Erik Goplen, the American exterior designer of the new BMW X3 and creative director for DesignworksUSA, is a very talented designer. In fact, he is also responsible for the design of the BMW E46 3 Series Coupe. In line with his natural talent in car design, he is also a classic car collector. Goplen sat down with BMW Blog at the 2010 Paris Motor Show and reveals some interesting details on the BMW X3's design. Here is an excerpt of the interview:

BMWBLOG: The previous X3 was somewhat feminine in appearance and appeal. What has been done to revise the new X3 as it looks much more muscular now?

Erik Goplen: Actually a lot has been done. One of the key things is the proportion of the car. The car is much more stable on the ground with a wider track and a more muscular form has been put into the car. My explanations of the body form, which I think are strengthening the “X” DNA, are these three details over the front wheel, rear wheel and then also the “zicke” line. It’s almost like this tension of line helps to give the car masculinity.

BMWBLOG: Would you say the new X3 design is conservative?

Erik Goplen: I don’t know how the outside will feel about it. In my opinion it’s quite a large step forward. Again, the strengthening of the development of the car, a lot more light and shadow and a lot more muscular surfacing. I did appreciate what we had done previously as far as design.

For example, the taillights were very iconic and then back to the E46, I wanted to bring back the double round headlights. I felt that we had established a strong position with that car. It took a while since the car was considered the “little brother” of the previous X3 and eventually it got a lot of momentum. In Europe they really enjoyed the car and it was really successful. This car represents a car that has grown up and I wanted to portray the “little brother” as a tough boxer that stands its ground. When it comes to the sculpture of the car, we are being a bit more provocative. The lights align strategically with the entire line-up. I’m very proud of the car and especially the sculpture through the car. When one thinks of modern or progress, I believe the car has all those elements to make it successful.

BMWBLOG: What hommage does it pay to the previous generation?

Erik Goplen: From the very first sketches it was important to me to emphasize these dynamic lines. I love that ticked up yellow and in this case being something I wanted to preserve. The strength of where it sits in space, there is a lot more wedge to it and in appearance it looks like it has this motion of going forward.

There is also the T-lamp in the back. Those are probably the two elements that are on the more obvious side. Other than that, the car was really a blank slate of paper, but we believe that the cars have a little bit of evolution in them. I just did what felt natural with my proposal. There wasn’t a definite request or requirement from the board, so it was nice to have that freedom.

BMWBLOG: Did you look at the midsized SUV market for inspiration and direction when designing the current X3? Prior to the inception of the original X3 there was no Audi Q5 or Mercedes-Benz GLK. Does the aforementioned competition change the design approach to the X3?

Erik Goplen: I feel that the new X3 shows all these dynamic lines, which is so BMW, and really so strong and let’s say “spicy” for the “X” family. In regards to the two cars and the two companies you have mentioned, I think that they are doing their job, one better than the other. We are excited to get the new X3 out to the people. The feedback from our pre-driving shows that it’s a great car. It’s grown up, but it’s still an athlete who is very agile.

BMWBLOG: What was the biggest challenge designing this car?

Erik Goplen: We have an amazing efficiency on this car. I think it is best among the vehicles you have mentioned before. We have a little more aerodynamic involvement we have worked with and also, the rear spoiler and the front corners are maximizing this, creating a balance of function to aesthetics. In the middle of the development, the width to the track was increased, which made the job easier.

BMWBLOG: What is the target demographic for the new X3 now that it has grown some and will likely assume a role previously occupied by the original X5? Did this have an affect on the exterior design or was the design conceived then adapted to the market?

Erik Goplen: We have learned a lot. In this case, the car has to mature and be more confident now. It also has to have the attraction and I think we have accomplished all of that. I think this car bridges several demographics right now, anywhere from being a family car to being a performance car. The driving is amazing. Whether you are out doing performance driving or leisure driving the car is pretty amazing. When the car is a truly active vehicle, it will cross into several different demographics. We will notice this with the customer’s approval and enthusiasm in regards to this car.

BMWBLOG: SUVs tend to be inefficient vehicles due to their size and weight. How has BMW improved the X3s aero efficiency? Its drive efficiency?

Erik Goplen: In its competitive field, this car is the best in its class. Throughout Europe the car comes with the efficient dynamic Start/Stop. In the States we can see all the aerodynamic enhancements that were made throughout the car. The guys in Munich are always working on improving the engine configuration.

BMWBLOG: While we appreciate the X3’s role as a practical on-road vehicle, can you describe the X3’s off road capabilities? Just how far off road can it go, in a pinch?

Erik Goplen: Our intention is always that the car functions great in an off-road environment. I went to the Performance Center in Spartanburg, which has off-road terrain and you get a lot more appreciation for this car after driving it. The team in Munich that works on the suspensions does a fantastic job as well. Sometimes, I think we take it for granted, but when you are out there on the handling course or in the slide on the track, the car performs awesome.

Source: BMW Blog