BMW Remains a Desirable Brand, but Where Is Design Heading?

Jackson Wheeler
7 Min Read

Before I could drive, I used to bug my father to take me to dealerships to look at the latest automotive offerings, especially in the fall with new car introductions.

He liked cars too, so this wasn’t that difficult despite that he didn’t want to be pestered by a salesman.

And while I’d look at just about any type of car, there was one dealership that was very special. Foreign Motors, on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, was the Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz dealer in the area at the time (and the place where Jay Leno wrenched while pursuing other work).

It was here, in the late ‘60s, maybe 1970, that I first saw what struck me as one of the most aristocratic cars ever, despite the other lofty brands there. The Foreign Motors showroom included BMW, and it was a 2800 CS coupe (pictured above) in metallic green with a saddle interior that had stopped me cold.

The car was so simple and self-assured, with great proportions that included a tall, glassy, pillarless upper that would be considered unfashionable today.

I remember being struck by, of all things, the rear seats—beautifully shaped and tailored, despite this being a 2+2. This was not a sports car, but a personal car for a more mature individual who knew the difference between it and the domestic “personal luxury” coupes popular at the time.

this was a nice bmw 3 cs that we saw in 2012

BMW 3.0 CS photographed in 2012.

Jay Ramey

The car would evolve into the 3.0 CS/CSi. But even today, 55 years after the 2800 CS was first introduced, the car still looks wonderful.

So, I was a little surprised when I learned that the car didn’t start out that way, and that it wasn’t a totally new car but a major refresh of the 2000 CS, which was introduced in 1965.

That car, while sharing most of the appearance of the 2800, was on a shorter wheelbase with a shorter dash to axle proportion given that it had a four-cylinder engine versus the 2800’s six.

It appears BMW is now grappling with the direction its visual identity will take.

That change in wheelbase made the difference between a slightly gawky presence and one that was more balanced. But the biggest change was the front-end design.

The 2000 CS’s front consisted of isolated, kidney-shaped grilles and large, unusually shaped composite headlamps. Compared to the newer version, it was less conventional but awkward, presenting an impression of a bucktooth face—in some ways a forerunner of today’s less appealing interpretations from BMW.

a rare neue klasse coupe a 2000 cs

A rare BMW Neue Klasse Coupe, a 2000 CS.

Jay Ramey

In many ways the development of the CS represents BMW’s corporate design history, with some very controversial products and some great ones.

For example, it’s hard to think of the brand without the 3-Series, the car that seemed to define what a “sports sedan” should be and the inspiration for so many wannabes from other manufacturers.

But it was the third generation of the car, the E36 that started production in 1992, that set the design direction for others to follow.

bmw e36 generation 3series in black

BMW’s E36 generation 3-Series.


The most distinctive element of the design was the remarkably short front overhang, which in turn emphasized the side view dash-to-axle for a front engine, rear-wheel-drive package that looked both efficient and purposeful.

This was especially true of the coupe, with its distinctive sheetmetal. No other BMW—really, no other car at the time—had this unique proportional signature, which would be continued and refined for generations of 3-Series to follow.

When reviewing BMW design, one must also consider the cars done under then-chief designer Chris Bangle.

To be fair, at the time Bangle was trying to achieve design separation between the 3-, 5-, and 7-Series when they were considered too close in appearance, maybe more so in the case of the 5- and 7-Series.

So, while the intent was commendable, the execution was polarizing, especially with that of the 2002 E65 7-Series. Visually big and bulky, it lacked the grace and athleticism of the previous generation.

And while it achieved a more distinctive look, it did so partially by way of a high rear deck that became known as the infamous “Bangle-butt.” Unloved by the public, the next generation 7-Series reverted to the more conventional, yet safer family look.

2002 bmw e65 7series painted black chris bangle

2002 BMW E65 7-Series.


And what of the current G70 7-Series? Is it really any better, or is it more like the past in also being large and ungainly—even brutal—and seemingly devoid of any grace of the brand’s better designs?

The perfect color for the car would be flat army green, as it would make a great military staff car.

Along with the unlovely iX EV and XM PHEV, one must wonder if this is indeed the new direction for BMW design. All brands go through phases, hits, and misses, and it appears BMW is now grappling with the direction its visual identity will take.

The brand itself remains desirable for many, with a quality reputation and the appropriate image.

But I want more than this—and hope that BMW can (once again) regain the design acumen that its best efforts once so clearly demonstrated.

dave rand design consultant apr 2023

Tom Murphy

Dave Rand (pictured right) is the former executive director of Global Advanced Design for General Motors.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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