BMW - X-Coupe
In a surprise debut at the 2001 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, BMW is giving its newest concept vehicle a world premiere: the BMW X coupe. For anyone still thinking that the automotive world can be divided neatly into familiar categories, it may be time to rethink. This utterly driver-oriented coupe doesn't merely introduce a totally new design concept; it also embodies a brand-new vision.
The energy of tension
At the very first glance, this impressive new vehicle with aluminum skin in Highland Silver shows that BMW is opening a new chapter in vehicle design. From a pure styling standpoint, the X coupe is dramatically different from anything BMW has ever created - a logical next step in the evolution of BMW design. The designers have charged this shape with a high-energy field of tension. Indeed, an element of tension in its products is at the core of what has made BMW so successful: tension between perfection and emotion. This element became a starting point for a new "language of forms" that reflects the high-tech - and highly emotional - character of this sport coupe. Seen as a foil to the two Z9 concept vehicles, which embody new interpretations for luxury cars, the X coupe points to a new design direction for the segment of sporty, lifestyle-oriented vehicles.
The X coupe purposely plays the role of automotive iconoclast. It does not shy away from what might be considered paradoxes or contradictions: a coupe that can go off-road… a sport coupe with diesel engine… asymmetries on its exterior and in its interior. Surfaces that turn in on themselves, or can change their shape - these and other elements don't fit into the usual scheme of things. Thus the X coupe leaves beaten paths of auto design, just as it is also able to leave the beaten paths of auto driving and head confidently off-road.
It only seems unlikely: a coupe and an X in one vehicle
Begin with preconceptions: A coupe is a vehicle with sporty styling and driving character. (Correct.) A coupe is only for driving on the road. (Wrong, as the X coupe shows.) The very fact that the worlds of coupes and sport-utilities seemed so completely removed from each other - this was a challenge to the BMW designers involved in this project
The coupe, as the ultimate expression of the sporty vehicle, has traditionally been built for athletic driving on the road. Yet just as modern athletics are no longer limited to the coliseum or playing field, no longer must sporty driving be limited to just the road. This analogy is key to the X coupe's character: it is the outdoor sports gear among coupes. In its concept and every detail are the spirit of sports such as mountain biking, carving or wakeboarding. It is high-tech gear for all terrain - a means of escaping the everyday routine, for discovering adventure. And like other high-caliber sports equipment, the X coupe visually displays its capabilities: confidently, expressively, and with details that reveal and underscore its function.
A new design language, arising from a long tradition
As the X coupe's exterior design first reveals itself to the beholder, in all likelihood it takes his or her breath away. After all, this is a design utterly different from anything BMW has ever done. And yet this study, as becomes apparent upon further consideration, is firmly rooted in BMW tradition. After all, since time immemorial BMW has been a symbol for mature, highly developed, sporting automobiles and motorcycles. In turn, their cultivated performance, perfected functionality and high quality are evidence of the precision and dedication with which the BMW's creative people approach their work.
Such seriousness and precision naturally lead to machines that function perfectly and logically. Yet these are also products with great emotional content. In a sense they are sculptures, produced by human hands and reproduced by machines - not merely means of transport, but rather capable of transporting feelings and radiating their emotional content. In turn, emotional satisfaction is derived by their users.
The tension that builds between emotion and function, between sculpture and machine, is a creative and challenging tension. It is a tension that presents designers with a creative context in which to recognize, interpret and translate the energies within it. Out of all this comes a new element of BMW design that embodies the dynamics of this high energy content. The name of the technique also expres-ses the energy and tension: Flame Surfacing.
Flame Surfacing: a new freedom of surface development
Surfaces developed by the Flame Surfacing technique are reminiscent of the forms of energetic flames, such as those from the burning of gas under pressure. The idea goes even further, capturing the high-energy contrast between the random motion of the fire and the rational command of this phenomenon by humankind and translating it into lines, shapes and surfaces.
Evident in many elements of the X coupe's body, Flame Surfacing gives body surfaces the freedom to turn in on themselves, lending a high degree of visual tension. At the same time, this is a controlled tension whose energy pervades the entire visual image without in any way diminishing the vehicle's overall harmony. For example, a horizontal surface atop each front fender (if, indeed, one can speak of "fenders") begins concave upward. Continuing on into the door, it remains concave upward, gently falling along the way. Then, in the transition to the rear flank, it begins to climb, switching its orientation to convex outward; and continues to the rounded edges of the tall tail.
Dynamics as in a classical symphony
Even with this rather turbulent flow, the "catwalk" just described forms a decisive, and in no way inharmonious, element in the X coupe's overall visual image. The light reflected from it - for designers, a be-all and end-all - calls to mind the oscillogram of a classical symphony: Adagio and staccato in rapid interplay, captivating the listener as does the X coupe its admirer.
