I think there are major turning points or break-throughs with all car design, but even so in terms of BMW I wonder how the E30 turned into E36?
With the E30 period, the BMW’s appearance always basically had four circle highlights with a row of round shaped lamps.
However, the four lights that look curved within, were planar glass prior to the E36. This seems obvious now but at the time it was quite innovative. The reason being that “the four-lamps were on the flip side of the glass” (changing kidney grill from portrait to landscape was also significant, but this had already changed for both E32 and E34)
In fact, when E36 was first launched it was also criticised for being too avant-grade for the conservative BMW. But in the end, the design was accepted and the model has gone on to become extraordinary success.
Besides this new headlight, front and rear fabrication, and side panelling, the new model as a whole is the definitive BMW image for a new era, and a really big ‘design’ achievement for the E36. The only other thing left is to basically update the legacy of E36.
Of course, in one way things were naturally missing, like the distinctive classical atmosphere that both E30 and E3 (from a modern car with some sort of classic sense) but maybe it was no other choice.
The later E36 looks like this.
It’s possible to see from the image that the modern design is slightly classical as well as conservative with regards to its aerodynamics and awareness of styling.