Andrew Frankel: 'I want no part in a future that includes a car so irredeemably ugly'

“If the BMW iX is what the future looks like, then I want no part in it," writes Andrew Frankel. Bentley's electric future, though, looks more promising

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I always find it strange when colleagues pronounce on the appearance of a new car. First such matters are entirely subjective, but second it is the one aspect of any new car we are in no better position to judge than anyone else. Motoring journalists are not, as a rule, style gurus. They are a scruffy bunch at the best of times, far more interested in how cars drive than look. Which is why I fit in so well.

Then a car like the new BMW iX rears its head, a car so irredeemably ugly it actually poses broader questions about the direction in which the company is going and where the board of management was on the day it got signed off. I’m interested too in its patronising response to those with the temerity to question it, one reply on Twitter stating: “When it comes to innovative design, it’s common for some to find it unusual and odd. Be open to the new look and let’s embrace the future together.”

A few things here. First, if that’s what the future looks like, I want no part in it. Second, the design is not innovative. The i8 of 2014 was innovative, not only because it was light, clever and packed with interesting tech but because it was, to these eyes, the first successfully styled mid-engined 2+2. The iX design isn’t innovative. It’s poor. And as for some finding it odd, if the comments on websites I’ve read are in any way indicative, that ‘some’ is the vast majority of respondents and ‘odd’ the kinder observation.

Of course BMW has been here before, or somewhere like it, when Chris Bangle was in charge of its design department. Some of the products created on his watch were visually pretty challenging, none better known or more derided than the E60 5 Series of 2003. Indeed one of Autocar’s finest headlines (which even doffed its cap to Bangle’s American nationality) came atop a story about the cars whose looks had suffered under his stewardship. It was called ‘The cars Bangle spannered’.

So perhaps that’s what we’re seeing again. I was probably pretty rude about the E60 back then but now think it looked ahead of its time. Will the same be said of the iX in 2037? I don’t know, but somehow I doubt it.

I’m not going to dwell on the Toyota GR Yaris because you can read the editor’s review in this issue. All I would say is I’m glad it exists because I thought the days of mainstream manufacturers making maverick one-offs like this died with the likes of the mid-engine Renault Clio. The Yaris wouldn’t exist were it not originally intended to be a homologation car but I still love the idea of Toyota becoming so obsessed with its rally programme that it designed a completely new car with only a passing resemblance to a real Yaris and made it road legal just so it could get one over the opposition.

While I expect it will lose a packet on every one it makes, if it sprinkles stardust on the company as a whole, it will be worth every penny.

It is interesting that Bentley has become the first luxury manufacturer to blink and announce that by 2030 all its cars will be electric. Not ‘electrified’ mind, which is industry PR-speak for petrol powered with a bit of electrical assistance every so often, but genuinely, entirely and exclusively electric.

It’s a brave move. Bentley’s bet is that in a lot less than 10 years (because it takes five years or more to develop a car) the technology and infrastructure in important markets around the world will have advanced sufficiently for there to be no drawback to electric ownership: no range anxiety, no recharging time wasted.

It is betting also that the world won’t have lurched off in another direction by then, possibly towards fuel cells. Finally it is betting its still significant numbers of traditional customers can be either talked around or replaced. And it will be hoping this plan goes better than its last concerted effort to put an environmentally friendly foot forward. Back in 2009, Bentley decided that all its cars would be ‘flex-fuel’, so they could run on standard petrol or E85 bio-ethanol. It was quite a task because E85 is nasty stuff requiring substantial re-engineering of fuel lines and injectors; but other than a few outlets of Morrisons, it never became widely available and the initiative died.

I have higher hopes, at least for Bentley, this time around. The timing is probably right both in terms of the technology and customer acceptance. There’s no such thing as too soon for a brand like Bentley so closely associated with profligacy to demonstrate its desire to listen and change. What it’s going to do about its racing car programmes is another matter.

There is something about the Bentley announcement that saddens me, however, and it has nothing to do with Crewe. I suspect, though I have no inside knowledge, that it might spell the end for the rebirth of Lagonda.

You will remember Lagonda was to be relaunched as an all-electric rival to those stuck-in-the-muds at Rolls-Royce and Bentley. Aston Martin showed a striking Lagonda concept car. I thought it an extremely good idea. Then AM got into financial strife and one of the necessary cost-saving moves required to ensure its survival was to kick the Lagonda project into the long grass.

Now most of the executives who were behind the Lagonda plan have moved on and with the company under new management, I expect that in the long grass Lagonda will stay, if not six feet under it.

A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel