Or is BMW starting to forget what made its cars special?
It is hard to argue that BMW has one of the most impressive motorsports pedigrees in the entire automotive industry. BMW's M division set the benchmark for fast road cars that were originally developed for racing. This motorsports heritage oozes into each BMW model to create cars that are more than just boring German sedans. BMW's slogan, "The Ultimate Driving Machine" certainly captures this appeal and is one of our favorite slogans. But does this motto still ring true after so many years?
If you want evidence of BMW's ultimate driving machine heritage, you don't have to look far beyond the company's M Division. M GMBH began as BMW's racing division in 1972, which eventually evolved to build fast versions of standard BMW cars.
Clearly, the M Division has epitomized the ultimate driving machine mantra for many years, but is it possible that the company is starting to lose its driver-focused image? When we examine some recent M products like the M2, it may be difficult to see what we are talking about. The M2 can be looked at as the spiritual successor to the original E30 M3, which is often looked at as one of the best driving cars of all time. However, not all of the current M offerings share the same purist design as the M2. It is hard to imagine that owners will ever bring their X6M or M6 Gran Coupe to the race track, which almost defeats the purpose of buying a 567-horsepower car in the first place.
It seems like most of the BMW M cars are currently transitioning from cars that you enjoy on a race track, to cars that you enjoy on the open highway. This is definitely not the worst thing in the world, but it does make the M Division slightly less special. In the past, BMW M cars have always held a slight advantage over their Audi RS and Mercedes AMG counterparts. The German rivals were always very fast on the street, but couldn't keep up when taken to a race track. Now, it seems like BMW is focusing more on making its hardcore models more powerful, and designing them to go fast on the street. The M Division doesn't really hold the advantage that it once had.
With the M Division seemingly losing its focus, is the main brand doing any better? BMW has always been able to cling to its image as a brand for drivers because all of its models were RWD. It's hard to argue that RWD is not superior to FWD for sporty driving, but BMW seems to have succumbed to social pressure. BMW now offers a few FWD models in several markets, and the next generation 1 Series will even be FWD. Enthusiasts may be furious that BMW is starting to embrace FWD, and we don't blame them. RWD has always been a signature trait of BMW cars that has helped differentiate them from the competition. It appears then, that BMW is taking its secret ingredient out of its cars.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what the secret ingredient is for BMW. A list of possibilities include: RWD, hydraulic steering, manual transmissions, naturally aspirated engines, and light weight. All of these attributes have made BMW models great in the past, but when you look at recent trends, it appears that BMW is moving away from all of them. We have heard rumors that the next M5 could be AWD, hydraulic steering is already absent in all BMW models, the company no longer builds a naturally aspirated engine, and new BMWs are very heavy. Clearly BMW is losing its appeal on a surface level, but does that mean the company is doomed? Of course not.
We understand that BMW needs to sell cars to the masses in order to survive, that is why it created the new X1 and killed off the Z4. However, we can still see a glimmer of the secret ingredient that makes BMW the Ultimate Driving Machine. The steering may not have the same connected feel as before, the engines may be turbocharged, but BMW still builds models that can thrill you, and make you feel like its still 1989 and your driving an E30 M3. The new M2 proves that BMW is not completely done as the Ultimate Driving Machine and that the company still knows how to produce perfection.