You know, BMW’s big grille really isn’t that bad

You know, BMW's big grille really isn't that bad

I can quite easily forgive the ugly styling of a car if it’s super entertaining from behind the wheel. I used to call this the Subaru WRX theory, but today the BMW M3 is a much more appropriate representation. No piece of car design in recent history has generated as much hatred as The Grille, but at the same time, the M3 is one of the best-driving cars BMW has built in years. And you know, design is starting to grow on me too.

That came to light recently when I spent a week with a base M3 sedan. This particular test car was painted in Verde Mantis — a color so bright you’d swear it couldn’t come from BMW, yet it’s available through the dealer. Individual customization catalog† It’s not the kind of greenery I’d probably want to live with every day (hello, Isle of Man green), but on the M3 it doesn’t just work, it helps.

With an amazing color like Verde Mantis as the centerpiece, the grille of the M3 is suddenly not so noticeable anymore. And really, bold styling like this is best delivered by an equally bold color. Look at an M3 in matte gray and all you see is a grille. But take a look inside Verde Mantis’ car and the kidneys aren’t the first thing that catches your eye. Suddenly the grille isn’t so bad.

Fire Orange earns the fire emoji.

Daniel Golson/CNET

Neon green isn’t the only way to make the grille work, either. Not long after my M3 loan, I hired senior social media editor Daniel Golson an M4 coupe painted Fire Orange, another color available through BMW’s Individual program. I borrowed the M4 from him overnight and found I had the same general impression, that somehow, in this spec, the grille worked. Even thinking about the photo above, that schnoz reads as non-offensive.

BMW offers a wide range of colors through its Individual catalogue, and as part of M’s 50th anniversary, the company is opening a few previously unavailable shades that all looks cool. There is, of course, an additional charge if you choose to go this route, in the amount of several thousand dollars. But that’s an easier upgrade to get into the final price of something like an M3 or M4, both of which start above $70,000.

Looking past the M3 and M4, BMW’s large grille design is clearly not going away. The standard 4-series and electric i4 models get this treatment, and you will find big kidneys in the near future XM SUVwhich should actually look pretty wild everywhere.

The grille is not the problem here.


In fact, the grille is a lot easier to digest on a car that’s boldly styled from all angles. i think the new one BMW iX SUV looks great, but that’s because the craziness is cohesive. It’s harder to integrate this same kind of front-end design into a car as the i4, which is quite calm and groundbreaking from other points of view. This is also the reason why BMW did not immediately graft the large grille into all its cars; the new 2 seriesrenewed 3-series and the next 5 series will not get this treatment.

BMW’s more egregious styling decision has nothing to do with the grille: it’s the decision to switch to split headlights. The new G70 Generation 7 Series has a polarizing front end, I’m less concerned about the grille design – the split lighting elements are much more offensive. The 2023 BMW X7 looks a bit worse after the mid-cycle change, but that’s all because of the switch to a split headlight. Before and after the facelift, the grille of the X7 is basically the same.

Maybe this is also something I’ll get used to over time, and smart color choices can definitely help. A two-tone 7 series looks much better than a solid color. But I don’t think Verde Mantis is the answer.