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Exclusive: Designer defends controversial Coupe

X marks the spot: BMW is not prepared to confirm the X Coupe for production.

BMW concept warns of different looks for different parts of a growing family

BMW logo30 May 2001

By GAUTAM SHARMA in GERMANY

THE designer of BMW's controversial X Coupe concept has defended the car as a guide to the company's future styling direction rather than an indication it has lost its way.

The unusually proportioned coupe, unveiled at the Detroit motor show last January, was greeted with a response which ranged from muted to outright rejection.

Former BMW heavyweight Wolfgang Reitzle - now in charge of Ford's Premier Automotive Group - went as far as to say the X Coupe would never have become a reality had he still been at BMW.

But designer Chris Chapman said the purpose of the X Coupe was to get people to associate the BMW brand with a vehicle totally dissimilar to the car-maker's existing line-up.

"The whole family is growing and we need to give our vehicles a wider spread of identities," Mr Chapman said.

"The X5 is our response to the burgeoning SUV market, but we wanted to explore a more car-like design with the X Coupe.

"Although the SUV market is still growing, it could die in two years. The price of fuel in the US (the largest market for SUVs) is hovering around $2 per gallon, which is the highest it's ever been." Mr Chapman stops short of saying the X Coupe will spawn a production variant. But it is likely some of the car's design innovations could appear in future production vehicles, such as the new Z3, due around 2003.

Mr Chapman said he was not surprised by the controversy stirred up by the offbeat concept.

"The worse thing that can happen with a concept is that no one remembers it - I abhor the indifference factor," he said.

BMW first toyed with blending a sports car and an off-roader in 1996 but the idea was subsequently shelved, until resuscitated 18 months ago.

The concept was transformed from the first sketch to a reality in a brisk 10 months, which resulted in some of the design cues being exaggerated, according to Mr Chapman.

He suggests a lot of details would be honed if the car had gone through the design process that applies to production cars.

When pressed, Mr Chapman estimated the car would cost $US60,000 to $US70,000 if it were built as is.

Although built on the same platform as the X5 four-wheel drive wagon, the X Coupe looks a totally different entity.

It features traditional BMW hallmarks of long hood, twin-kidney grille and hockey-stick C-pillar - but it is a departure from the norm in every other respect.

The coupe's extremely high sills and small glasshouse endow it with proportions unlike any other vehicle - let alone one from the BMW stable - which means it takes some getting used to.

"People couldn't get a grip on the size of the car (at the Detroit show) because it defies conventions," Mr Chapman said.

"The massiveness of the X Coupe gives it its identity." Perhaps the most unusual design aspect of the X Coupe is its asymmetric rear hatch, which flips open laterally, enabling loads to be deposited in the cargo area from the kerb side rather than the rear of the car.

But Mr Chapman concedes the asymmetric design is not very viable from a "cost and workability point of view".

If you expect the X Coupe packs a tyre-smoking V8 under the bonnet, you may be disappointed to discover it derives its motivation from a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel unit.

Mr Chapman says this is because the "whole car is about contradiction".

As for what sort of terrain it is designed for, "light duty off-road use" is the reply - in other words, nothing more arduous than gravel roads.

But it will comfortably cruise the autobahns at 200km/h, if that's any consolation.

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