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Even with the best possible intentions from car designers and stylists, sometimes people plain don’t like how a car looks. But there’s a difference between dislike and distaste. And lately, it seems that BMW is under fire with the latter over some of its cars. First, there were the M3’s and M4’s grilles. Now, the BMW Concept XM plug-in hybrid SUV is drawing Internet ire for its, um, interesting design. However, while not signifying nothing, all that sound and fury might be precisely BMW’s goal.

For a BMW M1 ‘successor,’ the Concept XM doesn’t look like it

The front view of the gray BMW Concept XM
BMW Concept XM front | BMW

Some of the flames fanning around the BMW Concept XM are kindled from its kidney grilles. Being an SUV instead of a coupe or sedan, it’s understandable that they’re bigger than the ones on the M3 and M4. But even so, the Concept XM’s grilles are…well, they’re not subtle. However, arguably the bigger problem is what the Concept XM represents for BMW, or rather, the M Division.

Almost every other M-branded vehicle is based on a production BMW. The M3 and M4 are based on the 3/4 Series, for example, and the X5 M and M Competition on the regular X5. Even M’s motorcycle, the M 1000 RR, is based on the current S 1000 RR superbike. But that’s not the case with the Concept XM. Even when it hits production, it won’t be built on the bones of a more pedestrian SUV.

The Concept XM was designed from the ground up by the BMW M Division, Road & Track reports. It’s only the second-such vehicle built this way. Now, that’s not a problem in and of itself—the M Division does great work. And based on the XM specs BMW released, this hybrid SUV should more than live up to its performance badge. The issue, though, stems from the first car that M Division made on its own (with some Lamborghini help): the BMW M1.

A red 1978-1981 BMW M1 driving down a forest road
1978-1981 BMW M1 | BMW

Apart from maybe the i8, the BMW M1 is still the German brand’s only supercar. Although it was a commercial failure, and its planned racing series didn’t take off, the mid-engine M1 played a significant role in BMW’s history. It was the first BMW Art Car, for one. And its engine later powered the first M5, the E28. It’s a big deal.

So, to see the second-ever M Division product be a large, hybrid SUV, rather than a mid-engine supercar, has some fans upset. And while the Concept XM acknowledges the M1, the homage is limited to some rear-window logos, The Drive says.

The big grille isn’t just for shock value—but that also might be the whole point of this hybrid performance SUV’s design

An overhead rear 3/4 view of the gray BMW Concept XM
BMW Concept XM rear 3/4 overhead | BMW

In short, while some don’t like the way the BMW Concept XM looks, others are more upset about the form the M1’s ‘follow-up’ takes. However, as mentioned earlier, the Concept XM keeps the M1’s spirit alive at least in terms of raw speed. After all, with a claimed 750 hp, it’s not only BMW’s most powerful hybrid but the most powerful BMW ever. The previous record-holder, the M5 CS, makes a mere 627 hp.

Also, those big grilles? Like the M3’s nostrils, they’re likely functional, either to provide enough intake or cooling air. And keep in mind, BMW is sticking with big grilles for the time being. If the Concept XM is meant to preview the future of BMW design, it’s gotta have the grilles.

On that note, the Concept XM’s purpose as a “singular rolling laboratory” of design, as R&T calls it, might be why some find it jarring. It previews all of BMW’s possible future designs, not just a few. So, if some elements clash with each other, that might be why. What looks sharp and purposeful on a coupe might not translate well to an SUV, and vice versa.

But speaking of looks, it’s worth remembering that the Concept XM isn’t the first polarizing BMW design. Many of the cars from the Chris Bangle era, especially the E65 7-Series, were eviscerated styling-wise by early-2000s commentators. Yet that had as much to do with BMW’s history of conservative design evolution up to that point, R&T muses. Furthermore, whether you liked them or not, those cars’ looks at least generated an emotional response. Perhaps the worst thing any design, automotive or not, can do is make you feel nothing.

And whether you like or hate the BMW Concept XM’s looks, it certainly doesn’t look boring.

Can you look past the BMW Concept XM’s looks?

Getting back to Bangle, he and his design team took risks to differentiate the BMW models from each other. And today, some of those Bangle-era cars, including the M Coupe ‘clown shoe,’ are looked upon fondly. Though to be fair, their driving dynamics also play a significant role in that.

In that regard, the BMW Concept XM is another risk or at least a preview of one. But the real proof will only come when BMW starts XM production in late 2022. And for those who don’t like the exterior, you can’t see it behind the wheel.

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