What is a Shooting Brake?

BMW’s latest concept car is drawing so much attention for many reasons. One is bringing back the shooting brake body in its truest form. Let’s give it a closer look

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is a unique piece of car culture. The event is named after the Villa d’Este hotel located in the Italian city of Cernobbio. Every year, affluent enthusiasts show classic and vintage cars from the 1920s to the 1980s, which compete for trophies in three categories. Besides that, carmakers use the event to showcase their finest recent creations, whether as production versions or concept cars.

The BMW group has organized the event together with the hotel for the past ten years. Because of that, it has presented multiple concept cars in each edition. And that includes motorcycles and Rolls-Royce cars, which makes everything even more interesting. This year, however, everyone’s attention went to the same one: the Touring Coupé, a concept car which gives the current BMW Z4 a very interesting visual twist.

The 1998 BMW Z3 M Coupé was another typical shooting brake
The Z3 Coupé’s unusual shooting brake proportions gave it the “Clown shoe” nickname

Let’s start with some history

BMW has had a compact roadster since 1988, when it released the Z1. While that car has many attractions of its own, this time our focus will go to its successor. The Z3 arrived in 1996 and received a coupé version two years later. The latter is particularly interesting for many reasons. One is the fact that a group of BMW engineers developed it in their spare time. Others regard its absolutely fantastic overall performance.

The final, but not less important, reason is its design. Those engineers were not satisfied with the roadster and decided to improve it on their own. The coupé received a shorter and wider rear portion to become more stable, especially with the wider rear wheels. Besides, the simple fact of having a rigid roof makes it much stiffer. In fact, the Z3 Coupé turned out to be the most rigid car BMW had ever built at that time.

2006 BMW Z4 M Coupé
The first Z4 succeeded the Z3 with a conventional design for its coupé version

Why is that car important?

Take a look at its successor above. While its successor had a regular coupé variation, the Z3 had an actual shooting brake. This body style is one of the most traditional in the automotive world, dating back to the time of horse-drawn carriages. The name comes from its original purpose, which was to transport hunters along with their equipment and game. If you thought it is a special type of station wagon, that is why.

That purpose made shooting brakes primarily recreational cars. That is interesting because it makes them appropriate for the luxury segment, where there is more budget to develop great cars. However, it is also counterproductive because it limits their market appeal – how many people do you know that would buy a car exclusively to go hunting or practicing sports? If you have realized they are quite rare, that is why.

1972 Volvo 1800 ES
One of the most prominent shooting brake models was the Volvo 1800 ES

Now, what is a shooting brake?

We can see it as a practical version of a coupé. It is still a sporty car, as we mentioned, and it feels at home in recreational environments. However, you should not think of typical coupés that offer sharp handling. Shooting brakes are the long-roof counterpart of grand tourers. In other words, they will provide you with a smooth and composed ride where you have high horsepower at your disposal, but high control as well.

The practical part comes from the rear end. Sure, the lack of rear doors still makes it difficult for additional occupants to enter. However, the long roof rewards them with better headroom and provides great trunk space for long objects – let’s think of skis and travel bags rather than shotguns. Then again, we know that it may still be difficult to pinpoint a definition of shooting brakes. We are going to try it in another way.

2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake
Mercedes-Benz used the shooting brake term for the first time in years with a version of the CLS

It is not a station wagon

Both Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen have built low-slung cars with that name. However, they have four doors just like the coupés from which they derive. While that feature escapes from the traditional concept of a shooting brake, we could probably accept it like we have accepted four-door coupés. In the end, that variation makes the body style viable for more people, which can increase its sales potential a little bit.

It is not a hatchback

More than the number of doors, we have to think of the purpose . The industry has associated hatchbacks to compact cars of moderate cost. That is enough to place them far from shooting brakes in the market. Besides that, their design and performance is usually flashy and brash, like typical hot hatches. A shooting brake, in turn, strives to be elegant and discreet in everything. Like a grand tourer, as we mention above.

2016 Ferrari GTC4Lusso
Ferrari had a shooting brake in the last decade. It was the FF, later renamed as GTC4Lusso

It is not a sports car

Imagine wearing a button shirt to do physical exercise. Is it possible? Of course. Is it the most appropriate option for that? Not at all. This is the rationale we can use here. Shooting brakes are usually aerodynamic and powerful, so they can perform very well at the track. But that does not mean they are the best cars for you to drive there. You can leave that activity to roadsters or, which is even better, two-door coupé cars.

It is not an SUV

We know that the SUV market has grown to the point of being subdivided into several categories. But no, shooting brakes are not one of them. This body style has a lower ride height, smaller overall dimensions, and a car-like dynamic behavior. There are performance-oriented SUVs on sale today, not to mention we saw two-door SUVs years ago, but they are different. Regular shooting brakes are derived from city cars.

2020 Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake
Volkswagen tried its chances at the shooting brake segment with the Arteon

The BMW Z4 shooting brake

In short, it ticks all the boxes. It is based on the Z4, which is a traditional sports car. The long roof is there, but not too long to be mistaken for a station wagon’s. BMW was even careful enough to fit that concept with a regular, non-M powertrain, to keep its image on point. And, if you check the pictures, you will see that the Bavarian automaker gave it the very same standards of luxury and attention to detail as usual.

As you can imagine, both press and public raved about the car. In a world dominated by SUVs of generic design, seeing a station wagon already means a lot. Having a carmaker invest in a shooting brake, which has always been much rarer, is worthy of elation. BMW has already hinted at the possibility of producing it for sale, but it should be just a limited edition. And that brings us back to this body style’s sad reality.

2023 BMW Touring Coupé Concept (credit: Enes Kucevic)
Short overhang, low roof and thick C-pillar all add to the shooting brake’s sporty character

Why are shooting brakes rare?

Because they do not appeal to many customers. From a rational point of view, they are shorter than SWs, less sporty than coupés, and more expensive than hatchbacks. Not to mention they are not SUVs. The few models released over the past few years have only performed moderately in terms of sales, so carmakers are not in a rush to develop new shooting brakes. BMW will try to capitalize on their emotional appeal.

Luxury cars may yield higher profits, but they also have to comply with higher standards. Automakers are currently investing as much as possible in electrification, so they cannot spend time and money to build a type of car which is probably going to have niche sales. Mercedes-Benz has already restricted its lineup to the CLA Shooting Brake, and we probably should not expect Volkswagen to update the Arteon’s version.

2023 BMW Touring Coupé Concept (credit: Enes Kucevic)
Even though shooting brakes have large trunk space, they are not meant to be as practical as station wagons

BMW has sparked new interest in the shooting brake body style with this conceptual version of the Z4. It is expected to produce some units for sale, but demand is still not strong enough to justify creating mass-produced options. What do you think of this body style? Do you think that other automakers should give it a try, or would you rather see it remain an interesting, yet not so popular, part of automotive history?

Author Profile

Danillo Almeida has explored his passion for cars in two distinct ways. The first one is his graduation course in Mechanical Engineering, which will hopefully lead to a job position in the field. The other one is expressing his knowledge and opinions on the matter through writing. Almeida has already contributed to blogs, stores, and websites in general writing automotive content in many formats.