Aston Martin – Overrated?

The statement “Aston Martins are the most beautiful cars in the world” is a complete and utter joke given the current state of the company. No matter what people say, sales figures reflects how people think of the vehicles, if it is indeed the beautiful car in the world then it should be selling like hotcakes. After six years of loss, it is definitely safe to say that Aston Martins are not the most beautiful cars in the world.

http://fortune.com/2017/02/24/aston-martin-losses/

http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-astonmartin-results-idUKKBN1631VP

https://www.astonmartin.com/en/live/news/2017/02/24/aston-martin-reports-q4-and-full-year-2016-results

Credit must be given where it is due: Aston Martin was doing very well in the decade of 2000. The designs of that era were defined by confusion and uneasiness. It was the first time major car makers were moving away from the boxy Japanese brand inspired designs and into more rounded designs. New sets of safety regulations were also being introduced. As a result of those two things, car designs suffered major identity crises as they moved precariously into the new paradigm. Surely the cars were not that bad during that era, but they certainly have aged as gracefully as denim jackets and mullets. This was the era in which Aston Martin stood out the most when its styling and performance allowed it to compete with other supercars convincingly and was probably one of the best looking front engine sport coupes.

2017 DB11 Front

This trend did not last for the world around Aston Martin was moving faster than they can keep up and as soon as the 2010s rolled around Aston Martin has lost its ability to compete with other supercars convincingly. This is all due to the simple fact that Aston Martin cannot find a stable identity, it does not know whether it is a luxury car or a performance car. Performance cars in the 2010s underwent radical restyling and performance upgrades while luxury cars stepped up in marketing. This all leaves Aston Martin in the dust because while Aston tries to be a sporty luxury coupe it doesn’t have the radical looks, the ridiculous performance, and the established reputation of other luxury cars (since Aston Martin is always trying to associate with and market themselves as performance rather than luxury). In sum, due to the stubbornness of Aston Martin, the company does not have an established identity which ultimately leads to their current cost cutting state.

The partnership with Mercedes AMG is in no way justified given how it is just a cost cutting measure. The argument of efficiency and just using what is already great is not valid because such measures won’t be necessary in the first place if Aston Martin was making a profit and weren’t dumping millions into “hyper cars” that won’t turn profit. Surely it is noble to pursuit something for the sake of motorsport and not just for profit, but others like Porsche and Lamborghini are doing without putting their entire company in jeopardy. At this point, what Aston is doing is not a noble pursuit but is just poor financial planning.

Poor financial decisions are just the start because the product planning is equally at fault for the current state of Aston Martin. A quick look at comparable brands will reveal that Aston Martin stands in the worst position possible. Astons do not meet the requirements and do not want to lean towards the performance super cars that are dominated by Lamborghini, Ferrari, and McLaren. Conversely, Aston Martins are too sporty to be associated with the luxury brands: Bentley and Rolls Royce. Finally, Aston Martin is not exclusive enough to be considered special one off cars (even though they clearly want to be considered as one, see One-77, Taraf, and Vulcan) such as Pagani and Lykan. So we arrive at the crux of the issue and that is Aston Martin lacks a selling point and selling power due to the identity issue. Performance cars relies on unattainable performance data and their ostentatiousness, luxury brands relies on their established reputations and complete (for the most part) disregard for any performance for the sake of comfort, and special one off brands literally means that they do not have a mass production, relatively speaking, line up on sale so the rarity of the brand is the selling point. Without specialization, Aston Martin will only have a small chuck of each market which doesn’t allow Aston to stay competitive.

1200px-Bentley_Continental_GT_(II)_–_Frontansicht_(3),_30._August_2011,_Düsseldorf2017 DB11 Profile

2018 812 Profile
The super coupe gradient

Therefore it is clear that the next step for Aston is to find a direction and stop wasting money. New designs are also getting stale because Ian Callum is pretty formulaic at this point and the new F-type has all the same key elements as Aston Martins.

2017 DB11 Profile2015 F type profile

However the future is bright because the Vulcan and the Valkyrie can at least provide some new and interesting design cues for Aston to use.

