Changes at BMW’s M– what’s the big deal?

Ah!  The BMW M-Cars are changing!  Turbos?  All-wheel drive?  A diesel?  No more screaming straight-sixes, V8’s, and V10’s?  Yes.

While I’m not one to embrace it (especially the X6M, although that’s more because of the entire vehicle, not just the M version), it could be worse.  Seeing as the world has been pushing cars to be greener and more efficient, the M-division could have just as well disappeared.  But it hasn’t.

The tall, heavy, and impractical BMW X6M.

Do I miss the old ones like the E39 M5 and E46 M3?  Sure.  I think you’d be hard pressed to find a driving enthusiast who wouldn’t at some level.  I never thought I’d see the day where I’d miss the 1M—that tiny, turbo-six powered little dimple of ugly.  But now that it’s gone, where’s the little chuckable M?  When I went looking at BMWUSA.com, I couldn’t find it anywhere.  It was one of those cars I never expected to miss this much, and now that the limited stint of 7,000 (which is still more than threes times the original target) is done with.  It’s been replaced by a lesser 135is.

BMW M5 E39 (left) and E46 M3 (right).

If you don’t understand the meaning of this alphanumeric nonsense, here’s the breakdown:
-the BMW 1-Series is their smallest offering.

-The 128i is a 3.0 liter straight-six with 230hp
-135i is a 300hp turbo 3.0L straight-six

-135is is a 320hp straight-six.
You think that’s confusing, wait until you look at bigger vehicles.  For example, the 640i Gran Coupe is a 315hp turbo straight six—the #40i used to stand for a V8 not long ago.

The 1M used essentially the same straight-six as the 135i and 135is, but with unique tweaks to the suspension (including widening the stance of the wheels front and rear, aka “track”), aerodynamics, some beefier exterior panels for the wider track, an E46 M3 differential, and 340hp.  All of these things took a car known for feeling tippy and uninspiring, and lifting it to a more fun package.  Giving the 135i a chrome “s” and 20hp doesn’t make it a better sport coupe the way the 1M was.

BMW 135is that “replaced” the BMW 1M,

There’s yet more mourning to do.  The Z4M (and Z3 Roadster before it), for instance, had the E46’s screaming I-6 engine—that engine is the one alluded to in the beginning of this blog.  While the new Z4 is a great looking car inside and out (to me it’s one of the sexiest cars of the 21st century thus far, followed by dare I say the 6 Gran Coupe, especially from the rear 3/4 view), where’s the M-badge?  Instead it gets the same “35is” nomenclature, where it’s just an engine and a couple tweaks.  There’s nothing special about any of the #35is BMW’s as far as I’m concerned.


BMW Z4M Coupe (upper left); Replacement Z4is (right); BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe (bottom).  More images of the latter can be seen by clicking the image, and clicking on THAT image.                                                            

Mind you, I’m no Bimmer purist or fanboy.  But they’ve long represented the best balance of luxury and performance out of Germany for a long time.  Now, though, Mercedes and their AMG line seem to be taking some of BMW’s cake and om-nom-noming it (something Drive TV on Youtube agreed with—warning, later they show a cut-open arm and road-rashed buttocks).  Ever since the 5-Series BM was based on a shrunken 7-Series in 2009 (no need for “W” at this point), it automatically ruined the lineage.  The 2009 “F10” generation is  far too heavy and large.  Even the 3-Series Coupe of 2006 is massive in person, especially next to its predecessor.  And I can’t really blame the Bavarians for ruining the “Ultimate Driving Machine” because the drivers are the ones who buy them, and give feedback to what sells.

Current F60 M5 (left); E92 M3 has been out since 2006, and dropped the sedan (E90) body style for 2012.                                                                                                                      

Pinpointing where the branch actually went “wrong” is kind of up to the individual enthusiast—that is, if that enthusiast even feels that way.  Was it iDrive and all the menus just to adjust the settings in the M5 E60 (the V10 powered model)?  Could it have been the automated-manual-only M3 CSL?  There are plenty of things we could talk poorly about.

iDrive and SMG M5E60 M5; the lightweight E46 M3 CSL; dreaded SMG automated manual and early iDrive controls as seen in E60 M5.  iDrive was a single control for stereo, climate control car settings (such as performance settings and even how long the lights are on after parked).               

Perhaps this leg of the evolution can give us something to look forward to in the future.  After all, at least they didn’t simply drop the performance line altogether.  The automotive legislation around the world is shifting to a state of technology, safety and efficiency that few can bypass.

While it may seem dire, there is silver lining of the improvements already coming forth.  Turbocharged engines that would have an otherwise dull engine note are actually making good sounds (hello BMW, Mini, the Focus ST, and Fiat 500 Abarth just to name a few).  Electronic steering is the anti-feel for those who want a car to tell them what’s going on where tires meet road—Porsche’s system has taken this and made it better than most, with likely improvements in the future.  Manual transmissions are now exceeding six (and even seven) forward gears, possibly buying time for left-foot shenanigans for a decade or two longer.

Lets, then, give BMW’s M division some time to get their recipe right again.  They’ve had legendary turbo fours, and a few turbo straight-sixes (the M88/2 in M1 racing spec, and the M102 and M106 of the 1980’s 7-Series).  It’s not too far from BMW’s heritage, and it has the potential of getting better.  Though that doesn’t necessarily translate to being better to drive than the old M cars.

Images sourced from these sites:
M Bdage
X6M
E39 M5
E46 M3
135is
1M
Z4M Coupe
Second gen Z4
6-Series Gran Coupe
F60 M5
E92 M3
E60 M5
E46 M3 CSL
E60 SMG (automated manual) and early iDrive controls

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3 thoughts on “Changes at BMW’s M– what’s the big deal?

    • Could have gone even deeper, I suppose. After all, the M135i in Europe, AWD M5, and the Diesel 5M thing (whatever it’s called) were still left out. The M badge on those cars goes beyond just a sport package like they once were, thus meaning it’s still more connected to M than simple splashes of the stripes inside and out. There were genuine changes made.

  1. Pingback: Standard news to be covered: Corvette C7 | Manually Shifted Soul

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