When it was first seen at the 2001 Detroit motor show, the general consensus over the xCoupé was that BMW had lost the plot. Renowned for good-looking cars which were understated and elegant, the xCoupé was anything but. The culprit was the ‘flame surfacing’ that was so beloved of BMW design chief Chris Bangle. He liked it, but there were few other fans.
Some reckoned the car looked as though it had been in an accident, the lines were so disjointed. It didn’t help that the nearside of the xCoupé was different from the offside, with a full-width door on the passenger side to help with entry and exit to the rear seats, but a much shorter door was fitted on the driver’s side.
There were several classic BMW styling cues in evidence, the most noticeable being the double-kidney grille. But whereas the usual item was fairly understated, the xCoupé’s featured a startling perforated aluminium finish. The ‘hockey stick’ C-pillar that has long been a BMW trademark was still there – but only on the driver’s side – and the asymmetrical styling meant the rear end was rather less even that it first appeared.
The bootlid was rear-hinged and although when opened it took the rear wing with it on the nearside, on the offside the rear wing remained in place. Such a strange arrangement meant the rear lights had to be different from each other but BMW claimed that “mild asymmetry is more pleasant than stringent mathematical symmetry”. It’s a shame that few observers agreed – and besides, the asymmetry was hardly mild.
Under the skin the xCoupé was equally radical, because expectations would have suggested a rear-wheel drive layout with a powerful petrol engine at the front. The reality was a four-wheel drive transmission borrowed from the X5 and the six-cylinder diesel powerplant taken from the 330d.
Lightweight aluminium bodywork meant the xCoupé was able to make the most of the 184bhp and 332lb ft of torque on offer, and BMW claimed it was theoretically capable of 125mph and a 0-60mph time of around 7.5 seconds. And although Tarmac looked like the natural home for the xCoupé, it was reckoned that despite no more ground clearance than you’d find on any other sporting coupé, the car was able to go off-roading without coming unstuck.
Other highlights on the show car included 20-inch alloy wheels, although they weren’t fitted with the usual rubber band tyres that you normally find on show stars. The 255/50 rubber fitted at the front was relatively high profile for a 21st century concept, while at the rear there were 285/45 tyres. The inclusion of run-flat technology meant a spare wheel didn’t need to be housed. The five-speed Steptronic transmission was something carried over from BMW’s production cars, complete with steering wheel-mounted paddle shift to put some fun back into the driving experience.
Helping to keep the car on the road was a rear spoiler which popped up at anything over 68mph and headlamps which turned with the front wheels was another innovation – although the system relied on nothing so prosaic as sensors or hydraulics. Instead the whole set-up was controlled by GPS, which could read the road ahead before the car had even got there.
BMW claimed that the xCoupe wouldn’t go into production, unless enough interest was shown. That’s what had happened with the Z1, but unlike the xCoupé, the Z1 was a good looking car. But the concept was to prove more prophetic than many gave it credit for, because when the Z4 was revealed the following year, its front end was very similar to the one seen on the xCoupé, although the similarities didn’t go much further than that. Thankfully.
||Front-mounted, 2926cc, turbodiesel, in-line six
||5-speed auto, four-wheel drive