The signature BMW twin kidney grille is a perfect example of a functional feature turned brand icon over time, with more than 85 years of the unmistakably distinct design embellishing the front of most BMW vehicles to date.
It was originally designed to act as a radiator grille for cooling purposes, but today with the elimination of cooling functions and the significant advances in propulsion technologies, the legendary twin kidney grille now acts as the primary identifier of almost all models made by Bayerische Motoren Werke and is also enjoying several trendy modifications to its core design.
Let’s drive down memory lane and take a look at the history of the conspicuous twin kidney grille from 1933 until today.
BMW 303 (1933)
At the time of the BMW 303’s release in 1933, the automotive world didn’t expect that this one-of-a-kind model was destined to represent not one but two achievements; one for history and one for the future. The 303 marked the first six-cylinder model ever released by BMW, and it was also the first model to include a functionality in the car’s front for air intake shaped like kidneys, which gradually became what we know today as the hallmark BMW twin kidney grille.
The grilles’ design that displayed rounded up corners at its top and bottom, adorned by the BMW logo that was centered between its upper arches. From that moment on, the twin grilles kept getting optimized and more graceful as time went by, but the BMW 303 will always be the pioneering model behind the automotive giant’s signature feature.
BMW 503 (1956)
Fast forwarding 23 years later, BMW creates the BMW 503 as a coupé/ convertible sports car version of the 501 and 502 models in 1956, featuring a much narrower and slimmer version of the vertical, fully chrome-plated grilles that fit the car like a glove. That shape of the kidney grilles found its way onto the follow-up coupés to the BMW 503, the BMW 3200 CS (1962) and the BMW 2000 CS (1965).
BMW 507 (1956)
Another leading model in terms of innovation, the BMW 507 Roadster saw the kidney grilles switch their orientation to horizontal, reflecting the model’s progressive design and power-hungry allure. This new feature also served to accentuate the 507’s widely dynamic front labeled the “Sharknose” which amplified its powerful yet elegant allure.
BMW 1500 (1961)
The mid-range models of the “New Class” in the 60s were distinguished in many aspects, and the BMW 1500 was no exception. With kidney grilles reminiscent of the BMW 503 in terms of their general aspect at first glance, a deeper look reveals that these vertical grilles actually 2 unique traits; they had no separator between them and were connected together for the first time, in addition to being inserted between two car-wide horizontal grilles.
BMW M1 (1978)
By the late 1970s, the twin kidney grilles had become synonymous with BMWs around the world, which is why the M1’s sleek, sporty design presented a challenge for keeping the symbolic grilles at the time. However discarding this iconic feature was not an option at that point, so that resulted in creating a special variant for the M1 which is still the smallest ever witnessed on a BMW till this day.
BMW 3 Series (1990)
Apart from arguably being BMW’s most popular model ever, the 3 Series represented an evolutionary shift in gears for the kidney grilles in its third generation from 1990. Although adhering to the horizontal positioning and inherently flat design, the 90s’ 3 Series were unique from the predecessors in that the twin grilles were separated once again. Another prominent aspect is the absence of the two accompanying horizontal grilles that were placed between the original ones and the car’s headlights in previous versions.
BMW 3 Series (2011)
Building on its predecessor from three generations before, the 2011 3 Series marked yet another milestone in the kidney grille design; the dynamically curvy kidney grilles connected with the car’s headlight surfaces for the first time ever, without having any side grilles or otherwise between them. This breakthrough aspect was seen on more models along the way, such as the 2015 BMW 7 Series, the current generation of the BMW 5 Series, and the latest BMW 6 Series (both 2017).
BMW i3 (2013)
With the release of the BMW i3 in 2013, the distinct grille was kept as an entirely aesthetic addition, however on this model it was actually closed, which further established it as serving no functional purpose on electric vehicles but also solidifying its significance as a signature identifier. The eye-catching blue highlights made the closed twin “grilles” stand out even more and complement the car’s aerodynamic nature, and the 2013 i3 became the innovation reference for all fully electric BMW vehicles to come.
BMW 8 Series, BMW Z4 (2018)
BMW 3 Series Sedan (2018)
The current model of the BMW 3 Series pays homage to the popular grille design with a touch of new, featuring connected twin kidney grilles that are themselves connected to the headlight surfaces, while retaining the contemporary signature pentagon shape. The new changes on this model include a notably higher extension of the grille above the edges of the headlights to reach the lower part of the hood, however the headlights and twin grilles are seamlessly connected and aligned as one for a more modern outlook in the front. Taking a detailed look at the M performance variants of the latest 3 Series, you can notice that the fitted grille doesn’t have the classic vertical rods inside of it, as they were replaced with an eye-catching mesh structure that contains tiny, wedge-like shapes that are referred to as “nuggets”.
BMW X7, BMW 7 Series (2019)
Although just one year apart from the current 3 Series, the BMW X7 and the current BMW 7 Series that were released in 2019 bring a drastic change to the kidney grille as we know it, but still retain enough similarities with the 3 to keep in line with the conspicuous design. The most notable difference is the remarkably large grille that grabs attention anywhere it goes, elevating these two models to new imposing heights.
BMW 4 Series Coupé (2020)
2020 witnessed the latest changes to the iconic kidney grille with the world premiere of the BMW 4 Series Coupé. The cutting-edge design awed fans with its significantly large and forward-leaning sports grille that screams innovation yet adheres to BMW’s prestigious tradition of beautiful sports cars. Iconic models like the BMW 328 Coupé (1930s) and the BMW 3.0 CS (1970s) that made racetrack history and set the idea of pure driving pleasure in stone now have a modern sibling that promises a new era of luxurious performance.
BMW Vision iNEXT (2018), BMW Vision M NEXT (2019)
As much as BMW enjoys a rich history, its futuristic drive has always been prominent across the automotive world, and innovation is always at the forefront of what’s next. Two vision models were revealed to show what the signature identifier could look like in future commercial releases – the BMW Vision iNEXT (2018) and the BMW Vision M NEXT (2019) – where each of the models had solid statements to make. The all-electric BMW Vision iNEXT released in 2018 builds on the existing i3’s closed kidney grille, but with a twist; the twin kidneys appear to be united into one big grille and without a separator. Additionally, the BMW Vision iNEXT has several advanced technological, including sensors, cameras and more smart functionalities for parking and autonomous driving assistance. BMW refers to this technology internally as “shy-tech”, referring to its hidden nature behind the closed grille.
When it comes to the BMW Vision M NEXT, the alien-like hybrid sports car reveals a visionary kidney grille design that streamlines with the hood and that resembles a meticulous glass sculpture more than an automotive design. An in-your-face presence stands out through the engraved mini BMW logos that replace the aforementioned “nuggets” inside the grille, and features the addition of a color gradient and an innovative illumination technique to the futuristic vehicle.