Countless other Flame Surfaces appear in small details and major elements - the side sills, for example - to form a coherent overall shape. True harmony allows neither purpose nor goal to take precedence over all else. Instead, the Flame Surfaces and the tension they create lead to a harmonious total impression this vehicle makes. Think of the tension of drawing the bow before shooting the arrow, or the vigilant repose of a hunting animal before springing on its prey.
Inherent in the X coupe's design language is an understanding of classic BMW design elements; yet these elements are newly interpreted. Perforated aluminum gives the "kidneys" grille a sporting lightness; large quad headlights impart a "face" full of attention and readiness to spring into action. The traditional "reverse kink" in the C-pillar fits perfectly into the X coupe's new design language. And yet…
Unusual, yet intuitively familiar: asymmetry
The basic idea from which the X coupe evolved, and with it Flame Surfacing, doesn't just introduce a new design language. It also gave the designers the drive and courage to venture another step away from conventionality: to introduce asymmetry into the usually highly symmetrical world of motor vehicles.
It may take a second glance to notice, for instance, that the two taillight ensembles are not symmetrical. Their inboard edges are parallel, both pointing downward to the right. That of the left lighting cluster continues downward through the rear vehicle surface.
By the time one has noticed this, it may have crept into one's subconscious that on the right side, there is no C-pillar: The right-side door window continues smoothly into the rear window. "Open the hatch" and there is even more dramatic asymmetry to behold: From that extended taillight line rightward - this turns out to be the lid's left edge - almost the entire rear section opens and tilts rearward, revealing the cargo space and rear seats. The hatch includes the entire rear window, creating an immense opening that makes loading cargo and entering/exiting the rear passenger space - from the curb side - remarkably convenient.
Natural harmony is not necessarily symmetrical
This is not merely practical; it's also beautiful. Indeed, in the human perception of harmony, mild asymmetry is more pleasant than stringent, mathematical symmetry. The classic man's sport coat, for example, usually has only one breast pocket, and its lapels overlap asymmetrically. Human faces are almost never symmetrical: If you create a picture of a face in which the two sides are exact mirror images of each other, one unconsciously perceives the result as unnatural.
For the driver: a unique seating concept
The X coupe is just as innovative inside as it is outside. It is a true driver's car, and offers its driver an appropriate environment and scope of equipment for that role. Behind the wheel, an unusual seating position imparts a feeling of being in control of high-end sports gear: One senses the advantages of both an SAV and a coupe, with the commanding position of the former and the seating feel of a sport coupe. Thanks to adjustable pedals, drivers of extra-large or small stature need not sacrifice any of this unique feeling.
Sport front seats offer ample lateral support at the back and thighs. Because of the high ground clearance, the seats are relatively high; thus to ease entry and exit, their prominent side bolsters are cut out deeply in the pelvis area.
This is more a 1+3-seater than a traditional 2+2. Everything near the driver is uncompromisingly oriented to the driver, whose "working space" is clearly delineated from the front passenger's space. This reflects not just the vehicle concept, but the entire design philosophy at play here… once again, a philosophy that expresses itself in terms of a balance of contrasts.
The center console serves to separate the driver's space. All instruments are arranged according to a sportily oriented ergonomics concept to be read quickly. As some displays are of interest only to the driver, they are arranged and designed to be visible only to him or her - for example the engine-temperature and fuel readouts in the left door.
Brilliant design was just as high a priority for the interior as for the exterior. As part of the driver-orientation concept, the driver sees primarily the vehicle's interior - which itself comes across as sporty, light, open. A gap has been left between the dash and engine compartment, letting natural light into the front footwells.
Here, too, Flame Surfacing determines to a large degree the esthetics. Again, organic and varying surfaces create tension. Along the doors and on the dash, surfaces flow from concave into convex and back again. Countless details reveal Flame Surfacing: door handles, levers, switches of solid aluminum, all stating the new design language in no uncertain terms. Via their combination of winding surfaces and edges, controls give a signal that they are the key to mastering vehicle functions. And once one has these controls in hand, their pleasant tactile feel assures the driver that everything is truly under control.
Flexible surfaces give a look behind the scenes
One of these controls is the key to yet another remarkable feature of the interior. When a low-mounted lever on the center console is moved downward, the neoprene-covered, flexible surface of the dash changes its shape, opening up like a sort of "mouth" and giving the driver a view of the color monitor of a multi-function control system. Here, Flame Surfacing has taken another step: Static surface tension gives way to a tension of motion revealing something that had been hidden.
Intuitive control concept with off-road navigation
The controller, ergonomically positioned on the center console, gives the driver and front passenger mastery over multiple functions. By moving, turning and pressing downward on the controller, one selects which category of functions will be displayed on the color monitor, then controls those functions. This control concept of the future was first shown in the Z9 coupe show vehicle, and more recently appears in the Z9 cabriolet concept car. For the X coupe, it has been specially tailored: GPS Navigation functions, for example, operate off- as well as on-road.
