup up to the 2020 Q5. At least the iX’s rear design looks just as quirky as the front one.
Polarizing as both models may be, we must commend BMW for its consistency and attention to details: the sporty versions initially released follow the same original design guidelines. While the M240i’s specific body kit uses a generic-looking triangular motif, the iX Sport features piano-black paint even around the huge double-kidney grille.
What can we take from that?
In short, it was high time that BMW renewed its identity because competition has become stronger than ever around the world. However, making complete changes it not the right way to go either because the result ends too far from what people are used to consume. In other words, neither the 2 Series nor the iX are positive examples to follow.
In my opinion, the current 4 Series offers an appropriate level of boldness for a sporty model; translating it to a more conservative model looks exaggerated like on the 7 Series, for example. Classic designs should only be preserved on family-oriented models, such as the aforementioned 5 Series, and on specialty image-centered ones like the Z4.
Experimenting with flashy accessories, colored accents, and uncommon body shapes is always desirable on concept cars because one of their purposes is to evaluate how people will react to visual innovations. However, it is possible to apply some of them in ways which make the car stand out without harming its potential with its target audience.
Among so many car models BMW has released or updated over the past years, the new 2 Series makes an interesting counterpart to the iX because one looks traditional enough to remind of older cars while the other is futuristic enough to belong to Cyberpunk 2077’s universe. Share your thoughts about BMW’s design using the comment button!