Design Round Up

Aventador

Aventador

  • Center console unaltered
  • Upper portion of vent and screen repositioned
  • Layering above the dash now flows continuous into the center and interacts with the vents
  • Cutout in the upper section nests the screen
  • Slight overhang over the vent to exaggerate the upper layer

 

2017 BMW 8 Concept interior

BMW 8

  • Alternative Aston Martin/Bentley inspired three section interior
  • Dash continuously flowing away from the driver to create flow and sense of space
  • Alternatively the flow can be interpreted as sport if the door panels are used to cocoon the driver
  • Natural layering when the different sections interact
  • Allows for the traditional BMW iDrive screen

 

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Alternative Maserati

  • Simpler laying
  • More obvious trident cue inside created by the vents and the clock
  • Center stack area reworked to be sleeker and cleaner
  • Center line continues into the armrest area to exaggerate the trident cue
  • Non-conventional side vents to compliment the center vents
  • “Inside” area more flexible, allows for trim piece and ambient lighting

Tesla Model S P100D: The Subtlest Sports Car Ever

As a newcomer in the auto industry, there’s no doubt that Tesla designers took the time to analyze the current design trends and had a firm grasp of the big picture by the time they designed the Model S. This resulted in the Model S being not the best looking car, but the car with the best design; in fact, being not the best looking car is one of the strengths of the Model S.

2017 Tesla Model S P100D.jpg

The Model S can be said to have the best design because it was the perfect combination of mundane, low profile and sporty, aggressiveness. The overall goal of the design was to not go the way of other electric vehicles, which have very unusual designs that drew attention to themselves, but instead, the Model S was intended to be a normal car that blends in with other cars on the street. With this goal in mind, the Tesla designers ensured that there are no outrageous design cues around the car and that it did not have laughable (and at this point, iconic) proportions. The result is that the Model S, without detailed observation, is very mundane and boring, it is the amorphous blob that is used for educational purposes to represent the category of sedans. Strictly speaking, the old design lacked any memorable design cues and there are no radical angles on the surface and no special indicators of the cars propulsion system. This very mission statement also attracts a lot of older potential buyers who do not want flashiness on their cars; it was two birds with one stone by the Tesla designers.

2017 Tesla Model S P100D Profile

However, upon close examination, the Model S is actually very sporty in design. Starting at the front, the headlights are pulled back far enough that they are practically on the hood, rather than the front fascia while the front fascia is short in height and pointy. The same cues can be found on cars produced by the likes of Aston Martin and Ferrari, with less subtly of course. Moving to the rear, the Model S exhibits something that is rarely found: coupe fastback styling on a four door sedan. The distinguishing characteristic of a coupe fastback is the integration of the trunk lid into the roof line, where four door fastbacks still have a clear flat surface for the trunk, coupe fastbacks have a continuous roofline that forces the trunk opening into becoming a hatch. The Model S walks a fine line, the trunk lid is just ambiguous enough so that when it’s closed, the car is an optical illusion, sometimes it’s a fastback and sometimes it’s a sedan. Finally, the thin taillights are a sporty cue as well given that they are widespread on performance vehicles such as the Challenger and the F-type. Therefore due to a combination of subtle cues around the car, the Tesla Model S is inherently a very sporty car. The car will appear mundane and boring to those that do not look for these cues.

2017 Tesla Model S P100D Rear

There’s not a whole lot that can be said about the interior except the fact that it is futuristic and sterile, though the designers cannot be blamed because Tesla pioneered the massive vertical screen and that the car is going for a futuristic tone. A little bit of more design (as my own drawings and Volvo have shown) wouldn’t hurt.

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Layers and layers

The most interesting thing about Tesla Model S that happened recently is the refresh. The front end has been changed from mundane and inoffensive to a very futuristic look. This is probably one of the greatest switch and baits in recent years because just as the older crowd is settling down with the inoffensive Model S, Tesla suddenly alters their brand to something slightly more radical that could potentially turn away buyers. At the same time, the change is so simple that hardly anything has been changed: all they did was remove some black paint and chrome stripes and then redid the lower intake. The angle got slightly updated and the headlights and lower area stayed the same. This tiny change gives the Model S a very futuristic look because they’ve removed the fake grill. Without this fakery, one can easily spot a Tesla and deduce that something is not right because there is no air intake in the front. This is risky because it might alienate some older buyers but at the same time it will attract younger buyers. It also advances the original intention, which is to make this car futuristic.

So in summary, the Tesla Model S P100D, on top of outrageous performance and advanced green technologies, is a carefully designed masterpiece that perfectly blends the boring with the sporty, or rather, the subtlest sports car ever, despite the updates.

