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Sophomore Slumps: The ’03-’10 BMW 6-Series

November 3, 2011 by Matt

BMW 640i 650i 645i E63 6-series

Yep, I’m taking it on. After months of putting it off, I’m finally going to unload both pent-up barrels in the direction of one of Chris Bangle‘s notorious creations: The ’03-’10 BMW 6-series, or E63.

I include this in my Sophomore Slumps series in spite of the 14-year gap between the departure of the original E24 6-series and the arrival of the E63 because in spite of minor refreshes, the first-generation car remained basically the same throughout its ’76-’89 model run. So although the E63 didn’t carry over a single part from the E24 except for the 6-series name, the consistency of the earlier car and their broadly similar target markets means the more recent car is properly the second generation.

The E63 bears the unfortunate distinction of being one of five BMWs closely associated with Chris Bangle’s early-’00s tenure as the automaker’s design director. Whether or not he’s directly responsible for the production car’s shape, it embodies his design philosophy, and he vigorously defended it when it encountered the inevitable criticism. So he owns it. It will be said the derision from the automotive community wasn’t nearly as harsh as was heaped on its immediate predecessor, the breathtakingly ugly E65 7-series, but I suspect most of the comments the E63 received could have been filed in the “damning with faint praise” category; in other words, automotive design pundits were simply relieved it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

BMW 640i 650i 645i E63 6-series Bangle Butt Chris Styling

But is it a beautiful car? Is it a classic shape, a style icon the way the E24 6-series was? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but allow me to note a few observations about the two generations, individually and in contrast to each other:

  • The proportions are totally wrong. In contrast to the earlier car, with its near-perfect visual mass distribution in profile, the E63 looks like a blob, a jellybean. There’s no tension in the shape, and certainly nothing to distinguish it from the throngs of egg-shaped Accords and Camrys on the freeway. And isn’t the point of owning a luxury coupe to distinguish yourself from the crowd?
  • The nose is a disaster. The trademark BMW kidneys are nothing more than holes punched in a rounded fascia surmounted by chrome milk mustaches, and the blocky, oddly-shaped headlights do nothing to help the cause. The original 6-series featured a beautiful-sculpted, distinctive shark nose.
  • The rear is a catastrophe. A prime example of the notorious “Bangle Butt,” the visual-separated trunklid surface fusses up what should be a sleek, clean going-away view.
  • The whole car looks cheap. Chunky, geometric, computer-generated—these are the adjectives that apply to the E63’s details. Where the E24’s styling looks hand-drawn (as it was) and is a feast of jewel-like minutia, the second-generation car looks positively cartoon-like—a wholly inappropriate feel for a prestige model.

The E63 6-series was a mess, and its model run lasted far, far too long. It may have had the moves, especially in fire-breathing, 500-hp M6 guise, but it was always a car automotive journalists and car buffs alike seemed to have to talk themselves into liking visually, if they even bothered to attempt praise at all. It was an unworthy torch-bearer of the 6-series legacy, and has thankfully been replaced by a far more aesthetically-pleasing—though not perfect—shape in the 2011+ 6-series, the F13.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting cars whose second generation failed to live up to the promise of the first. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Aesthetics, BMW, Sophomore Slumps


  1. Ryan says:

    I can respect your opinion and I know quite a few others that agree but I for one think the 6-series coupe looks fantastic (or at least the M6). I think it is much like the 98-02 M Coupe… you either love it or you hate it. The M Coupe is another that I think is sexy as hell and I would very much like to own one day. I very seriously considered buying one when I sold my last Mustang but I just couldn’t justify the price for a ~10yr old car. Because of their cult like following the really clean, low mileage ones still bring a premium in the market. I keep waiting for that car to show up in one of your “special” posts. I kind of got off on a tangent there didn’t I, lol. Oh well, it’s a car blog so I figure it’s OK to ramble on about car-related topics. Keep up the good work.


    • Matt says:

      Hey Ryan! Totally understand—In a larger sense the right word for the styling is probably “polarizing,” given that some, like you, really dig it. The M6 does look better. Full disclosure: I did look for the blockiest, least flattering combination of wheels, air dam and exhaust for this article’s pictures. :) If I had gotten pictures of the M6, more folks probably would’ve been like “What are you on about?”

      I’ve mentioned the Clownshoe at least a couple of times now in comments and posts. Maybe it’s time for an article about it? Hmm…maybe I’ll file it under “Styling Misfires.” Hahaha…just kidding.

      Maybe. :)

  2. David D. says:

    To me, this disaster of a design looks like a deformed turtle with down’s syndrome. Look at it face on and see it’s eyes. Look at the body shape and see the suppository shape that gives it that it’s… I’m trying to find a nice adjective but it looks deformed. Like we should raise a collection to it get emergency surgery so it “doesn’t have to go through life like that.”

    The best two things BMW ever did was design the Z8 and fire Chris Bangle. Not in that order.

    • Matt says:

      I’m not totally on board with the Z8 design—that’s a subject for another post—but I completely agree that firing Chris Bangle was the right thing to do. Now, if they would only quit diversifying their product line out of all recognition…

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