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Every car era has distinguishing characteristics. Whether it’s the long hoods of the 1920s and ’30s, the large tailfins of the 1950s and ’60s, or the boxy-shaped vehicles of the 1980s, there are unique aspects of cars that stand out for different generations. In recent years, people often criticize cars for looking the same. However, a distinguishing feature during the past decade is the big grilles on cars, as seen on BMW and Lexus vehicles. And the grilles seem to be getting larger every year. Why is this?

What is the purpose of a car grille?

Front angle view of 2022 Lexux LX, highlighting why car grilles are getting so big
2022 Lexus LX | Lexus

Large grilles on cars are the “in” thing these days. One doesn’t have to look very far to find vehicles with massive grilles. BMW is a brand that’s often cited for having cars with big grilles. However, many other automakers are notorious for large grilles, including Lexus, Toyota, GMC, Audi, Bentley, and Rolls-Royce. 

A possible consideration for a large grille is to improve airflow. The purpose of a grille — at least for fully-gas powered vehicles, is to enable airflow in the engine bay. The airflow cools off the engine and radiator, which prevents overheating. 

Do large car grilles allow more airflow to cool down the engine parts?

Front angle view of 2022 Bentley Continental GT, highlighting why car grilles are so large
2022 Bentley Continental GT | Bentley

Grilles typically have slats or mesh inserts. These components are not designed to limit airflow. Instead, they protect the engine parts from debris and other particles — while still allowing air to flow under the hood. 

So, this begs the question, do bigger grilles allow more airflow to cool down the engine parts?

For the most part, the answer is no. If you take a close look at most modern car grilles, you’ll see that the vast majority of them have “closed-off sections that take up at least half of the grille,” as detailed by DS&F

Front view of gray 2023 BMW iX, highlighting why car grilles are getting so big
2023 BMW iX | BMW

Some high-performance cars have active grilles with shutters that open and close to control airflow. However, otherwise, these closed-off sections, which are usually made of plastic, prevent air from flowing into the engine bay. Essentially, they are a non-functional part of the grille.

Furthermore, electric vehicles don’t even need a traditional grille, for they don’t have an engine that needs to be cooled down. However, many EVs, such as the BMW iX SUV and Audi’s e-tron lineup — have a large grille.

One might also think that a big grille might be necessary to house cameras and radars for active safety systems and driving assistance technologies. However, a large grille is not necessary for these things.

Big grilles are a way for cars to stylistically stand out among similar-looking vehicles

There’s only one reason why car grilles are getting bigger. A large grille is a way for cars to stylistically stand out amidst a sea of similar-looking vehicles. As mentioned earlier, people often criticize modern cars for looking the same. The bodies of many cars have a similar shape with curved contours. 

These similar body designs are due to a number of factors. For one, to improve profitability, automakers use the same platform across multiple models in their vehicle lineup. Also, with the need to improve fuel economy, the similar curved shape of cars helps achieve maximum aerodynamic efficiency.

While the bodies of modern cars often look the same, the one way that vehicles can differentiate from each other is with a grille. And the easiest way to differentiate is with a big grille. Furthermore, the grille is usually the first thing that people notice on a car. 

Will the big grille trend continue? Will automakers go to extreme lengths to make grilles even more massive, such as covering the entire front end — except for the headlights and license plate holder?

Perhaps, the movement toward eclectic cars will slow down the big grille wave. However, as evidenced by the BMW iX and Audi’s e-tron lineup, the large grille trend will likely continue into the EV era.


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