Muscle Motifs

Muscle cars and pony cars are icons of America which reached a peak in the 1970s during the horsepower war.

Soon after the 1970s came the 1980s, which many can agree would be the downward spiral of muscle cars and performance enthusiasts due a few models ceasing its production, a few models losing their performance, and almost all models losing their iconic shapes.

Though some models and nameplates remained, the modern resurgence of muscle cars is definitely set in the 2000s when the muscle cars received their biggest updates yet, beginning with the newly designed Mustang that debuted in 2005, then the Challenger in 2008, and the Camaro in 2010. These are the modern interpretations because they have completely shaken off all the design cues from the 1980s and began anew and therefore I shall refer to these as modern muscles.

The biggest differentiator between the 1980s muscle and the modern muscle is the connection with the 1970s muscle; the modern muscles take many cues from the 1970 muscles rather than the 1980 muscles. These cues include the front headlight/grill slit, the blocky shapes, and the muscle hump by the C-pillar. (Do note that the muscle hump is not an essential muscle car design cue, it is a design cue that slowly made its way into the 1970s muscle car rather than being there from the start.) These motifs separate the modern and American inspired muscle cars from the older Japanese inspired muscle cars.

2018 Demon Front

If we are to use the connection and the throwback to the 1970s design as criteria for muscle cars, then it seems that the sixth generation Mustang has, once again, ceased to be a muscle car and instead has become a sports car due to the European influence of its design. The front grill of the fifth generation Mustang is modeled directly after the first generation Mustang, which is defined as a muscle motif because the headlights were in the same slit as the grill. Whereas the sixth generation Mustang’s headlights became separated from the grill, following the steps of European designs rather than American designs.

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But to be fair, Ford bought their new look from Pininfarina with the 2006 Ford Focus and it should not be a surprise that they probably used up a decade’s worth of design budget and therefore needs to recycle the cues onto different models. But Ford must be faulted for not being able to understand the basics of the muscle design which is ridiculously simple: a blocky car and a single slit for the lights and grill. This lack of understanding is seen again in the 2018 Mustang refresh where the frontend have been completely redone to the point where it screams “I am partnered with Jaguar”.

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However, upon closer examination, it can be seen that the new frontend is designed with an attempt to mimic the generation five and one Mustang, with the headlights being a parallelogram, rather than an upside-down trapezoid. Despite the well intentioned redesign, it is clear that Ford is trying to distant itself from the fact that it’s an American company given its focus on sleeker designs. While the vehicle is perfectly fine, its classification needs to be changed due to its design cues.

Up next is the Challenger which perfectly preserves the muscle car. It preserves the muscle car design, the mission statement, and the performance. Therefore it is the modern muscle exemplar; it lifts the designs from the 1970s and is only alter so it adheres to modern safety standards.

2018 Demon Profile.jpg

The Camaro is currently straying away from its original design because it currently is looking more bulbous and bloated than the Mustang even though its original mission statement was to be a smaller car the preys on Mustangs. However the modern incarnation of the Camaro stays more faithful to the 1970s than the 1980s relatively speaking. The Camaro has the distinct single slit in both the fifth and the sixth generation. The sixth generation of the Camaro takes less drastic steps in experimenting with the muscle car motif and therefore still retains its muscle car motifs. The sixth generation of the Camaro is slightly too exaggerated and lost the balance between the upper slit and the lower slit on the front end.

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50 upper to 50 lower slit
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20 upper to 80 lower slit

Despite radical designs, the Camaro is still true to its mission statement and is outperforming the Mustang. While the Mustang can be hardly called a muscle car, it is still true to its original mission statement as well, being the people’s sports car. Meanwhile the Challenger exists in its own bubble, divorced from the current state of affairs.

