Counter Steer: Why We Should be Thankful for M Performance Automobiles

BMW is future proofing itself with the nearing launch high tech offerings of BMWi, appealing to the masses with softer more luxurious cars that are selling at record rates all while improving emissions and efficiency. Every thing is as Rosy as a pair of Lennon ‘s glasses. Is it really though? We have seen the performance numbers of most BMW models continue to improve with each new generation and that is fantastic, the feel and rawness on the other hand have been toned back to luxury car levels. Body roll, decreased steering feel and unwanted extras are all permeating the lineup. The traditional M cars are as good as they have always been although the poshness continues to spread like warm butter on a piece of toast.

When Dr. Kay Segler was at helm of M he proclaimed that M would have “no dogmas “, nothing was set in stone and that the most powerful letter in the world, “M “, would continue to evolve. He was right. M as a brand is becoming much larger and more involved in lesser cars than the M3, M5, M6 and even the 1M.

With the recent market launch of M Performance Automobiles – M is doing what it did to the original models it tweaked (M535i, 850 CSi, Etc.). They are not trying to redesign an entire vehicle to make it the best they can but rather make it better than stock and acceptable for those looking for a bit more performance at a much more reasonable price point.

In a recent conversation with the current M President Dr. Nitschke, he said something about this new line and it thoroughly changed my opinion on them. As he said, “The M Performance Autobiles (MPA) allows my engineers to make improvements in models they would have never looked at in the past as they were not in our lineup “. He is absolutely correct and that is something we need to discuss a bit. With the launch of the first MPA models, M has already created the most advanced diesel in the world, and what went under the radar to most- offered the FIRST xDrive system with a true lowered sport suspension. That latter part is something people in the North East and snow belt have been wishing for since the creation of xDrive. “Give us xDrive without the jacked up suspension! ” has finally been acquiesced to, but by M rather than BMW AG. M is listening to the consumer, and looking at the market to fine tune products into performance niches rather than just creating products everyone wants. M would have never looked at diesels, all wheel drive or hatches in the past.

Is there a market for a balls out diesel in 5 series and SAV packaging? You better believe there is (outside the US). As VW has proved with the GTI, people want performance hatches and now with the M135i BMW will finally after three decades of watching will offer one. Do people want to have a performance model that goes well in the snow in the Alps but do not want to drive around in a huge SAV the rest of the year- yes they do. Thinking outside the “box ” leads one to imagine that M will now tackle things we could have only wished for. What about a M550i xDrive- how does that sound Joe in New Hampshire? I have a feeling its coming.

Sure, people will complain and say that all of these M Performance Automobiles will detract from the true M cars and it is diluting the brand. I really can ‘t agree with those complaints. That is like saying your favorite steakhouse should only serve mashed potatoes and mushrooms as side dishes; if asparagus is in season why not offer it? People will still choose what they want based on personal preferences.

Consumers for the most part are becoming more educated; they research online and sample the product. These M Performance cars once introduced stateside will be a step up from the Sports package equipped models and a step (or two) below the full on M cars. Will it be confusing? Not at all. People are still going to ask what the best performing, most expensive model is and buy the full on M models. Buyers looking for more sport with a budget or a need for diesel/ all wheel drive will buy M Performance Automobile models and the remainder will stay within the BMW lineup. That is also not to say that the M Sport offerings will not be adequate or still sporty, the MPA models will just have different styling cues and more pop thanks to engine tuning.

At the end of the day these new offerings are a good thing for us enthusiasts, it gives M the ability to help us at a more reasonable price point while still being true to the models that have made the brand so special all these years. These cars will replace the IS models with more M styling and hands on engineering how can that be a bad thing?

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  • Interesting to think about MPAs in that way. I love the idea behind them but think they need real marketing (i.e. creating a story for a consumer to buy) to make them successful. As it stands now I can’t see many Americans being interested if they could get most of the performance in an normal M Sport model with the largest engine available.


      True, but the 335is and Z4is had less of a story and sold/sell well. Add an M badge and sales will be even better.

      • Did they?

        • Andrew Popoola

          I have no numbers to back it, but yes they did sell well, probably not as good as it could me thinks due to the lack of a manual transmission option.  MADMADM is right, adding that M badge makes it immediately apparent that these models are special.  

          You do have a point that the marketing needs to be stronger for MPA vehicles. I tihnk BMW is just taking its time.  BMW has never really championed the marketing side of things though, preferring you the driver to discover all the goodies on your own.  

          The current campaigns are probably the strongest I have seen in at least 2 decades, so BMW is already past its comfort zone in ads.  However, I def agree the MPAs need a story, an identity, a lure.

    • sackboy

      LOVE the idea of MPAs !  And- yes- I own 2 Ms now!  BUT- there have been times- like when purchasing a car for the wife- Ive needed a roomie 5 Series,  but really dont need all 560 ponies!  This new Series of MPA`s could be just the thing!  sackboy

  • Andrew Popoola

    Michael, you are spot on.  My comments on the MPAs when you guys first reported on ’em is very much in line with your article.

    I really hope it is a matter of time before BMW brings the MPAs to the US.  I gave up an M car (still hurts) because I could not temper the call of that V8.  If the road ahead was open, down to the floor the  throttle pedal went.  I don’t recall ever driving that beast without hitting triple digits.  I miss you Brutus  :(…

    I think the MPAs are the perfect compromise between vollehoden M cars and the run of the mill bimmers.  I am more excited about a manual transmission M550dT X-Drive than any other new vehicle in BMWs line up, though the 6 GC is sexy. 

    At the end of the day, err I mean all in all you said it best:    

    “At the end of the day these new offerings are a good thing for us enthusiasts, it gives M the ability to help us at a more reasonable price point while still being true to the models that have made the brand so special all these years. These cars will replace the IS models with more M styling and hands on engineering how can that be a bad thing?”

    The future is bright for us enthusiasts, that, is certain.  Have you seen M6 coupe prices lately? Come to papa!

  • Glad to know my radar is working – thanks for following up on the suspension question.  That will be good news for the performance AWD crowd.   Ultimately the German big 3 are doing what the American big 3 did in the ‘70s – that is competing mostly within themselves.  BMW seems to be reacting to Audi a lot these days.  (Audi S-line = BMW MPA?).  So far that has been a good thing. 

  • Johnparke

    I am hoping that this will allow M to make the real M cars more hardcore

    • Adam

      I was more or less thinking the same thing.  Its entirely possible.