- The BMW kidney grille is one of the automaker’s most iconic design aspects.
- The first kidney grille appeared in 1933.
- The newest kidney grille is extremely polarizing but it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Say what you want about BMW, but you cannot deny that its signature kidney grille is one of the most iconic front ends in automotive history. Its shape may have changed over the years, but the kidney style has always been there.
The newest kidney grille – which debuted on the current 4 Series – is controversial, to say the least. Fans on social media denounced it, but BMW’s head of design, Demagogy Dukec, recently told Autocar the grille isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The automaker wants its cars to stand out, Dukec said. To do that, it made the grille distinguished. That’s one word for it!
The saga of the BMW kidney grille started in 1933, according to BMW. Since then, nearly every single BMW has had one as a nose. The grille has undergone 13 designs over the course of 88 years.
Keep reading to see them all.
In 1933, the BMW 303 became the first BMW to wear an air intake in the shape of a set of kidneys.
BMW rounded off the top and bottom of the functional grille and stuck its blue-and-white logo on the top like a crown.
The giant radiator grilles gave way to a much smaller design on the BMW 503 in 1956.
It didn’t dominate the front fascia as much as the 1930s design did.
The year 1956 also saw the gorgeous BMW 507 roadster, though the grille was revised to be far wider and horizontally positioned in order to channel more air into the V8.
The 507 was very expensive; only a handful were ever sold. This white one belonged to Elvis.
By 1961, the kidney grille had trickled down to BMW’s volume-sellers such as the BMW 1500.
For the first time, the two kidneys appeared linked and skinnier than ever before.
The grille appeared on the 1973 BMW 2002 Turbo, which was BMW’s very first turbocharged production car.
It also appeared on the BMW 3.0 CSL race car.
As well as the stunning BMW 2800 CS coupe from 1968.
The legendary 1978 M1 had horizontal intake grilles, but BMW was unwilling to give up the kidney shape – so it wound up with tiny kidneys.
To date, the M1 is one of the coolest BMWs ever built.
The tiny kidneys found their way onto the 1988 Z1.
As well as the wedge-shaped 8 Series from 1989.
The 8 Series famously sported flip-up headlights.
The year 1990 saw another redesign of the grille – flat, not very wide, but still horizontally positioned.
It debuted on the third generation of the 3 Series – or the E36 generation in BMW-speak.
The grille was extremely prevalent in the 1990s, with the 7 Series, 5 Series, X5, and the next generation of the 3 Series (the E46) all wearing it.
The 1995 BMW Z3 – which appeared in the James Bond film, GoldenEye – also wore the new grille.
In 2011, the sixth generation of the 3 Series (the F30) had a new, wide grille that touched the headlights for the first time.
You can still see this grille on the current 5 Series.
On the 2013 i3, the kidney grille was still wide but had a blue outline and was sealed off to articulate the EV aspect of the car.
The hybrid BMW i8 had a similar design.
The i3’s grille will inspire all future electric BMW cars.
For the 2018 8 Series and Z4, the grille became less rectangular and more angular.
The grilles are also slightly slanted, drawing your eye downward.
The 2018 Vision iNext is a design concept of what future models could look like. Like on the i3, the grille is sealed off.
The BMW iX, which will launch in 2022, is the all-electric production version of the Vision iNext concept.
The 2019 BMW Vision M Next is a conceptual hybrid sports car. You can see similarities between it and the i8.
The current, seventh-generation of the 3 Series (the G20) – launched in 2018 – has a grille that sits higher than the headlights. Performance versions replace the vertical grille rods with a mesh design.
In 2019, things really got big on the 7 Series and first-ever X7.
The big grille works better on the X7 because the car is so huge.
The most recent version of the kidney grille first showed up on the 4 Series Coupe in 2020. It was very controversial.
—Doug’s Cars (@dougs_cars) February 21, 2021
Since then, it has also appeared on the new M3 and M4.
Despite quite a bit of uproar, BMW’s head of design, Domagoj Dukec, says the grille is sticking around.
“If you want to create something that stands out, it must be distinguished and it has to be different,” he said.