Demure and subtle are out, according to those carmakers who have come out of their styling shells. The automotive- design trend taking hold in some quarters is bold and full frontal, with larger-than-life grilles. Taking a leaf out of the Rolls-Royce book of colossal front facades, main-stream brands are getting in on the act.
Audi is in the vanguard of this megasized-maw fad, and its cars are instantly identifiable by the Single frame grille. This large, trapezoidal frame has become a familiar trademark of the four-ringed marque, but when it first appeared on Audi snouts about a decade ago it was a shocking departure from the norm.
BMW has also taken to the theme with gusto, riffing on its traditional kidney grille and seeing just how many variations it can come up with. The new M2, for instance, has a brutalist design with a squared-off kidney grille that goes against convention by not having a frame, leaving the front end looking somewhat unfinished. But the rhinoplasty causing the most controversy is the giant nostrils finding their way onto many modern BMWs.
These oversized grilles, which started with the BMW 4 Series, have offended and de-lighted in equal measure. They certainly can’t be ignored. The enormous grille of the new 7 Series luxury sedan draws maximum attention by being illuminated, while the Red Label model of the BMW XM high-performance SUV has a flamboyant, red-ringed grille that — depending on your viewpoint — either bravely pushes the boundaries or is outright kitsch.
One person’s bold and eye-pleasing design is another’s pig with red lipstick, but it certainly gets people talking about your cars. When interviewed about the company’s go-big-or-go-home designs, Franciscus van Meel, head of BMW M, was unapologetic about pushing the styling boundaries. He defended the polarising designs coming out of the Bavarian firm by saying cars that appeal to everyone are boring.
Controversial styling certainly hasn’t affected BMW’s sales, with the marque moving 2.4-million new units worldwide in 2022. Recently, BMW design chief Adrian van Hooydonk hinted the Bavarian automaker may pull back a little on the I-am-what-I-am-and-balls-to-what-they-think approach.
Speaking to the UK’s Top Gear, he said a “cleaner” design is expected in BMW’s styling going forward. When it comes to the grille, he feels the brand has done everything from vertical and very slim to wide and very low, so it can basically do what it wants from here forward, as it has plenty of heritage to back it up.
Hyundai has given us an interesting twist on the gnashing-grille theme with its Palisade and Tucson SUVs, the former featuring a whale-shark-sized maw that looks like it could swallow a Hyundai i20 whole, and the new Tucson adopting “parametric” lights hidden behind a striking geometric radiator grille that are only visible when switched on.
Lexus is another brand that has not shied away from flamboyant front ends, and in recent years the eye-catching spindle grille has become the signature design across the range. This giant mesh has been an unmistakeable Lexus feature since it was first revealed on the LF-Gh concept model of 2011. It’s a braver, more challenging style from the once-conservative Japanese firm, even though the “Darth Vader” look has attracted its fair share of criticism. However, nothing quite prepared us for the new Lexus LX 600, a luxury SUV that looks like a giant electric shaver with its enormous chromed spindle grille. It even beats BMW for the flashiest automotive snout on display, and that takes some doing.
• From the July edition of Wanted, 2023.