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BMW’s redesigned 5 Series one of a kind

Clean slate: BMW designers were given a free hand to create a fresh look for the latest 5 Series, but it remains part of the ‘Bangle era’.

BMW designers draw from no other car for inspiration with all-new 5 Series

10 Feb 2010


BMW’s global director of exterior design Jacek Frohlich insists that no past or present 5 Series served as visual inspiration for the all-new F10 four-door sedan.

Speaking to GoAuto at the sixth-generation prestige mid-size sedan’s global launch in Portugal this week, the 44-year-old Polish-born designer said he was given the freedom to express himself without being shackled down by history or expectation.

He said he therefore created his own design, with the result being a manifestation of his emotional response to what a BMW 5 Series should look like.

“I wanted to do a car with balance and I tried to do a car that is really BMW,” Mr Frohlich said.

“I wanted to keep the new look of BMW – something like the 7 Series but not exactly so. I wanted to add my own features, too.” The design process for the F10 commenced just over four years ago, with 20 exterior and interior design proposals submitted. The BMW AG board finally settled on Mr Frohlich’s effort in December 2006.

Interestingly, another finalist was responsible for the upcoming F11 5 Series Touring (wagon).

Mr Frohlich said that achieving a horizontal look in the sedan was paramount in the name of elegance, with a more coupe-like silhouette and the implementation of a strong swage line flowing from above the front wheelarch to the tail-light housings.

14 center imageBelow left: BMW director of exterior design Jacek Frohlich.

Despite seeming a lot longer than the outgoing model, the redesigned model stretches the tape by only about 50mm overall.

Aiding this is a lower-than-usual set grille that is also wider than on any previous 5 Series, while the bonnet now tucks in more forward and down than before to also accentuate length.

Re-imagined elements that have become integral to the series’ success since the first E12 520 rolled off the production line in 1972 include double-round ‘corona’ headlights that are cut off from the top, a sleeker ‘Hofmeister kink’ that is now at the outer extremities of the C-pillar, and a more pronounced sill line that helps stretch that profile even more.

Mr Frohlich said the rear haunches of the 5 Series sedan – specifically the way the muscular wheelarches flare out to the wheels while blending in to meet the swage line above in a series of complex curvatures – was the most challenging aspect as well as the most satisfying result of penning the latest BMW sedan.

“It makes the car very sporty and very masculine. It actually looks like a muscle. I tried to play with shadow and light, and of the way that light comes down from the top as it falls on the shoulder surface,” Mr Frohlich said.

The radius relating to the slimmer C-pillars also proved difficult to achieve, particularly when it came to adding practical elements like the way the door shuts and the placement of the seals.

“When you move the line as far back as possible in the C-pillar … it gets very tight in the radius, and it was not easy to keep it like that (in the manufacturing process).” Mr Frohlich said that there was no desire for BMW to break free from the so-called ‘flame surface’ style of the preceding E60 5 Series sedan – a vehicle that still polarises observers because of the bold lines and unique detailing.

He added that former BMW Group design chief Chris Bangle was in charge during the gestation of the new 5 Series, and so this car is still very much a ‘Bangle era’ BMW despite the apparent lack of the ‘deconstructivism’ or fragmentation style that characterised the company’s vehicles through most of the 2000s.

Interestingly, Mr Frohlich – who rates the Lancia Stratos and the Ferrari 250 GTO as among his favourite-looking cars – said that he did not feel constrained by the need to incorporate the BMW styling trademarks like the Hofmeister kink, cab-backward rear-drive profile, classic three-box silhouette, and kidney grille elements.

“No, I don’t think I was under any pressure to. I have a lot of fun with this stuff. I have a kidney grille and I can make something new with it. Nobody said I have to do it like this or like that. I was able to go and try something new, so I am able to really say that ‘I like my design.’” Nevertheless, when pressed, the veteran designer did admit to liking one past 5 Series more than the others – the E34 sedan sold from 1988 to 1995.

Some people may conclude that the newcomer’s ‘L’-shaped tail-lights pay homage to that old 1980s BMW, while others feel the succeeding E39 from 1996 to 2003 is evident in the proportions as well as the horizontal lines that prevail throughout the F10.

“I just tried to do it elegant – and nothing more. But it does feel like a typical BMW,” Mr Frohlich said.

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