Design Roundup

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Maserati

  • Adding layers to the current design. Have sections visibly layered on top each other (similar to Ferrari GTC4) rather than just being different sections
  • The layers are cut out of the existing sections while additional details can be added to the center stack and console
  • Necessary steps to differentiate Maserati design from Jeep design

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Gulia

  • Base off of the Gulia design with hints of Mazda, Audi, and BMW
  • Emphasis on the symmetry between the top of the dash and the bottom
  • Robust shapes: more compact top and bottom areas give a sporty feel while more upright top and bottom areas will make the dash more luxurious
  • Additional interaction between the top of the dash and the gauge cluster similar to supercars, which will add to the sportiness
  • Reintegrated head unit is unsuitable for touchscreens given the distance

 

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911

  • Revised center area while the dash remains true to its origins
  • Vertical stripes (in line with the dash rather than raised) that continue onto the center console breaks up the center visually while providing continuity into the console
    • Additional area for body color treatment, making the transition from body colored element on the dash to the center console less jarring
  • Protruding vents for all four air vents
  • Screen that is “layered on top” of the veneer and the dash without any surrounding elements, giving the dash a more modern and youthful look
  • A screen surface right below the usual touchscreen as per Porsche’s concepts
  • There must be redundant physical controls present beside that screen surface
  • Alternatively only the drive control selections around the shifter should be made into a screen surface like the Panamera while redundant audio and climate control resides right below the touchscreen

Interior Redesigns – Tesla and McLaren

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Tesla

  • Redesign focuses primarily on the passenger space
  • Completely flat and continuous upper dash for a more minimalistic and sleek appearance
  • More layering for the same effect as above
  • Center touch screen flows outwards and stacks on top of the dash
  • Symmetrical vent and layering treatment on passenger side
  • Further layers can be added with concave passenger space with the vents stacked on top

 

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720s

  • Revised center and passenger space, more exaggerated design
  • More exaggerated right “shell” allows for more negative space
  • Upper and lower sections of the passenger side dashboard reflects the McLaren logo
  • Center negative space allows for additional vents and additional exposed carbon fiber
  • Center negative space can be further used as a layer to contrast the passenger side dash

 

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570s

  • Additional layering at the center with new McLaren switchgears
  • Two distinct layers throughout the interior
  • Center screen rests on the top layer while drive controls rests on the bottom
  • Upper and lower layer meet at different angles allow for better ergonomics and more room in the center console for cup holders
  • Air vents resides in the “lower” layer

Geneva Mainstream Supercar Roundup – Ferrari 812 and McLaren 720s

 

The new Ferrari 812 and the McLaren 720s are two extremely important cars for their respective companies because they are their transitions into the future. Their predecessors both perfectly encapsulate the transition from the last gen (2000 design) to current gen (2010 design): the transition from the Ferrari 599 to the F12 and the transition from the McLaren 12c to the P1/650s. Therefore, the current transition marks the transition from the current gen to the future. Since supercars are the ones that dictate the direction of the automotive industry, we can discover the direction of design in which, most likely, all of automotive industry is headed by examining the designs of these two particular two vehicles.

2018 812 Front2018 mclaren 720 front

It is very interesting that the very first reaction that people have for the 812 is comparing it to other cars. It raises the question of “have we really come to the point where all current designs will have already been done at some point in the past?” I think this is mostly because of the 812’s drastic departure from the F12 in terms of design. The gut reaction from most people, upon seeing the profile of the 812, is to scream out “Viper” and it is absolutely hilarious due to the existence of FCA.

2018 812 Profile

capture6The connection to the Viper can be denied because they are going to have similar shapes because of the front-mid layout. However, the connection cannot be denied due to the symmetrical grill of the 812 and the hooded rear which were not present on the F12 but present on the Viper. The connection is strengthened further by the less exaggerated “aero bridge” (due to the widening of that area) and the exaggerated rear shoulder vent (akin to the Viper’s muscle car-like bodylines). Similarities to other cars have also been raised but I will have to address the comparisons to the C7 Corvette. It has been said that the rear of the 812 is resembles the rear of the Corvette and I have to object to such claims. The rear of the Corvette and, to an extent, the entirety of the Corvette has always suffered from flatness. Even a quick comparison to its closest rival, the Viper, the Corvette always had huge flat surfaces all over the car, the rear in particular. While other car designers have always tried to add negative space to the rear to avoid flatness (even if the attempt leads to controversy, see the i8), the Corvette just embraces it. Therefore the negative space rich 812’s rear definitely does not resemble the rear of the Corvette. The rear of the 812 resembles that of the RS7, with a hooded rear that layers on top of the lights.

