The XM SUV Proves BMW Doesn't Care About Enthusiasts Anymore

Opinion / Comments

The XM's design nods to the BMW M1 supercar of the 70s are a farcical and tenuous link to a golden age of BMW Motorsport.

The BMW M division was born nearly 50 years ago, in 1972. Back then, M stood for one thing and one thing only - motorsport. At the core of every model to bear the M designation, BMW injected true motorsport engineering to make sure these cars would be fun to drive, but also so they could be homologated for use in any number of racing series across the globe.

But times have changed. And now BMW M might as well stand for BMW Marketing, such is the fall from grace the hallowed division has suffered. No single model points to this more than the new 2022 BMW XM. Revealed in concept form earlier this week, the XM will go into production next year as the first full BMW M product since the BMW M1 ended production in 1981. I won't mince my words here, the XM is an abomination that spits in the face of the M1 and BMW Motorsport's heritage. And BMW isn't even fully to blame. You, the buying public, are.

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BMW
BMW
BMW

I'm not sure what irks me more, that BMW calls the XM a spiritual successor to the M1, or that the designers and executives actually thought it was a good idea to style an SUV with heavy influence from the M1. The latter was penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro - yes, of Italdesign fame. It was iconic. It still is. Five years ago I drove the M1, a 1978 model immaculately restored to celebrate BMW's centenary.

The rear was a particularly iconic design element, sporting twin BMW roundels to signify that this was indeed something special. The XM has the exact same design feature, but more than this, the rear is designed to look similar to the back end of the M1. It's a weak imitation at best, and using the supercar in an attempt to sell an SUV is sacrilege in my eyes.

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BMW
BMW

For years, decades even, BMW fans have been begging BMW M to build a supercar. No one cared if it was called the M1, they just wanted it to be the best that M could build - something that could go toe to toe with the Audi R8 and Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, SLS AMG, and AMG GT. Instead we got the i8. And as stylish and technologically advanced as it was, it was no supercar. Mercedes-AMG is not only building a successor to the AMG GT but is putting an F1 engine into a road-going hypercar with the AMG One.

Even the new Mercedes-AMG SL-Class is a true AMG product, with the company going back to its heritage to create something spectacular. And BMW gives us this, a hybrid SUV. Motorsport was once the hallmark of the BMW brand. Even non-M BMWs had that inherent specialness in their DNA. That was what made them stellar driver's machines. Now though, BMW cares more about making money than it does for performance, and it's showing in the final products.

BMW
BMW
BMW
BMW

The XM SUV is a sign of the times. No longer is an SUV built merely to pander to enthusiasts who want to stay in-brand when buying a vehicle for their non-car-fanatic husband or wife. That was the case with the Porsche Cayenne, and it did wonders to save the brand and let it keep building 911 GT3s. But that's no longer the case. Now, an SUV is a status symbol, and the world has become so obsessed with performance SUVs that the second-ever full BMW M car is a high-riding crossover.

I'm not against performance SUVs, at least not as much as I once was. I've penned numerous stories about how SUVs can be driver's cars too, and how the BMW X3 M really is a sports car. But when the halo of the BMW M division is an SUV and not an M3, M5, or something else that can actually go racing, it breaks my heart.

BMW
BMW
BMW

Maybe I'm just an old soul, one that refuses to move with the times. In the last two years, we've had to learn about a "new normal" in the world, and maybe the new normal I'm just not ready to face is the fact that sports cars are obsolete. SUVs are the new sports car, and BMW M no longer cares about motorsport heritage as more than anything but a badge to wield on the hood for its 50th-anniversary celebrations. And as long as the buying public keeps lapping up these SUVs imitating sports cars, BMW will keep building them, because BMW is a business and businesses need profit.

BMW
BMW
BMW
BMW

As one privileged enough to have been able to drive the genesis of BMW M in the M1, I can assure you that no matter how good the XM is, it'll never be anything more than a cash cow and it will never live up to the heritage of the BMW M brand. The XM will likely sell more than almost any other non-SUV BMW M model available, and those massive grilles will become the official face of M, and that's just something I suppose I'll have to get used to.

But I guess at least Mercedes-AMG is still building sports cars, and Porsche's GT division would rather work on a 718 Cayman GT4 RS than build a Cayenne GT3, so maybe all is not lost. Maybe, we just need to accept that other manufacturers are now building better M cars than BMW's M division.

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BMW
BMW

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