Some accuse modern premium cars of being over-styled. We can see why - so many models are now defined by hyper-aggression and an abundance of needless creases and lines. BMW’s current X5 is a good example of this, particularly with its huge kidney grilles.
The original version of the SUV, however, is a lot more understated. You get the feeling that even if the designers would have wanted to make it more complicated, there wouldn’t have been time. As Frank Stephenson - fresh from talking about his triple-decker Ford Escort Cosworth wing - explains, the design team were tasked with creating a full-size clay model within just six weeks.
At the time, BMW’s design boss was Chris Bangle. Much of his work came under plenty of flak back then, but owing to more recent events, people are looking upon his designs in a fonder light. For the X5, he got the ball rolling by tasking Stephenson with creating the initial design sketch during a couple of free hours he had on a flight.
An SUV was unchartered territory for BMW, but there was plenty Stephenson could do to link it to Munich’s other products, from more obvious means like the addition of kidney grilles to subtle touches like the ‘Hofmeister Kink’ in the rear windows. The latter element - devised by BMW boss from 1955 to 1970 - Wilhelm Hofmeister - can be traced all the way back to the ‘New Class’ coupe. Also giving the X5 an unexpected link to a 1960s coupe is the trio of designers Stephenson collaborated with - they’d each worked on the Lamborghini Miura.
Stephenson himself would go on to design much more exotic machines than the X5, with the likes of the Maserati MC12, Ferrari F430 and McLaren P1 all on his CV.