Tension of materials: hide, allude, show
Like the dash's flexible surface, which opens up to give a view "behind the scenes", other interior materials also play on the "hide, allude, show" theme. The center console, a construction of aluminum tubes, is covered with gray neoprene, as is the dash from which the console flows downward. With its "cool technical" character, this material calls to mind (again) high-caliber sports gear. Partly in the open, partly only hinted at, is the underlying tubular structure.
The bucket seats also reveal their tubular aluminum structure at prominent points; this is mostly covered, however, in Nubuck leather, with some neoprene also. Artfully placed stitching and appliqués lend interest to the seating upholstery. The soft, grained leather makes a strong contrast to the cool neoprene as well as the controls of solid aluminum. Here one finds not only that pervading theme of balanced contrasts, but also the spirit of outdoor sports with their functional, technical materials. Like an ensemble of perfectly matched gear, the interior comprises elements of various materials.
The cabin's color scheme emphasizes this sports character. Its designers have allowed themselves a modest disharmony in the interplay of colors to heighten the design tension here; parallel to the exterior's asymmetrical elements, the gentle chromatic dissonance inside is more pleasant to the senses than a rigorous adherence to which color goes with which. Indeed, this creates yet another balance of contrasts which, though at first surprising, is actually quite sophisticated.
A light-gray headliner helps impart openness to the cabin. In turn, the headliner is framed by "active green" neoprene, which extends down to the beltline and also appears in the driver's cockpit. Gray neoprene alternates with the green in such a way as to emphasize the flowing forms; the warmth of Vulcan-gray Nubuck leather on the seats and lower portions of the doors poses yet another contrast. At strategic points, robust pads, resistant to soiling, remind one of the X coupe's interplay of design and function.
A sporty turbodiesel engine under the hood.
The X coupe is not just a show sculpture; it is driveable, and based on the chassis of BMW's production Sports Activity Vehicle, the X5. Under the coupe's long, one-piece hood is an advanced BMW turbodiesel engine: the 3.0-liter, six-cylinder unit of the European 530d model, with state-of-the-art common-rail direct fuel injection, developing 184 horsepower. Beyond the production engine, the X coupe's powerplant has been modified to produce a brawny 332 lb-ft. of torque; this speaks well for off-road ability, and top speed should be somewhere around 125 mph.
A 5-speed STEPTRONIC automatic transmission takes the drive from the turbodiesel to the X coupe's four wheels; shifting is programmed for sporty performance and driving pleasure. When he or she so desires, the driver can control shifts via "paddles" on the steering wheel.
As a member of the BMW X family, the coupe naturally has all traction and stability-enhancing systems on board, from All Season Traction (AST) for all-wheel drive through Dynamic Stability Control (DSC-X) to the remarkable Hill Descent Control (HDC). Like "big brother" X5, the coupe is ready and willing to go off-road when called upon to do so.
A custom-tailored sports outfit.
Completely fabricated from aluminum, the X coupe body rides a 111.0-inch wheelbase (matching that of the X5) and is 180.3 in. long, 73.6 in. wide and 73.6 in. wide. Unloaded, it is 58.3 in. in height, and therefore not much taller than BMW's own classically sporty 3 Series coupes (53.9 in.). Massive 20-in. wheels carry 255/50 tires at the front and 285/45 at the rear, adding emphasis to the coupe's assertive presence. Run-flat tires render a spare tire and wheel unnecessary.
Stability at speed is enhanced by a rear spoiler beneath the bodywork. Normally flush with the vehicle's bottom rear edge, the spoiler extends downward automatically at 68 mph to generate aerodynamic downforce.
Innovative new lighting technology contributes to the X coupe's active safety. The headlights, for example, steer with the wheels for effective illumination of curves. In road driving, additional input from the GPS Navigation system actually causes the headlights to anticipate curves ahead.
Another innovation is the brake lights, carried in the dual rear lighting clusters under glass covers. They indicate to following drivers how hard the X coupe's driver is braking: On the basis of an electronic signal of deceleration, under light braking only the lights' outer rings illuminate; as deceleration increases, the illumination spreads inward until, under full braking, their entire area is illuminated.
The X coupe: off the road, into the future.
In many respects the X coupe represents a decisive move into the future. It also continues a long-standing BMW tradition of seeking out promising new market niches. At the same time, this concept vehicle expands the spectrum of BMW styling into a new, exciting design language: firmly rooted in tradition, yet treading new ground.
That said, for the driver of the X coupe, really just one thing is paramount: The passionate designers and engineers at BMW have put their hearts and souls into a vehicle that will give the driver pleasure - in every imaginable driving situation.
Engine & performance:
Type: 6-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 184 hp
Torque: 450 Nm
Top speed: 201 km/h
Front: 255/50 R20
Rear: 285/45 R20
Length: 4580 mm
Width: 1869 mm
Height: 1481 mm
Wheelbase: 2794 mm