2018 812 Rearrs7-rear.jpg

Disregarding the comparisons, the car in of itself can be described as changes for the sake of change and changes in unexpected directions. The headlights have been flipped upside down, the grill opening has been enlarged, the aero bridge has been softened, and the rear has become hooded. The overall feel of this altered car is that it is stuck in between becoming something new and just a refresh. The design is cohesive and excellent but it is definitely subpar given that it is not a Pininfarina but an in house design. The transition from the 458 to the 488 is subtle but it elevates the car while the transition from the Enzo to the LaFerrari is absolutely groundbreaking. This one here is does not have the subtlety or the shock and awe of the two previous transitions and it does not elevate the design because of how similar and how comparable it is to other designs.

Meanwhile, the interior is a mix of F12 and LaFerrari. The horizontal strip connecting air vents are from the Laferrari while the diminishing dash towards the passenger is from the F12. It is restrained and classy, definitely up to the standards of the in house designers.

ferrari-812-superfast-interior-01.jpg

In sum, the 812 is definitely an excellent design but it does not have the same groundbreaking effect as the other transitions. However the one thing that is a massive improvement from the F12 is that the bright Ferrari red actually suits the car, whereas the F12 did not go well with the Ferrari red.

The first reactions to the McLaren 720s are comments about the front, especially the lights and the overall fascia. The new design should not come as a surprise, if one line up all recent McLarens in order (12c, P1, 650/675, 570), then one will see that the 720s’ design is but a natural evolution; the area in front, below the nose, was slowly being encased by the sides of the car.

2018 mclaren 720 frontWe have reached the natural conclusion, where the sides take over the front splitter area. The rear as well, it is a natural evolution; the older frog leg design has finally connected together. The rear light is toned down in comparison to the extremely P1 and the 570s, it is not as aggressive and curvaceous and thus losing some of its McLaren character. But it was a necessary sacrifice to make sure that the spoiler is not a tiny, vestigial-looking thing.

2018 mclaren 720 rear.jpg

There are a few quirks and issues with this design. The first issue is the headlight socket area and it feels as if the socket can be repositioned to make the car look even sleeker. The current position is a tad awkward because of the angles; it is not parallel to any other surfaces, thus making it look poorly integrated. Although this is probably not present during the design phase but rather appeared in the engineering phase due to aero purposes. The next issue is a two for one and it is the profile and front quarter view of the car makes it look very front heavy, much more so than the 650s. This is due to the fact that the sides on the front connect with the splitter, and the revised body contour that has the BMW hockey stick issue.

2018 mclaren 720 profileThere is a lot of visual mass around the front wheel well and not enough mass towards the rear, the split bodylines towards the rear further accentuates the problem. The quickest fix is to apply paint that darkens towards the bottom of the car, which has already been done. Otherwise it seems that it is going to be difficult to shift that mass around because the engineers will not allow it, most likely. The rear is really well designed because it is barely designed at all, the frog legs are connected and they took off the rear body panel to expose the innards.

2018-mclaren-720s-velocity-by-mso-interior.jpgAs for the interior, the 720s is as much of a leap forward as its exterior. The gauge cluster is a gimmick that moves, blissfully unaware of the Corvette’s digital gauge cluster. It does shake up the traditional supercar three area gauge, so it will be interest to see the response of other designers. The center stack is just an exaggerated P1 stack that is twisted a little. There is a lot of potential in the new McLaren interior that is yet to be exploited. Unfortunately due to the different climate controls, the door panels are no longer filled with negative space and have lost some of the McLaren charm.

All in all, though it has some issues there and there, the new McLaren is a leap forward in exterior design, fully immersed in futuristic design cues but the same cannot be said for the interior.

These two cars present a dichotomy for the future of cars, the future designs can either be trying to move into the future but at a conservative pace and look like it is stuck in an awkward position (Audi, Mercedes) or leaping all the way into the future and become completely unrecognizable (i8, KIA, Honda). There will be people who are pleased with neither of these options but it will happen regardless.

 

A special mention goes to the new Bentley Continental GT (2019 just been spied) and the Bentley EXP (it’s going on sale). The whole point of the GT is that it is the sweet spot between Aston Martin, sporting with luxury, and Rolls Royce, luxurious to the max. Making the front grill more raked moves it towards Aston Martin while making the front grill more upright moves it towards Rolls Royce. Bentley needs to get the Audi designers out of their offices. Aston Martin is going strong with their new partnership with Mercedes and some very inspired designers. Meanwhile Rolls Royce is planning on making a SUV that’s a hearse. It will be interesting to see how things unfold.

