We get it BMW, your old cars are uncool now

by Antony Ingram
5 January 2023 4 min read
We get it BMW, your old cars are uncool now
Photos: BMW

CES is on at the moment. That’s the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the biggest event of the year for the tech industry and the place where everything from the first home video cassette recorder to the CD player, Xbox games console, and numerous smartphones have debuted over the years.

Since the mid-2010s it’s also seen an increasing presence of car makers, as infotainment and connected technology infiltrates the motoring world, and these days you’re as likely to see a new concept car at CES as you are at the Geneva motor show.

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BMW’s there again this year, with a concept called the BMW i Vision Dee. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “M3 Evolution” or “Z1”, but that’s okay because BMW has decided its old cars are uncool now.

Actually, BMW decided that a couple of years back with its “Story of generations” video, an excruciating Baby Boomer versus Gen-Z Kopf an Kopf between an E65 7-series and an iX SUV, arguing about iDrive, internet connectivity and the merits of fossil fuels.

Did it matter that the facelift 760Li was voiced like a crotchety old man despite being, at most, 16 years old at the time, hardly long in the tooth by the standards of BMW’s own history?

Not really; it’s all just, as the 7-series itself says, “marketing bullshit”. This was the time of BMW’s similarly agonising “OK Boomer” gaffe on Twitter, remember, promoting the same iX – the implication being that anyone who found it hideous was simply unwilling to accept change, rather than say, being in possession of a working pair of eyes. BMW, or rather its red-faced Twitter team, walked it back in a wishy-washy apology only a few days later.

The brand has hit the ground running in 2023 though with another ad taking a dig at its old products. This time it’s through the unlikely prism of Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing a motion-capture suit, a cameo by David Hasselhoff and KITT, and the aforementioned Vision Dee lurking in the shadows.

The seven-minute slot is too much to describe here so we’d suggest giving it a watch, particularly if you’ve got an itchy chin because you’ll get in a good seven minutes of scratching time as you wonder what on earth is going on. But the basic premise is that Arnie is kicking around the idea of a traditional first-love story with the car – an E21-generation 3-series – as its hook, and Vision Dee thinks both tale and transport are too old-fashioned, and that there should be more tech involved, because like the iX, that’s apparently all talking cars know of this world.

Or something. Look, it’s complicated, and frankly I was watching it mostly nodding along with everything Arnie was saying, as I suspect most of you are too, wondering why you’d want to corrupt the simple joys of driving with err… changing the colour of your paintwork? That seems to be Vision Dee’s other big thing, anyway. That, and not being too concerned with the tedious act of driving.

If you choose the E21, you risk the thing breaking down with smoke billowing out of the exhaust, or it chewing up your favourite A-Ha cassette. I’m sure the passionate enthusiasts at BMW Classic are glad for the exposure, but I wonder how they feel about one of BMW’s most significant ever models – the first 3-series – being lampooned as a clunky old nail.

It’s all tongue-in-cheek of course, and there’s the same twee kiss-and-make-up-style ending as the Generations video. BMW’s collection of heritage models, and its willingness to show, drive and display them, show that some within the company are still proud of its history.

But if the best its marketing agents can do to promote the brand’s future technology is make its older cars look a bit crap, then one of those enthusiasts within BMW could do well to give them a nudge and remind them that BMW wouldn’t be here at all were it not for the combined efforts of those previous generations.

Uncool to some they may now be when you’re trying to flog mood lighting and windscreen like a giant iPad, but the only reason anyone is paying attention at all was because an E21 3-series defined how the next few decades of BMWs looked and drove, or because the E65 7-series introduced much of the tech that subsequent models have expanded upon – and because that stuff really resonated with people around the world.

Anyway, all this marketing guff has buried the lede on the BMW i Vision Dee: that, in terms of its proportions, and from what we can glean from its size, it is what you might call a “proper BMW” – a relatively compact four-door saloon with a Hoffmeister kink. Even the grille looks better than BMW’s recent efforts, and the company is also using the term “Neue Klasse” to describe it – the same phrase it used for the cars that changed its fortunes in the 1960s.

