With some calling time on BMW's M Division as a performance brand, Chris wonders if that's the case.
With our friends at Jalopnik wondering about the death of BMW's M brand, it made me think about where I saw the marque in the future.
I was once told that in a good steak restaurant, the correct response to how you would like your pound of flesh cooked - assuming it hasn't been ordered on a stone - is 'As the chef would suggest'. Just as a good chef will know how to properly cook a steak, I'm a big fan of cars created by engineers, outside of the rank and file of production models. I'm thinking of the 'Saturday Morning Club' cars like the 996 GT3 RS and the original Lotus Exige. Groups of engineers producing a car that they want, then management having the guts to agree to sign it off. I don't want a marketing team to tell me what segment I fit in, and how I therefore want big wheels, Bluetooth, and a sound system capable of hosting the Radio 1 Roadshow. I want an engineer to look over their baby and smile, knowing it's just the car they want.
And for this reason, I like M Division, AMG and Porsche Motorsport.
I like that for the 1M, the M techies decided run-flats weren't up to the job, raided the M3 for a trick axle, and covered it in flamboyant bodywork. I love the fact that they only had a limited production run, and BMW sold them all - and could probably still be selling more now if the residuals are anything to go by. I feel like it's a car that was conceived in an oily garage by someone saying, "You know what would be cool...."
If you've read Jalopnik's original piece and are thinking through possible flaws in my argument, or have recently attended a pretentious bar or strip club full of twatbag footballers, you'll be writing X6M on a big piece of paper ready to wave at me in a mocking fashion. The elephant in the M Division hall of fame.
The original M cars were motorsport-derived cars for homologation purposes, and therefore contained some measure of racing car DNA in order to maximise their competition potential. With the abolition of such practices, there are no such cars any more. The Merc SLS that thunders round the Nürburgring 24H is not derived from some limited production AMG special, but this doesn't detract from the AMG-ness of the gullwing'd fury wagon. With the homologation requirement removed, these special cars can use parts from other models and become better production cars for more people. The stories of the extremely limited edition Subaru Impreza 22B not fitting standard production paint booths in the Fuji Heavy Industries plant are fun to recount, but such inconveniences are not generally feasible for a production model.
The current M3 can be an acceptable car for more people and therefore BMW will sell more, without compromising on interior trim, sound deadening, or having to fit noisy race parts. However, when the marketing department want to create a halo model and they simply slap an M badge on a car that isn't the work of M Division, then it becomes a marketing exercise. There have been some worrysome signs from Bavaria in this respect, be it the X6M, the M3 Performance packs that don't actually offer any more performance, or the Lime Rock model in the US which is in a similar vein of 'a bit more show, no more go'. Does this mean the death of the brand?
Not while M engineers are still involved in fettling and building these cars. Enthusiasts may duck and dive between the badge-job SUVs to get to the traditional M cars like the 1M, but it's certainly not doing the M brand any favours. Audi have the S line to lift above the standard A models, then the RS cars are a level above that, but BMW may now have to follow Jaguar's lead. Jaguar once said that some buyers purchase the halo models just to go one better than the neighbours, which meant that when Jag wanted to produce a hotter XK-R they had to swap round the punctuation and add more letters to come up with the XKR-S. Following the same logic, in the future could the M badge be found on the 'normal' range-topping road cars, and then something like an M GTS denotes the performance model?
It'd be a shame if that were the case. For as long as I've been aware of M cars, they've always been special. Bespoke parts, extravagent bodywork and a focus on the driving experience. BMW can still hold up the M Division as a performance marque in their own right or they can use it to denote their halo model in each range, but I don't think they can do both.