A friend of mine sent me an email this morning with a link detailing the forthcoming Alpina edition BMW 7-series, the B7. The benchmarks have been set for such vehicles, and this one fulfills all of them: 500+ hp engine, big-ass wheels, some kind of green justification for its technology, etc.
I want single out the big-ass wheels in particular; maybe my reasoning why will make sense in the rest of this post. The PR doc states that the “evolution of the traditional 20-spoke 21” ALPINA CLASSIC wheels underline the fresh design language found throughout the B7 and impart it a distinctive appearance and powerful stance.” Evolution, yes, a bit. Fresh, er, not really, but that’s OK. The rims on this whip are of the same basic design that was on my first car and only Bimmer to date, my dad’s beloved old 1974 3.0s:
They’ve grown 7 inches in diameter and who knows how much in width over the past 36 years, but they’re definitely rooted in a rich history of design evolution. Innovations in design and technology that tends to follow a relatively organic path of development. And they look darn good then and now. Alpina is good at that. Porsche is VERY good at that. BMW was. But now they’re not. Not in this century, at least.
I’m not particularly fired up about this car, as you can tell. BMWs in general have become too much of themselves, and a bit too much of something else entirely: big. Don’t get me wrong, “big” is OK in certain capacities: the way that a Roller is big and thus, by definition and necessity, a proper British car; the way that a 70’s Eldorado convertible is beyond big, as demonstrated by the very literal extra FEET of dead space/middle-finger sheet metal in the front and rear of the car (without a nearly 8-foot-long hood this car wouldn’t be what it should be though: excessive, especially in white on red leather), but those are the kinds of exceptions to which big for the sake of big should be limited.
Now, wait a minute. Germany has done some very nice big in the past. Mercedes in particular: any pre-2007 S-Class is a study in efficient hugeness (dedicated post on this subject forthcoming). As is any 740iL Bimmer–I don’t care what anyone says, I’ll take a [pre-Chris Bangle] ’02 7-series any day of the week over the current iDrive nonsense. I love that movies still use this model as the “cool bad guy car”…see Live Free or Die Hard. Let’s not forget the Ronin-style Audi S8 while we’re talking movies, along with an aforementioned Mercedes S of days past, complete with all the correct 1997/1978 German boxiness:
These days however, it’s nearly impossible to find a full-size German sedan that is what it should be. The roles have reversed, and now that we Americans aren’t producing ridiculous monsters in car-form anymore, they’ve taken up the torch. I can only guess at how many extra pounds of sheet metal are bolted onto the modern S or 7 or A8. And they have to make the 500hp engines to match.
There’s nothing wrong with 500hp, believe me, but it’s so commonplace amongst high-end sedans these days that it is…just not so special anymore. The Italians are still doing it right by putting those things in lightweight sports cars, and in actuality, oddly enough, so are we from time to time.
Please, Germany, go back to what you are really good at: beautifully designed mechanicals enveloped in an elegance-by-simplicity exterior package. A smaller package. I haven’t measured, but it seems like in about 15 years’ time the 3-series has grown to the once-held size and more critically, weight, of a 5, and there’s now the 1-Series that’s approximately the same size, if not bigger still, than the most classic 3, the E30 (first generation M3’s are the best generation! I said it!). The 7 has grown into…well, a 9. Go back to what you are good at! Wait, maybe you are…
The forthcoming 5. By no means smaller or lighter I’d suspect, but at least a bit de-Bangled. Starting to look like an actual BMW again…it even has a bit more of a trunk now! And it’s bit more driver-oriented, too. You know how I can tell? This:
That’s the first center stack I’ve seen that is curving back towards the driver since, like, 2004. I am so tired of the current “straight-up-and-down” design scheme in ALL NEW CARS where the stack makes things difficult to reach in the name of perceived spaciousness. This, however, looks more like the cockpits of Bimmers of yore. It looks efficient. I don’t know about whatever shifter that is there, but at least it’s not total iDrive. I hope that this single photo is a cue of things to come with what is really important for BMW, lest they entirely lose the respect and following that they’ve cultivated over their modern history. Let them live up to that long-held slogan once again, The Ultimate Driving Machine.
Maybe the PR department was right. Maybe this really is the dawn of a “fresh design language” for BMW. Let’s hope so.