The 32-colour “E Ink” body and “Mixed Reality” head-up display are almost a sideshow in that respect, and it’s certainly the first BMW concept in a hot minute that hasn’t required looking at it through a mirror lest you be turned to stone.

But I’d still be happier driving along in that E21, enjoying the ride, and accepting the fact the company that built it now thinks we – and the tens of thousands of enthusiasts around the world still driving old 2002s, E21s, M3s, 7-series and more – are just a bit uncool.

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  • Iain Marsh says:

    I had a 1980 E21 316 (yes, it was a 1600 poverty spec 4-speed with single headlamps, not 1800) and it was great. Compared to Ford’s offering (MK2 Escort) it was a World apart. Old nail? No chance.

  • Mark Oldfield says:

    Just watched the “Ad”. What a load of old hokum.

  • Neville Amos says:

    The add is rubbish. I used to think BMW made nice cars years ago. I liked most of their offerings from the mid 70’s up until the early 90’s. I thought they had an understated class and exclusivity about them. Now everyone has got one and they too me are just boring and i genuinely do not feel they are that either. Pick of the bunch for me would be a 1985 3 or 5 series.

  • Andrew Wright says:

    Thankfully the Vision Dee looks better than anything BMW currently produces, because at the moment, the ONLY cool BMWs are old ones…

  • John Harris says:

    Poor BMW from the “very well screwed together Cortina” 02 series cars, a road test quote at the time, to their current dreadful catch the Far East market styling.

    Why rubbish your heritage, why ruin your reputation to be ‘cool’ they made wonderful cars, elegant fast, fun and desirable and now !!!

  • Rob Sherston says:

    I fear BMW have just had a ‘Ratner’ moment.

  • Stevie Scott says:

    I also had the same red coloured 316 1.6L in the 80’s and it was one of the best cars I ever had! … and trhat includes jaguars and range rovers as they were pretty rubbish quality.
    Give me back my 316 bmw anytime 🙂

  • Sam Lever says:

    I actually agree that the ‘Vision whateveritis’ looks more inspired than any of BMW’s mainsteream products of today. However, when compared to the pleasure of driving a decent and well balanced car, most of what it brings to the table is irrelevant froth, sadly.

    I have been a long-time BMW fan, rebuilding an old E9 couple while still at school. Indeed, I have owned one E9 or another for the past 41 years, as well as enjoying an E30 Me Sport Evo and an M3 CSL along the way. BMW has made some truly landmark vehicles over the years, and I am lucky enough still to drive two of them whenever I want. With the exception of the i8 and perhaps the i3 (for different reasons) their output for the past decade has left me completely cold, and I see nothing that they are ‘envisioning’ right now that is likely to hook me back in. That is why I drive a 14-year old Boxster: a cheeky, compact, great driving analogue car. It does everything I need it to, and always brings a smile.

    As for my BMW’s, well it’s no surprise the younger one is 32 years old, with its big sister now turned 50!

    BMW used to innovate for the good of the product. Think 2002 turbo, Motronic, the Z1, or the genuinely interesting i3 and i8. Tech that brings no gains in performance, drivability, economy or reliability is just another Windows Update. And when you do all of this while styling cars that look pug-ugly, for every new follower, you lose at least as many devotees of what you used to do so well…

  • bob bob says:

    Bmws have never been cool. They’ve always been a vanity purchase. Except the only people who they 8moress are other BMW owners

  • Tony Weaver says:

    An example of Ratner marketing, so We are supposed to believe all older BMWs are rubbish.I think the new cars lack any individual qualities, I will never buy a boring car.My last two BMWs, a Z3 was a smile a mile car, and the E30 Baur T top, before it…Didnt BMW used to be the Ultimate drivers car? not the boring Lego block styling stuff, full of gizmos this add is promoting….

  • David Tong says:

    If I could simply own an E39 M5 in good shape, I would never look at another BMW again.

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