Hey guys. Two distinctive features of the design of any vehicle are the headlights and grille. They determine the looks more than any other design feature, shape, silhouette, or colour. From the exposed chrome grilles of the 1930s to today`s elegant and aerodynamic front ends, design trends have changed a lot, but the function of this integral part of the car had stayed largely the same. In recent years though, we have witnessed an alarming trend of oversized grilles, which threatens to become a thing spanning the entire industry. Heres why its stupid…

A grilles purpose…

The primary purpose of the grille is to house the radiator, which helps keep the engine temperature in check. The Grille is designed to allow airflow into the engine and also keep the dirt, road debris and leaves out of the engine bay. Over the years, many car designers have turned it into a visual brand identity symbol with shapes characteristic to a particular brand. Everybody can recognize a Mercedes “Pan America” grill or the signature BMW “kidney” shaped front end, even non car people.

Why grills should actually be getting smaller…

Classic cars had radiators (thus grilles) mounted high up in the front of the vehicle. More and more in todays world, with the advancements especially in aerodynamics, radiators have moved lower, allowing the front of the car to be more slippery. This means that most of the air needed for the cooling of the engine comes from slots on the front bumper or even from underneath the car. Oversized front openings are just not required anymore.

Modern diesel engines with their low rpm engines generate less heat than similar petrol units, and they just don’t need big grille or radiator to keep them cool. Today`s grilles are mostly design details and add to the overall look. Electric vehicles don’t even need to have a grille since there is no radiator to cool down the engine, although a few do have battery cooling slots.

Why are grilles getting bigger then?

Well, that is the question for designers and marketing strategists. It appears that a large grille with a characteristic shape makes customers perceive the car as being more premium. Every brand wants you to recognize its product from a mile away and to distinguish itself from the rest of the market, but it seems that many have gone the lazy way. Simply shoving an enormous grille with a massive chrome logo will do the trick!

Another theory is the emerging Chinese market which is immensely hungry for cars. In China, owning a car is still a big thing, and as a status symbol local buyers love big grilles on their vehicles. Since it is extremely expensive to develop two distinctly different designs (one for China and one for the rest of the world), most car manufacturers have accepted this trend and sell vehicles with oversized grilles globally. Western buyers are not so impressed though, as some can be perceived as tacky or cheap. Although the western media may mock them, car manufacturers are increasingly catering to China as they’ve got all the money!

The Worst Examples

Unfortunately, some of the world`s most renowned brands have introduced cars with grilles so large that they’ve almost become a laughing stock for the whole automotive community. Just look at the front end of the new BMW X7; The size and opulence of the two signature BMW “kidneys” just dominates the whole front end of the already enormous car. Even though the reaction of the car public was almost unanimously against this look, BMW designers don’t seem to care and did the same thing to the once elegant BMW 7-Series. By the looks of it, we can expect another pair of oversized grilles on the next-generation 4-Series, which is due to debut sometime next year.

Lexus are at it too. In general, Lexus has often been perceived to want some of BMW, Mercedes and Audis sales. This explains why Lexus has made some risky design decisions in the past and although often controversial looking, they’ve been largely successful. When the company introduced its concave-shaped grill several years back, most car enthusiasts weren’t fans of the design since it made the car look like an angry alien from the legendary 1987 sci-fi movie “Predator.”, but on reflection it actually works quite well. Typical Japanese quirkiness is a great look, in my books.

The same cant be said for some of the newer Lexus’s, especially the new Lexus LM luxury van. Introduced at Shanghai Motor Show, the LM is a model for the Asian market which is why its got probably the biggest chrome grill on a passenger vehicle ever made. Its so large and out of proportion it almost looks comical. In my opinion, Lexus has gone too far this time, and this fake opulence on a Toyota van with fancy trim is a little bit cringeworthy.

So, there you are. Do you agree or disagree? Do you prefer big or small grilles? Where will this trend end? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.