Break­ing de­sign rules for new ex­pe­ri­ence

IN­TER­VIEW/ Michael Tay­lor spoke with the de­signer of the new BMW Z4, Calvin Luk, ahead of its re­cent re­veal

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Aus­tralian de­signer Calvin Luk nearly threw his hand up to turn around a BMW Z4 that had be­come a stodgy, over­weight shadow of its orig­i­nal self.

He knew, be­cause the Z4 was close to his heart. He owned one. Not just as a com­pany car, but with his own cash.

Luk, 31, uses an orig­i­nal E85 Z4 as his per­sonal trans­port around Mu­nich and, be­sides, it was his par­ents’ pur­chase of an E36 3 Se­ries that hooked him on car de­sign in the first place.

“All of these cars are very per­sonal to me,” Luk told me in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view in a Bavar­ian pho­to­graphic stu­dio in July. “One of our fam­ily friends got a Z3 when I was a kid and the de­signer of that car is now a men­tor of mine.

“The Z8 is from the Bond film and that’s a big in­flu­ence here, this E89 Z4 that my par­ents have and the Z4 that I use. I feel like I grew up with these cars.”

As soon as BMW’s en­gi­neer­ing team took the de­ci­sion to move the driver for­ward to tackle the Porsche 718 Boxster’s han­dling ad­van­tages, Luk felt like the 2000-2003 Z8’s pro­por­tions could make a come­back. “The Z8 pro­por­tions, you can see here. The lights are high up on the kid­ney grilles, like the Z8. Fur­ther down, we have the low­est kid­ney within BMW to ground it,” Luk said.

“We got the clas­si­cal road­ster pro­por­tions but moved the driver a bit more for­ward to give them a more fo­cused driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said.

“There is also just enough of the shark-nose lean in the front and the bon­net is re­ally low so it’s at­tack­ing the road. The wedge makes it dif­fer­ent to the pre­vi­ous two gen­er­a­tions. This wedge re­ally pro­nounces the pounc­ing feel.”

He was also given li­cence in­side BMW to push the bound­aries of its tra­di­tional de­sign lan­guage, which has been crit­i­cised in the de­sign com­mu­nity for hold­ing the firm’s cars back.

“The de­sign does not have to play ex­actly by all the rules be­cause it’s a road­ster,” Luk ex­plained. “We still have the dou­ble round head­lights, but they are ver­ti­cally stacked and that’s the first time we have done that.”

The grille it­self is ini­tially quite con­fronting, though Luk be­lieves its sub­tleties will help the Z4 age bet­ter than its pre­de­ces­sor. “The Z8 is more of a retro idea and we went for a mesh in the grille [in place of the ver­ti­cal slats] be­cause it’s more con­tem­po­rary. There is still the ver­ti­cal­ity of the kid­ney bars that we show, but it’s sub­di­vided now. It’s also mim­ick­ing the Mille Miglia car. Get closer to it and they [the in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents in the grille] are like mini aero­planes in the sculpt­ing.”

There are other tricks up front, too. Though the car is still [like all cars to­day] cursed by the lit­tle cir­cles of the park­ing sen­sors, the radar has been hid­den, to the point where you can’t find it even if you’re look­ing for it.

“The radar does not stand out. It’s in­te­grated into the de­sign of the air in­takes for the brakes on the M Sport model,” Luk said.

“It is a duct for the brakes and air cur­tains on the side, like all BMWs, so you can’t see it. Those park­ing dis­tance con­trol cir­cles: they all work with spe­cific an­gles so we can’t change them. The en­gi­neers dic­tate where they go for op­ti­mal cov­er­age. Ev­ery de­signer hates them.”

There is some­thing strong and co­he­sive about the Z4’s side view, but it doesn’t im­me­di­ately hit you un­til Luk ex­plains it.

“There is one key line on the car from the side. It runs from the bot­tom of the clamshell bon­net at the [front] wheel all the way along the side and into the tail­lights,” he said.

