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.

Lamborghini Countach: Graceful drift up a Welsh hillside + More..!

September 29, 2011

Oh so short in length, but oh so sweet… Evo Magazine scribe, Chris Harris (or simply, ‘Monkey’) dances with a Countach up a Welsh hillside in slightly damp conditions with near pin-point accuracy.  The Lamborghini being elegantly swooned up the hair-pinned mountainside belongs to Evo Mag head-honcho, Harry Metcalfe, and has been featured in various articles within Evo and Octane Magazine. This particular shot is an outtake from the latest Evo’s Lamborghini Group Test feature.

And since we’re on the subject of power oversteer-y hooniganisms (not a real word, I know, just made it up), why not have a gander at an instructional vid to assist with your sharpening-up of skills and to further your driver *ahem*…education. Bit of an older vid from Mr Harris’s online-magazine days of ‘Driver’s Republic’ but oh so fun and entertaining…. and *whistles*… educational!

-Blake J.




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