BMW ///M-Diesels: Frugal Mass For The Performance Poser

January 16, 2012

It was not too long ago that I lightly bemused with a BMW upper-management employee type at one of our city’s annual Auto Shows over how the used-to-be-motorsport-derived ///M Division had now been (seemingly) handed over to the brand’s Marketing Division, full-stop. He admittedly hinted that ///M has indeed ‘expanded’ its overall outlook and that, yes, the X6M and X5M were designed and marketed towards ‘a certain type of landscape navigator’. But when I (somewhat jokingly) asked how far this open throwing about of M-badges will go (seeing as how it was/has already damaged the ///M brand from a driver’s/petrolhead’s point of view) if the Marketing heads keep having their way with the family silver, it was at that exact moment when he freakishly morphed himself back into Company Robot Mode and started spouting off the familiar company-line commercial BS about ‘joy’ and ‘excitement’ and ‘no limits’ and other such robotic drivel…

After he was done, I half-laughingly said, “So, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised then to see M-Diesels on the roads one day… eh.. ? Hardy har har…? ?”, as I chuckled, smiled, shook his hand and walked away… He just shrugged his shoulders and smirked.

That shrug and smirk made me feel uneasy back then for a reason… It’s official now folks: BMW ///M is now doing tri-turbo Diesels. Granted, this Diesel nonsense has been widely known/threatened for a few months now, what with ominous paper printouts and ‘mysterious’ BMW ads with chunky X6’s being hauled around in a ‘sportingly economical’ way, whatever that is…

...Because all X6 SUV owners readily pound the racetrack... mm, hmm.

The entire Diesel project has been unimaginitively dubbed ‘BMW Performance Automobiles’ (seriously) and will make its grand unveiling at the Geneva Show in March of this year. On tap to roll out will be the 5-series derived M550d xDrive followed by the much-maligned X6 M50d SUV of which both will feature 4-wheel drive and BMWs new 381hp, 546lb ft tri-turbo diesel engine. Combined fuel consumption for the 5-series variant is a quoted 44.8 mpg, but as we all know, those figures are never real-world figures.

The X6M - the answer to a question that no one asked.

Seeing as how these two new ‘Performance Automobile’ leviathans will weigh in excess of 2000 kg, it simply baffles the brain as to who, exactly, these cars are aimed at… Obviously, the none-too-bright and (as BMWs Marketing Division is well aware of) those that fit nicely within the ‘There’s one born every minute’ frame… and die-hard one-arm-stretched-out-over-the-wheel posers… of which there are many of in this confusing world.

The man helping to put the ///M into Marketing

Or, as M Division boss Dr. Friedrich Nitschke plummets – “We are targeting our efforts at customers looking for more emotionality and more performance, but who don’t want to forgo the everyday usability of their cars.” Riiiiiight…. thanks robot.

Well done BMW ///M – cha-ching..!

-Blake J.

A.I. Question Time: Has BMW ///M Lost its Way…?

October 24, 2011

An article on the web today involving an answer from an obvious question has sparked my debate-cap… and I want your feedback. Inside Line asked Albert Biermann, current BMW M-Division Head of Product Development, if they’d like to build their own M-car solely within the walls of the M-Division, much like AMG does with its Mercedes-derived cars. Albert gave the rather-obvious affirmative answer and thus claimed “From an engineering perspective we have the skills and we’d love to do it,” he said. “We’ve discussed it several times but we’ve never been able to make the business case. Everything we do has to make money.”

He then went on to state that BMW M is prepared to adapt to the development of ‘socially acceptable’ and ‘alternative’ powertrains, whether those be electric or combustion. So basically he was saying that they’d love to do anything that the head Bean-counters and Social Marketing departments will allow them to do… He then went on utter some other nonsense about “not ruling out a Diesel M-car”… which made me shudder and cower into a ball of undisguised pain.

New M5 - engineered to flatter your socially acceptable self - fake soundtrack via the stereo too..!