BMW Interior Improvement Roundup

BMW i8

BMW i8

  • Resized center air vent for symmetrical driver area
  • New space allow for volume and multifunction buttons to be move up
  • Climate control moved up from center console
  • Relocated controls allow for different interaction between center console and dash
  • Possibly better ergo due to relocation, no more reaching around the shifter
  • Relocated iDrive controller for better ergo and an additional cup holder
  • Passenger air vents restyled to mirror driver side air vents
  • More depth to the gauge area and less handles on top of the cluster

BMW6 7

BMW 6/7

  • Lower dash continues into the center console to reduce visual mass
  • Sweeping elements on the upper dash from the i8’s dash
  • Additional elements on the upper dash to create more layers
  • Reshaped air vents for more layering and mirroring fascia cues
  • Center stack and console kept in traditional fashion

BMW Z4 transparent

BMW Z4

  • Additional tier added in comparison to traditional design
  • Round climate control button from the Z-series, freeing up more center console space
  • Radio control can be moved up to allow more storage
  • Additional center console space allows for manual shifter
  • Dedicated vertical drive control close to driver for maximum engagement
  • Relocated iDrive controller for better ergo and additional center console space
  • Gauge cluster with more depth for more engagement, contrast to traditional flat design

2016 BMW Z4 – Even More Potential

The BMW Z4 was an unloved and neglected child that became obsolete and dated towards the end of its production. Despite diverging opinions and an undignified death, the Z4 had a lot of potential in terms of design and niche fulfillment. Overall it can be summed up as a dated body style trying its best to survive.

2016-z4-front

The evolution of the Z4 was very interesting to observe. The Z4 is the descendant of the BMW 507 roadster whose spirit has been kept alive through the ages as the Z1, Z3, and then the Z4. The entire lineage was kept faithful to the original as they are all small roadsters with a very distinct two part design; in fact, given the time period, the Z3 was very successful in its design because it kept the original design cues whilst incorporating time period appropriate cues.

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Classy

It was the transition from the Z3 to the Z4 and the E85 to E89 that was turbulent for this history-laden roadster. A multitude of problem resulted in the sales disaster that is the E89 Z4. The very first problem was the design: despite the efforts to reinvigorate the design by the designers, the Z4’s overall design still looks dated. It can be said that the Z4 was poised to fail from the start because the refresh brought more exaggerated styling to the Z4 but it was a step in the wrong direction. The lines and panel gaps on the body made the car way to busy and the rear end fails to integrate with the rest of the car. These two only served to accentuate the other because the body lines only highlight the awkwardness of the rear and the fatal problem is that the rear is visually not wide enough for the front of the car. The result is a car that is unpleasant to observe, one cannot quite find the exact fault but it can be felt that something is off with the car.

2016-z4-rear

The other problem is the neglect from BMW. Premium roadsters were already on the decline because of various reasons such as the economy and the availability of the convertible that is more conventionally styled and practical (3 series). At the same time, BMW decided to go ahead and release the 2 series and the M2 which made the Z4 completely obsolete performance-wise which removed all justifications for purchasing a Z4. Furthermore, as a speculation, the Chinese market was definitely being squeezed by the FRS/BRZ/86 and the Mustang because the Chinese market idolizes inexpensive yet unique looking cars.

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BRZ – 2648000 to 2828000 RMB
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Mustang – 3618000 to 6840000 RMB
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Z4 – 4370000 to 6818000 RMB

Therefore, with a styling that was doomed from the start and the market being clamped, the declining Z4 sale forced BMW to discontinue further productions. It is an undignified death because the update from E85 to E89 was not BMW’s best effort and it seems that there wasn’t even an attempt at brings it up to par with the rest of the BMW’s line up.

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The potentials of the Z4 is not completely squandered because rumor has it that Toyota and BMW are in collaboration for a possible comeback. This is definitely one of the safe choices for BMW because they have the choice of moving the Z4 upmarket into the ranks of the AMG GT and the F-type or moving it down the market into the ranks of FRS/BRZ/86 and MX-5. This collaboration makes it seem that it can go either way; Toyota can definitely provide the tools for a small affordable roadster while BMW can hold its own for a super car level roadster (proper scholarly citation not included: http://www.roadandtrack.com/new-cars/future-cars/a30159/bmw-z5-new-toyota-supra/).

Enough of the speculations and let’s move onto the design. The car that is the most similar to the BMW Z4 is the Dodge Viper albeit a bit larger (with more performance, better styling, and a more dignified retirement). They both start with a very round and bulbous front that tapers and pinches towards the B-pillar. Then they suddenly expand again much like a muscle car but more curvaceous. The greenhouse is an awkward round thing that looks a bit disproportional to the front end of the car but fits well with the rear.

capture62016-z4-profile

A quick side by side comparison of the two reveals exactly what went wrong on the Z4, which is mostly the rear. As mentioned before, the fatal flaw is that the rear is visually too thin for the front, creating something that is unpleasant to look. The bodylines that flow from the sides and into the middle of the rear pinches the entire rear while the small tail lights is positioned so that it makes the rear appear to have less surface area. Almost all of the elements on the rear pinches, which make the rear look tiny in comparison to the front. This creates a sense of instability and a general awkwardness. Additionally when comparing the Z4 to the Viper, the convertible roof of the Z4 does not allow a fastback style roofline that is found on the Viper. This also contributes to the awkwardness of the rear because the fastback is going to connect the rear with the rest of the car which the Z4 lacks, therefore the lack of integration of the roof and the rear further causes design problems to the rear. Another interesting thing to note is that the cues in the front, the head lights and the grill, became too modern for the body style. The Z3’s design cues and the body style was a perfect fit.

capture72016-z4-rear

However not everything is bad on the Z4. The side bodylines are surprisingly good because of their flow. While the bodylines on the front may be a bit too busy and so are the panel gaps on the side, the bodylines themselves on the side actually accentuates the car’s roadster shape and connects the rear and the front well. The overall cohesiveness from a side view is all thanks to the bodylines.

The biggest takeaway from the Z4 is the interior. Other than the i3, the Z4 was the only non-regular BMW interior in the BMW line up. Although the interior of the Z4 never quite made it past the E9x interior style, with a flat dash and an awkwardly integrated head unit, it still proves that BMW is capable of designing more than one interior. The unique climate control switches shows that BMW is capable of making different parts and is more than capable of designing more unique interiors than their current uniform interior. The styling is dated but it also deviates from the BMW uniformity with a flat center stack that is not driver oriented and a neutral passenger space design that is two tiered without needing a trim piece to separate it.

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To conclude, despite the fact that most people find the current BMW main lineup to be uninspiring (4, 5, 7), BMW still proves to be more than competent with surprisingly good entries such as the M2 and the i8. The Z4 definitely falls into the latter category with the M2 and the i8 given its uniqueness in design and its potentials, it’s a shame that everything else about the car let it fail.

2015 BMW i8 – Unfulfilled Potential

The BMW i8 is a masterpiece and it excels in its design by sacrificing performance. Some details, especially the rear, reveal the troubled transition from the concept to the production model. Meanwhile the interior has a lot of unfulfilled potential, a potential so great that it can theoretically match the interiors of Ferrari.

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The immediate issue is the performance to price ratio. At comparable prices, you can certainly find more capable vehicles in the Porsche, Mercedes, and Audi lineups. The only defense the i8 have against similar criticisms is the fact that this is the only hybrid drivetrain at this price point, therefore it is not a direct competitor and should be exempt from such comparisons. I find this defense rather weak because the i8 is being marketed as a sports car and thus BMW themselves validate the comparisons between the i8 and similarly priced sport cars.

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The best defense against all criticisms is the exterior styling of the i8, the obvious being that the i8 currently has the least expensive scissor doors on the market, unless one really wants to take into account used McLarens. Other than the obvious gimmick, the radical use of negative spaces around the car also makes it stand out amongst the similarly priced cars. The negative space achieves what other manufactures and designers struggle to achieve and that is keeping the engineers and the wind tunnel away from the car in order to make the car look more like the concept rather than the compromise. This is achieved with a clear abandonment of high performance which is replaced by extreme design and moderate performance.

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The hollow section towards the rear is a prime example of design over function. If super car designers and manufactures are to be trusted, then enclosed spaces are obvious superior in function over non-enclosed spaces because it would be more efficient in channeling air.

