You Know, BMW's Big Grille Really Isn't So Bad

A good car in a great color makes all the difference.

Steven Ewing Former managing editor
Steven Ewing spent his childhood reading car magazines, making his career as an automotive journalist an absolute dream job. After getting his foot in the door at Automobile while he was still a teenager, Ewing found homes on the mastheads at Winding Road magazine, Autoblog and Motor1.com before joining the CNET team in 2018. He has also served on the World Car Awards jury. Ewing grew up ingrained in the car culture of Detroit -- the Motor City -- before eventually moving to Los Angeles. In his free time, Ewing loves to cook, binge trash TV and play the drums.
Steven Ewing
3 min read
2022 BMW M3
Enlarge Image
2022 BMW M3

This car is so, so good.

Steven Ewing/CNET

I can pretty easily forgive a car's ugly styling if it's super entertaining from behind the wheel. I used to call this the theory, but these days, the BMW M3 is a far more apt representation. There isn't a single piece of automotive design in recent memory that's elicited as much hate as The Grille, yet at the same time, the M3 is one of the best-driving cars BMW's built in years. And you know, the design's actually 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 Verde Mantis -- a color so bright you'll swear it couldn't have come from BMW, yet it's available through the company's Individual customization catalog. It's not the sort of green I'd probably want to live with every day (hello, Isle of Man Green), but on the M3, it not only works, it helps.

With an outrageous color like Verde Mantis as the focal point, the M3's grille suddenly isn't so glaring. And really, bold styling like this is best delivered through a similarly bold color. Look at an M3 in matte gray and all you see is grille. But peep the Verde Mantis car and the kidneys aren't the first thing that grabs your attention. All of a sudden, that grille isn't so bad.

2022 BMW M4
Enlarge Image
2022 BMW M4

Fire Orange deserves 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 booked senior social media editor Daniel Golson in an M4 coupe painted Fire Orange, another color available through BMW's Individual program. I borrowed the M4 from him for a night and found myself having the same overall impression, that somehow, in this spec, the grille worked. Even as I reflect on the photo above, that schnoz reads as unoffensive.

BMW offers a wide range of colors through its Individual catalog, and as part of M's 50th anniversary, the company is opening up a few previously unavailable hues that all look rad. There is of course an added upcharge if you choose to go this route, to the tune of several thousand dollars. But that's an easier upgrade to roll 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 clearly isn't going away. The standard and electric i4 models get this treatment, and you'll find big kidneys on the upcoming XM SUV, which should actually look pretty wild all around.

2023 BMW i7
Enlarge Image
2023 BMW i7

The grille isn't 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 BMW iX SUV looks great, but that's because the weirdness is cohesive. It's harder to integrate this same sort of front-end design on a car like the i4, which is quite sedate and borderline boring from other viewpoints. This is also why BMW hasn't immediately grafted the big grille into all its cars; the new 2 Series, refreshed 3 Series and upcoming 5 Series don't get this treatment.

BMW's more egregious styling decision has nothing to do with the grille: It's the decision to move 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 far more offensive. The 2023 BMW X7 looks a bit worse following its midcycle refresh, but it's all because of the move to a split-headlight arrangement. Pre- and post-facelift, the X7's grille is basically the same.

Perhaps this, too, is something I'll get used to over time, and clever color choices could certainly help. A two-tone 7 Series already looks way better than a solid-color one. But I don't think Verde Mantis is the answer.

2022 BMW M3: So Keen for Bright Green

See all photos