BMW Tries to Picture M Division's Future, Says No Cap on Power
A lot of people gripe about BMW losing its edge. Formerly reserved for the greatest performance vehicles in its lineup, the M designation has migrated to encompass a rather large subset of the BMW fleet. While this has undoubtedly helped the brand boost its sales for years, it also muddied the waters of what constitutes an M.
In the past, BMW’s M vehicles denoted a marked increase in horsepower and real-world performance. Now they’re intermixed with M Sport trims that split the difference between standard fare and bonkers M in terms of output. And they haven’t been turning up the dial lately. In fact, the performance division of all German automakers seem to have slowed down on maximizing performance while the core business prioritizes fuel efficiency and electrification — largely because it’s expected of them by regulators.
It may not be so cut and dried. BMW CEO Markus Flasch has taken a keen interest in the M division, saying “we have to be very careful to preserve what M stands for” while evolving the brand. More recently, he said the automaker had no intent to cap output to appease anyone, claiming that the company’s performance arm has to think carefully about the future.
In a recent interview with Australia’s Whichcar, Flasch explained that, “M has never been a competing brand to BMW. M is the exaggeration of what BMW stands for in terms of driving pleasure. M supplements BMW, and it’s going to remain this way.”
With around half of all BMWs sold wearing an M badge of some kind, that might be a difficult claim to ratify. It’s also hard to believe that the company could pursue gigantic gains in power without also being preoccupied with efficiency. Let’s use the M5 as an example:
The E28 came equipped with a 3.5-liter I6 when it debuted in 1984. By the late 1990s, the E39 had 4.9-liter V8. Things peaked with the E60’s 5.0-liter V10 before BMW decided to tamp down displacement and economize its entire lineup — which is why all M vehicles saw their engine sizes maxed in the early 2000s. From a business standpoint, this was probably wise and highly necessary to adhere to European emission mandates. But it showcases that BMW has more to consider than delivering ever-sharper performance.
Regardless, power is still an essential part of the equation — one Flasch said cannot be lost in the noise of modernizing. When asked about why jumps in output seemed so much weaker with the last round of M vehicles, he responded by saying power needs to be manageable to be truly enjoyed.
“Power is nothing without control, right? And if there isn’t something with too much power it’s just a question of how you tune in and hone into a car, and how you make it accessible,” Flasch explained. “You look 10, 15 years back and if you imagined 625 horsepower in a saloon car, you’d probably be scared. Now, I can give an M5 this 625 horsepower and only drive to my mom, in winter, and she’d still be okay. It’s all just a question of how you incorporate it into a package that makes it accessible for everyone, and this is what M has always been brilliant in. Don’t expect a power limit.”
He also said BMW did not adhere to any gentleman’s agreement to limit the power of M cars, which is factually false. German manufacturers limit the top speed of sedans and station wagons to 155 mph in an agreement reminiscent of the horsepower cap agreed to by Japanese automakers in the 1990s. While Japan broke the rules by simply listing all performance models as boasting 276 bhp (the agreed-upon limit) and building them with more, BMW will let you pay extra to take a driving course and have the electronic speed limiter disabled. Technically, the only way for an ultra-powerful car to stop you from going over that speed it to gear it so it can’t or have an electronic nanny show up and cut the throttle.
This is stacking up to be a dismal assessment. BMWs were making nearly 600 horsepower ten years ago and effectively do adhere to a gentlemen’s agreement to limit power in a way. Yet Flasch also seems to know what’s good about BMW’s M Division, touting the M2 as a major achievement for the brand — as well as his personal favorite.
“The M3 and the M4 have grown up a bit and we feel the M2 is the smaller, crisper, rougher package. These cars don’t compete with each other. I’m very happy with the set-up that we have and we’ll keep it this way,” he said.
With the M2 looking safe, Flasch noted that the same may not be said for the manual transmission. Of the luxurious M sedans, he said that only the United States had any palpable excitement of late. However, the U.S. doesn’t have the same interest in the more mainstream models, encouraging BMW to look at be-clutched automobiles as more specialty fare. In the future, BMW models offering a manual transmission will likely cost more than their automatic brethren and be left to enthusiast-oriented models. You could even make the claim this has already happened (and will probably become standard practice within the industry).
[Images: BMW AG]
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Hopefully they remove the caps on driving engagement and character as well. Otherwise I stand by the theory that ///M stands for ///MSRP and ///More Profit. If iRacing is indicative of real life then even the M8 GTE car is no fun to drive. Ponderous, sounds like crap, brittle handling. No thanks. Hopefully the 2 keeps fighting the good fight.
They're all pathetic automatic scum anyways, BMW has been dead since they left the E chassis.