2016 BMW X1 : A discussion with Sydney-born designer Calvin Luk

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Bigger and bolder than before, the second-generation BMW X1 has been launched in Australia on the beautiful Coffs Coast. As well as getting to experience the all-new model on a drive around the region – read the full review here – we also had the opportunity to meet the car’s Australian designer, Calvin Luk. The design process for any car is long, arduous and incredibly competitive. In an internal battle for supremacy that began more around four years ago, Luk and his BMW co-workers were tasked with developing their own individual interpretations of the car, while also working collaboratively. It was a battle ultimately won by the Aussie designer, who says he will never forget the moment the announcement was made. Upon our arrival at Sapphire Beach, a gorgeous spot along the Coffs Coast, the launch kicks off with a presentation that covers off the Australian specifications and features of the new X1. The range has been streamlined to include two petrol and two diesel variants ranging from $49,500 to $59,900 plus on-road costs. Luk takes to the podium and talks through the design before leading us to the car for a bit of show-and-tell. His pride in his work is evident as he discusses the lines and shape of the exterior and shares a bit about what he’s experienced over the past few years leading the project. I really like the prominent LED headlights that sit either side of the large BMW kidney grille, but am not instantly sold on the softer, rounder-looking bonnet moulding. Most noticeably, the new car is taller than before. Standing at 1598mm, it’s 53mm higher which translates to a higher ride height and a more spacious cabin. The extra space is obvious as I settle into the driver’s seat before heading off on a drive loop through the Hinterland. The driving position is more commanding and offers loads of headroom. The cabin is spacious with a sweeping dash and is beautifully finished. Throughout the drive, the seats prove their comfort over unsealed stretches and bumpy country laneways. When we stop for lunch, I grab the opportunity to sit down for a one-on-one with Luk. Born in Sydney 30 years ago, Luk began his tertiary studies at the University of Technology before moving to Pasadena in the United States to study car design. He has been based in Munich with BMW for the past seven years. Earlier this year, CarAdvice founder Alborz interviewed him in more depth about the early days of his journey to become one of Australia’s most successful automotive design exports. You can read full the interview here. The sketch phase for the new X1 began back in 2011, and according to Luk the character, impulse and feeling has remained true to those initial sketches. Having also designed the recently updated 1 Series, Luk was well versed in what was expected to come through in the final design. For him, three words sum up the car: sporty, powerful and presence; and he says these are communicated throughout the design. “I’m really proud of the kidney grille,” he says. “It really expresses what the car is really about, lots of power, lots of strength. But especially the way it connects the hood volume and emphasises that. And the nice little chamfer towards the side, where it has a nice little corner, it brings the connection to the lights.” Changes to the exterior dimensions offer more for potential buyers. “Great interior space, great command seating, more cargo area, even under the boot floor there’s more space,” he said. Though his official input ended when the X1’s door opens, he says the interior and exterior design teams worked closely throughout the entire process. “I love the command seating, sitting a lot higher now and looking down onto the road and onto the cars in front of us. Giving a sense of command and control is what an X car is all about. I love the panoramic dashboard where it’s really stretching from left to right. “One of the things about working at BMW is that everything we design and build has to pass the approval of our board members, and every one of our German board members is quite tall and it has to be comfortable for them. So that is always our first test for the car.” With the X1 done and dusted, what is Luk working on next? For now, that remains top secret, with the designer offering only: “more cool cars”. Click on the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos Videography by Christian Barbeitos