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Where sport meets luxury: designing BMW’s new concept coupé

BMW’s Martina Starke on designing a machine that marries dynamism with luxury and style

Martina Starke, BMW’s head of brand vision and brand design, and the new BMW Concept 8 Series
Martina Starke, BMW’s head of brand vision and brand design, and the new BMW Concept 8 Series

Martina Starke is happy. She has created beauty. “A great car has to look beautiful on the road,” she says. BMW’s head of brand vision and brand design has led the team behind the concept car for the new BMW Concept 8 Series – a car that displays its lineage, and is at the same time boldly new. What it evinces most spectacularly is how to make a machine that has dynamism, while achieving a sumptuous degree of luxury and style. “The dynamic look comes from the form language,” she says. “You want a car that speaks to you directly when you see it for the first time.”

The BMW Concept 8 Series is a highly assured product, it looks already as if it owns the roads it will drive on. “You have to be confident in design,” says Starke, “but that sureness comes from hard work and constant observation. It is very difficult to separate the job from the life.” In her life, as one of the increasing number of women who fashion the look and feel of BMW cars, she is looking at our lives: specifically urban, increasingly mobile. The paramount design input is from people, whether customers or not. The mission is to understand how we live, how we will live, what our needs are.

The interior of the new BMW Concept 8 Series
The interior of the new BMW Concept 8 Series

With that in mind, BMW was keenly aware that the high degree of luxury put into this new coupé needed be balanced by performance on the road. It succeeded; this is a bona fide sportscar, providing a full-blooded handling and speed experience, with a dazzling degree of style inside.

“Emphasising driver orientation geometry means we have clustered the instruments to enhance focus. BMWs are for people who appreciate the feel of a car on the road, the whole actual motoring experience. With this new BMW Concept 8 Series the joy of driving is first and foremost.”

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Data and surveys inform what we want from our cars now, but they cannot shape and create. Starke’s team studies other designers from outside the automotive world. “Artists are more avant-garde,” she thinks, “they see and feel things before others do. I have always been fascinated by both art and design, and my team’s work here brings those two professions together.”

BMW’s designers draw inspiration from areas such as architecture and contemporary interior design. It is a prodigious effort of creation, relaying back to Munich every advance observed in new technology. Sometimes ideas arrive as “old tech”, sketches in a notebook from someone’s travels. All this input is refined by the design team. 

The interior of the new BMW Concept 8 Series
The interior of the new BMW Concept 8 Series

“When you are buying into the high segment of the BMW range, you are buying a very individualised car. We use exquisite and luxurious materials to give the owner a sense of craftsmanship as well as prestige. It’s not just about how they look, it is how good their functionality is.”

The axiom “design is about people” is rote, but also true. We will more and more think about how to use the time we spend in cars, even before autonomous vehicles arrive. Materials are intrinsic elements that delight us emotionally and create mood.

The hood of the new BMW Concept 8 Series
The hood of the new BMW Concept 8 Series

Starke’s view is a long one: “designers need to look into the future as far as they can, and not only see that future, but feel it, through intuition. We need to keep introducing new technologies that advantage drivers and enhance their pleasure.”

It is in the BMW DNA always to balance emotion and aesthetics in an affecting expression of surfaces and lines. This is immediately apparent, but inside there are satisfactions only owners will discover: BMW connectivity is a given, and the BMW Concept 8 Series showcases a new concept for entertainment systems and user interface. All interior functions are in distinct, highly readable control clusters. The effect is of being in the world’s most luxurious racing car. It is a singular, stirring experience.

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A car like this is a culmination of first-class ideas resolved into excellence of function. Such ideas can have genesis in a sculpture, a painting in a gallery, a laboratory, the forms of the natural world. A myriad of inspirations, distilled, are in this new machine. It redefines the automotive zeitgeist.

There can be paradox in progress. Here is a simplified BMW design language, a startling economy of line and sculpture, married to enviable comfort and sophistication. This gorgeous coupé is “still a car for driving”, says Starke, “that is paramount, but our design answers have to keep getting better and better; we must reach for perfection as we approach that axis of humans and machines.”

This machine’s axis is the point where sport meets luxury. The new BMW promises more than excitement – it delivers the future, today, in a fast, sleek and emotionally compelling automobile.

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