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Meanwhile, a completely smooth surface is preferred in order to be more fuel efficient and to reduce drag, which is evident in the case of the Tesla, the Prius and other aerospace applications. The i8’s hollowed section does not allow for efficient air channeling and it does not significantly reduce aero drag (being on par with an Audi A6). Therefore the hollow section of the i8, and most likely the fascia as well, does not give the i8 any mechanic advantages. Therefore we can conclude that the design of the i8 is for the sake of design and not some engineering demand.

It can also be argued that the inefficiency is the car’s statement against high performance in favor of design, since it gives up potential mechanical advantages it can gain if it had traditional designs. But the most obvious sign are the wheels on the i8, specifically their width. The default tire width is 195 front and 215 rear while optional 215 in front and 245 rear are available. The narrow tires will have less mechanical grip than wider tires, thus reducing cornering speeds and overall performance. Therefore the use of narrow tires is evidence of i8’s abandonment of performance. The wheel width is probably partly a stylistic choice for the sake of the overall packaging while it is also partly for the sake of efficiency.

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Modern Art (white – i8, red – AMG GT, yellow – R8)

Even though the i8 makes a lot of sacrifices for its good looks, the rear of the i8 is not so well received universally as the rest of the vehicle. The most common description for the rear of the i8 is that it is swallowing a Porsche. Judging from the concepts and the final product, it must be said that BMW designers put in valiant effort to not be caught by the trap of a flat rear, a problem exhibited by a lot of early supercars and modern Corvettes. The original concept with the vertical cues in the rear compliments the design well while the current design looks unnecessarily bloated. The design is quite well thought out in the original, the upper portion is suppose of be the inner section of the car that flows from the hollowed section while the lower portion is the outer shell around the car. However the blending is questionable, the diffuser is being blended into the rear and yet it looks like the designers were indecisive about whether the diffuser is the inner or the outer portion of the car.

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Despite good concepts, the rear is the part that was not preserved as well in the transition into production. The original concept of the inner and outer portion is not so visible any more due to the bloat. The effort in preserving the radical vertical cues is partly at fault because it makes the original concept outer shell look more like the inner section on the production model. A quick resampling of the concept will solve this problem in no time.

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The interior of the i8 is probably one of the biggest steps forward for BMW but at the same time it is also a big disappointment because of the potential it shows. It is quite difficult to differentiate the “regular” BMW interiors because of their uniformity; the changes from the 3 series to the 7 series are very subtle while the overall design theme stays the same. The overall design of BMW interiors lack the youthful spirit that is found in the competitors. This is the reason why the i8’s interior is disappointing in the sense that it demonstrates the capabilities of the BMW designers and yet it is never applied to the main lineup of BMW. That being said, the i8’s interior is probably the second best current BMW interior available, only beaten by the i3. The overall design theme of the interior is very reminiscent of the 458 and the 488 with a very driver focused area and a bend towards the passenger area. The interior demonstrates the solid grasp of design, with excellent flow and layers.

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However the main criticism is that it is too safe and too close to regular BMW designs than the i-division design. For reference, the i3 have an absolutely outrageous interior design that really should set the new bar for interior designs. A comparison is inevitable as it will draw out the fact that none of the excellent i3 cues made it into the i8, which makes for another disappointment thusly.

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Although the overall flow and layers are a step up from the usual BMW interior, the i8’s interior is still unmistakably BMW, unlike the i3. The emphasis on the driver area is not as exaggerated and not as symmetrical as it can be like the Ferraris, the center console still takes up an unnecessary amount of space, and the entire passenger area is definitely an afterthought. Therefore the i8’s interior has more potential to be fulfilled, Ferrari levels of potential, and the current i8’s interior is just a small step forward.

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You can’t do this with the i3

The new i-division products really bring out some of the current BMW issues. For one, the interior design is definitely one of the biggest issues right now given the competition that BMW faces. Mercedes has pretty much finished updating their interiors while Audi is about halfway done. Interiors by both of those manufactures exude youthfulness and modernity while the current BMW interiors are still too old-fashioned. While you can stick the old BMW 7 series interior in the Rolls-Royce, people will still by it because that is not the deciding factor of their purchase. Conversely, the 5, 6, 7-series will face serious issues in the future because of the lack of younger buyers when compared to its competitors. The i-division is offering an excellent solution that BMW designers need to utilize. Another issue is that Audi and Mercedes have distinct roles for every car in their lineup and BMW, the master at exploiting niches, is the only one that has an overlap in its lineup…