BMW designers are currently under fire for the new grille design of the BMW M3 and M4, as well as the 4 Series, i4 and iX. This new massive grille design is the most controversial design we’ve seen from a BMW in over a decade. Fans, customers and enthusiasts are upset with this new design and they’re letting BMW know it. However, BMW has been through this before, during the later years of the Chris Bangle era.
The Bangle era was an interesting one for BMW, as there were quite a few cars developed under Bangle’s eye that were beloved even on first sight but there were others that were so heavily criticized that fans were going after specific designers by name. Being the head of BMW design at the time, the most commonly attacked name was Bangle’s own.
However, after looking back, Bangle’s era of design has actually aged remarkably well. In fact, many BMW enthusiasts are starting to show great appreciation for even some of Bangle’s most heavily criticized designs. So looking back, was the Bangle era actually the best era of BMW design?
That statement might wind up getting my head put on a proverbial spike but it might just be true. Let’s take a look at some of the cars that were developed under Bangle’s eye. Remember, though, Bangle didn’t design all of the Bimmers made during his time as head of design. Many of those cars were developed by other designers, just under the watchful eye of Bangle and with his direction.
For starters, Bangle and his team broke new ground with a few new models, such as the rebirth of the MINI in 1999. While Frank Stephenson was the man who penned the new MINI, Bangle was still head of design, thus the MINI was reborn under his watch. The new MINI was, frankly (pun unintended), a masterpiece of retro design. It was both perfectly modern at the time and yet it captured the sense of style and timelessness of the classic Mini.
Then there was the original E53 BMW X5, which was the first ever SUV from the Bavarian brand. Ironically, the X5 was also done by Stephenson but, again, needed to be signed off by Bangle. The original X5 is still one of the best looking SUVs to ever wear a BMW Roundel and it helped the premium SUV market explode. If the original X5 didn’t look as good as it did, it wouldn’t have been the success that it was. And if it weren’t for the success of the X53 X5, BMW would be a very different, likely far less successful, brand than it is today.
Another beautiful design during the Bangle era was the original E85 BMW Z4. The Z4 was penned by Anders Warming, as part of Bangle’s team, and it was a gorgeous car. Outside of the timeless Fikser-designed BMW Z8, the E85 Z4 is probably BMW’s prettiest “Z” car. The BMW Z4 M Coupe is especially beautiful.
One of my personal favorites during Bangle’s era, and one that isn’t typically associate with his time at BMW, is the E90 3 Series. While Joji Nagashima and Marc Michael Markefka were the main designers of the E90, it was still a Bangle-era car and the E90, to these eyes, is the best looking 3 Series of all. Especially the E92 3 Series Coupe, which is one of my absolute favorite BMW designs. It’s going to look good for thirty years.
Even some of the cars that weren’t well received at first are beginning to age really well, such as the E60 5 Series and E65 7 Series. With the E60, Davide Arcangeli’s clever use of negative space to negate the impact of the E60’s increased visual mass left the rest of the team in shock and Bangle fell in love with the design. When the E60 first debuted, its design was met with a lot of criticism but it’s gaining immense popularity now, as people are beginning to appreciate its forward-thinking design.
The E65 7 Series was universally panned when it debuted, even gaining the nickname “Banlge Butt” for its shelf-like trunk. However, looking back, the E65 7er is beginning to actually look quite good, especially the refreshed model. It’s still a reliability and electronic nightmare but that’s another story for another time.
Point is, BMW developed some truly iconic designs with Bangle at the helm. While he didn’t design every car under his watch, as few heads of design ever do, his leadership created some of the most memorable cars in BMW history. I’m not sure there’s a single BMW designer that’s made as much of an impact on BMW as Bangle and he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Bangle’s name is typically followed by snide remarks and snarky criticism but, after looking back, he may have been the best designer in the brand’s history. In my personal opinion, and this is a bit of a 360-turn for me, the Bangle era is the best era of BMW design.