But where he really raises the fur is when he says that the current ‘horsepower race’ was coming to an end (a good thing) because BMW M-cars are all about driver-involvement, fun, emotion, etc… not horsepower… Riiiight… so the new 562 bhp M5 is a clear indication of that thinking…? Seeing as how the previous M5 had a paltry 500 bhp…? ? ? …*shakes head* … Coupling that statement with his recent reasoning/complaint that “manual transmissions cannot handle the current levels of horsepower and torque [really ?] and therefore DCT transmissions are the only way forward” (what with their electronic ability to stroke the driver’s ego), I’m finding myself caught within this man’s web of annoyingly contradictory claims and future visions for the ///M brand.

As a driving enthusiast, I would happily sacrifice 100 bhp from the M5’s currently over-inflated 562 bhp output if it meant I could enjoy an M-car in the way that any serious driver should. Save the nerdy and tech-laden DCT transmissions for the non-///M cars, bumbling business execs, posers, occasional track-junkies and those that, well, simply cannot drive nor connect with a manual. The argument that DCT’s are ‘quicker’ than a manual has to be the most ridiculously infantile response within motoring circles on the subject when you’re talking about a car that is driven on the road.. Really know, when are you actually requiring that 0.3 of -a-second quickness in time in THE REAL WORLD ON REAL EVERYDAY ROADS…? Think about it…

1M claimed (by BMW) to have been an homage to the original, iconic E30 M3... Not quite, but definitely an impressive effort towards what ///M used to stand for

DCT’s, while being technically superior, can become rather boring on a day-to-day basis, whereas a manual transmission is all about engaging and developing an interaction with your motor and finely honing a (albeit, dying/fading) skill – I wholly appreciate that they actually require some skill and coordination to drive properly (ie: to rev match and heel-toe). With a manual transmission, it’s not the car’s electronics flattering you, it’s your honed skills impressing your own self – big difference. You’re constantly learning how to become a better driver. Let’s be clear – The current tech-fest is slowly removing the drivers from the experience of driving.

A BMW M-car is (well, used to be) all about unequalled driver-involvement with the machine; a stonkingly vocal, naturally-aspirated engine, a manual gearbox, a fantastic chassis/suspension setup and (crucially) loads of feel/feedback/info being shared between you and the car. Anyone who’s driven or owned any M-car from the 80’s on up to the 2003 E46 M3 will know what I’m talking about…

The one and only M1 supercar - I say 'don't bother' with an attempted 'socially-accepted' follow-up now.

What will it take to convince BMW-M to strip out out all those unnecessary electronics and gadgets (thereby saving weight) that are shoved inside current M-cars (save for the 1M), give us back hydraulic power steering and naturally aspirated engines within a specialised low-volume plan aimed at driving enthusiasts….? Leave the turbos, eletronic gizmos, DCT/flappy-paddle gearboxes and worries about ‘Social Acceptability’ for the high-volume range of BMW products… you know – soccer moms, lazy drivers/posers and those that buy their cars as status symbols. GIVE US BACK OUR RAW M-CARS FOR REAL DRIVING ENTHUSIASTS…!!!

Porsche themselves prove that this dedication-to-rawness can be done successfully. Look at the amazing GT3. If the recent (and criminally under-produced/sold-out) BMW 1M is anything to go by, then perhaps BMW ///M will have re-learnt that a relatively low-volume, old-school-embued simplicity platform/outlook (and relative lightness – though it should have been much lighter) is key to maintaining the  ///M core values… But I’m not betting on it. The 1-series M Coupe was pushed through by Kay Segler (no longer with BMW M-Division) and according to articles/interviews I’ve read with Segler, the 1M was a painfully frustrating process that almost never even happened.

Remember this...? Engaging in interactive fun with your BMW

From where I’m sitting, BMW ///M is no longer aiming at real driving enthusiasts with raw driving products. If you want that, you have to look at Porsche and its GT3 (amongst others). BMW ///M is now all about luxury and horsepower, useless ‘circle-group’-derived gadgetry, ‘social acceptance’ and unneccesary levels of tech aimed at less-than-satisfactory drivers who enjoy having an over-horsepowered, electronically-nannied vehicle make them look like a driving God.

-Blake J.

%d bloggers like this: