BMW's dramatic Concept CS rolled onto the stand at the hot, crowded, noisy, and chaotic Shanghai auto show, and it could only have been more refreshing if it had blown refrigerated air onto the crowd. Far racier than any BMW four-door to date, and prettier than any of the brand's current coupes, the captivating CS holds out the prospect of a tantalizing new type of BMW.
"What we have here is actually a sports car for four people," says Adrian van Hooydonk, who, as chief of design for BMW automobiles, oversaw the car's development. Carving out a space between traditional sedans and sporty coupes, the CS in theory works to the same brief as the Mercedes-Benz CLS. But whereas Mercedes refers to the four-door CLS as a coupe, everyone at BMW is emphatic about characterizing the Concept CS as a GT.
"With this car, we wanted to shy away from the idea that anything that is sporty automatically has to be labeled a coupe. That's not the case," claims Chris Bangle, head of design for the BMW Group. "Coupes are, by the nature of the word, a derivative of something. You take something and you coupe-ify it. The word means 'cut' in French. That's why, if you look back to the 1960s, a lot of the GTs were never called a coupe--they were called a GT. Because in doing them, you didn't take a big car and make it smaller."
The name CS, though, is an homage to BMW's classic series of big two-door coupes, which started with the 3200CS in 1961. (However, the first BMW to use the letters was the lesser-known, small 700CS two-door, and there also was a CS variant of the 2000.) The last of the big coupes to wear the CS designation--actually CSi--was the 1996 850CSi.
Since the last CS was an 8-series, a car that sat above the 7-series at the apex of the model range, does this show car propose a new top-of-the-line model for BMW?
Bangle at first seems to dismiss the idea: "The 7 is always going to be our absolute top-of-the-line sedan," he says. But the key part of that sentence isn't "top-of-the-line," it's "sedan." Bangle admits as much by adding: "Do we always have to think that the 7-series sedan is as far as [BMW] can go? Is there something even further?" Van Hooydonk is more direct: "In our minds, if we were to do a car like this, it would be a top-of-the-line car."
Certainly, the concept's extravagant proportions would support that status. The CS sits astride a 123.7-inch wheelbase, which surpasses that of even the long-wheelbase 7-series. It's also wider than a 7-series but much lower; in fact, it's lower than a 6-series coupe. Due to the short overhangs, its overall length falls between that of the standard and extended 7-series models.
Ask the car's designers if the Concept CS was built around a specific mechanical package, and the answer is no. But they do claim that the extralong wheelbase allows any of the company's current powerplants to sit behind the front axle for better weight distribution; BMW also acknowledges that the CS is rear-wheel drive--no surprise there. The low roofline necessitates a low, sports-car-like seating position, and the CS is strictly a four-seater, with a console that runs the full length of the interior.
The squat, cab-rearward proportions are classic gran turismo--and they also happen to look great. And unlike some previous BMW show cars, the CS concept's details are equally convincing.
Van Hooydonk points out that whereas a new production model has a three-year lead time, a concept car such as the CS is a direct link into the design department's most current thinking. Work on the CS, for instance, began just six months before its Shanghai debut. Bangle and company won't identify specifics, "but I can tell you," he says, "that in many ways, the aesthetics of this car are already flowing into what we've decided to make for production for other vehicles in the BMW lineup."
Will the CS be anything more than an indicator of where BMW design is headed? Our sources tell us that this car is only one of several options that the company is contemplating for a four-door coupe/GT. The others include one based on the 3-series (less likely) and one that would be a variant of the next-generation 6-series. Some question how much volume there would be for a car like this, perched above the 7-series, but we think there's room for a superluxe four-door GT to battle the Aston Martin Rapide, the Porsche Panamera, and the AMG version of the CLS.
BMW doesn't build many idle concepts. The Z9 show car of 1999 proved a reliable predictor of the current 6-series; the X Coup of 2001 gave strong hints as to the upcoming Z4 coupe; and the CS1 concept of 2002 was a highly accurate preview of the 1-series family.
The CS show car is far better looking than any of those concepts, and we say it would be a shame if it were merely the stalking horse for an evolved design language. We want to see this car outside the stifling confines of the Shanghai auto show. We want to see it out on the open road.