A couple years ago, BMW dropped the tagline "The Ultimate Driving Machine" and it appears the company took that to heart with its current and forthcoming lineup. For a company that has always prided itself on selling exceptionally composed driving dynamics in their cars, a portfolio aimed at maximizing profits seems to be the new goal. By sacrificing its hallowed M badge along with trying to fill every niche just to match their Stuttgart rivals, BMW is losing their faithful following by losing themselves.
Let's start with the M badge. Ever since the first M1 was introduced in 1978, everyone knew the "M" preceded by three slashes was something special. The purists will argue that M cars must have bespoke motors with individual throttle bodies along with a few other minor details. The motor in the M1 was completely purpose built as the car was intended to be a homologated racing special. In conception, the motor was a bespoke piece. That held true until 1983 when the BMW M6 hit U.S. shores followed by the M5 in 1985. Considering the very first M cars shared engines, the validity of the bespoke engine rule is void.
However, this is a new point that I would like to stress. The only BMW branded mid-engined supercar, as opposed to the later McLaren F1 being BMW powered, handed down its engine to the other cars in the lineup. Some call this "hot rodding." This is a perfectly acceptable way of making fast cars while keeping exclusivity on the customer side and spreading corporate costs for the bean counters. BMW has done this to the current portfolio but with a small stumbling block along the way.
The new BMW 1M coupe gets the tuned twin turbo N54 lump that resides in the 335is, the top line 3-series under the M3. This is perfectly fine until perusing the rest of the 1-series lineup. From 2008 til 2010, that same N54 with 33 less horsepower than in the 1M was used in the 135i. The new N55, an evolution of the N54, now powers the 135i and 335i while maintaining their previous power levels however that little bit of exclusivity that the 1M has is lost. The extra grip and visuals of the wider track, rubber, and bulging fender flares help but only a small extent to separate the plebeian 135i from the 1M. This will continue to be the case as the 4.4 liter twin turbo V8 in the X5, X6, and 550i are also used in their M versions as well.
While the X5M and X6M could carry their own discussions about the right to receive an M badge, the second focus of this post is about BMW losing itself to fill niches created by their rivals at Mercedes. The X6, its similarly proportioned 5-series GT, as well as the upcoming 6-series sedan are all examples of the Bavarians trying to compete with the Mercedes CLS in some way.
The big three mainstream German manufacturers have always had their places. To paraphrase our good friend Steve who has been in the automotive industry for over 30 years with a bit of editorial from myself: Mercedes is old money and luxury focused. Their cars are fast and capable but love the long haul more than the twisties. Audi is new money kinda like the hipster German who listens to stuff you haven't even heard of yet. They try to make things like front wheel drive and diesel sporty. BMW built performance into every one of its cars which are all rear wheel drive based. With this in mind it makes sense for the Audi to do their own thing while trying to compete with the big boys who have been around forever which is the reason for their CLS four-door coupe clone in the A7. For BMW to build 4-door coupes is almost admitting defeat. The body placed on their 5-series GT is bigger and 500 pounds heavier than the same car in sedan form. For a company that is renowned for performance driving, the dilution of the coveted M badge and saturation of the company's portfolio with models that are irrelevant to the BMW brand is a disappointment to say the least.