“It’s ex­tremely three-di­men­sional. With that one line we can play a lot with vari­a­tions in the sur­face. It’s fac­ing down from the wheel be­fore and it starts twist­ing, so the shadow goes away and it turns into the shoul­der line. From the back it’s easy to see how the line twists and flips into the mus­cle of the rear wheel arch.”

There’s a light catcher along the door sills to ground the car’s vis­ual look and the M40i scores a lit­tle ex­tra notch in its air breather that will sep­a­rate it from lesser Z4s. The car runs a lot of sculpt­ing over the rear wheels, pri­mar­ily to add to its mus­cle and to vis­ually en­large the rear wheels.

“We al­ways try play­ing the lines pretty close to the wheels to make the wheels big­ger op­ti­cally,” Luk said.

“That’s how we play to the pro­por­tions of the car. That’s al­ways the start of it. How much fender mus­cle do we want and how we squeeze it? It seems to work with the X cars bet­ter but with a sports car we want to squeeze it down a bit. The mus­cle above the rear wheel is to get the mass to look lower.”

Luk was given more scope to fid­dle with the BMW de­sign legacy at the rear end, where he’s turned the L-shaped tail lights into some­thing more three-di­men­sional than usual.

“The L has much more depth than we usu­ally have. They are very slim with no shade line. This is the new de­sign lan­guage for the brand.”

It’s a crit­i­cal point for Luk, which has set him up for a strong fu­ture at BMW as the last peo­ple to set the de­sign lan­guage for BMW were Chris Bangle and cur­rent BMW de­sign boss Adrian van Hooy­donk.

The lan­guage will de­but on both the Z4 and the new 8 Se­ries at about the same time, with su­per slim tail lights. But that’s not all that sets the rear end apart from its pre­de­ces­sor.

“We also placed the rear fog lamp in the cen­tre, like a For­mula 1 car and the brake light is smoked to place em­pha­sis on the rear lights,” Luk said.

“The boot is plas­tic, be­cause this shape is im­pos­si­ble to press in metal.”

There have been plenty of ad­di­tions to the Z4, but one ma­jor sub­trac­tion. The roof. The out­go­ing car’s fold­ing metal roof has gone, sav­ing about 50kg and help­ing with the car’s pro­por­tions. The cloth roof isn’t as short or stumpy as the orig­i­nal, ei­ther, but looks sleeker, like a coupe shape, when it’s fixed.

“The roofline has a faster an­gle at the back than be­fore. It’s about a 2/3 ra­tio to the glasshouse length. From the be­gin­ning, we knew we were go­ing to do a soft top. That made it easier.” he said.

The in­te­rior makes, if any­thing, a big­ger step for­ward than the ex­te­rior and though it wasn’t Luk’s work, he’s en­thu­si­as­tic about it.

“The cockpit is re­ally cool. The ac­cents all pull you into the in­stru­ment clus­ter. All the switch gear is all fo­cused on the driver,” he said.

“It’s much more min­i­mal on the co-pi­lot side, but it’s very sculpted in front of them. It’s still ex­cit­ing but not clut­tered.”

The down­side is that every­thing that looks like metal in­side the cabin is ac­tu­ally gal­vanised plas­tic, and metal can’t be or­dered as an op­tion.

There are two 10.3-inch screens, in­clud­ing the in­stru­ment clus­ter, and it’s the first BMW road­ster to score a full head-up dis­play as an op­tion.

The two cuphold­ers are hid­den, some­what awk­wardly, back near the driver’s el­bow, and there are two am­bi­ent light strips that di­rect the eye to­wards the in­stru­ment clus­ter.

The new BMW Z4 is set to go on sale in SA in the first quar­ter of 2019.

THE COCKPIT IS RE­ALLY COOL. THE AC­CENTS ALL PULL YOU INTO THE IN­STRU­MENT CLUS­TER

Left: De­signer Calvin Luk sketches ideas for the Z4. Above: The rear is dif­fer­ent but shows a new de­sign lan­guage that could ap­pear in other mod­els. Below: The new BMW Z4 marks a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from pre­vi­ous de­signs.

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