BMW’s M Badge: A Sell Out

BMW’s M division is just over 40 years old and has in that time created some of the most iconic sports coupes and sedans the world will ever know. Since the M1 racer and the 80’s M635CSi, there has been a rapid fire of M car after M car.

Synonymous with poise, speed, agility, and engineering — the M car embodied the LeBron James of its line. History has been good to these vehicles as well. Many are still considered formidable all-around vehicles decades after their manufacture dates. So much so that there’s a Top 15 as voted by BMW enthusiasts — and my favorite, the E60 M5, didn’t even make it.

M cars represented an achievement and over the years stay on as ambassadors to future models. The heritage is really a fantastic testament to Bavarian attention to detail over this four decade span.

In a way, this has been a bad thing. Metallica just dropped the Black Album and we’re about to see a lot of Load and Reload iterations.

E36 M3

The E36 M3 is the vehicle that got Honda drivers licking their lips. In 1992 when this thing first dropped BMW had moved just over 50,000 M cars ever since it began 14 years earlier. While marvelous, the E36 M3 became the sell out album. This individual vehicle outsold all previous Ms by 20,000+ units.

Ready for the encore? The E46 M3 picked right up in 2000 and put over 85,000+ on the streets in just seven years. The exclusivity of the M brand had just been diluted.

Again, both of these iterations were superb. In fact, the E46 is my favorite M3 of all time. Sometimes I wonder if it is indeed due to the fact that they were so plentiful, and still easy to obtain, that contributes to this.

E46 M3

German cars as a whole kinda took a detour from 2004 until recently when they had the HP wars that AMG ushered in. All of the German saloons grew heavier, wider, and longer. The 2008+ 3-Series was a 1988 5-Series and this was true for Audi as well. The agile canyon carver days appeared to have been over (on the surface).

330i with Performance Package

Enter M Sports Package. BMW decided to ride the wave of the successful 14 year reign of the M3 and parlay that into future successes in wholesale. This lead to the 2004 330i with Performance Package. And it lead to M badging cars that are simply not M cars. This is any BMW with an M steering wheel, door sills, and those named M###i. Even the immaculate M235i, soon to be M240i.

Since the coming of age M3s we’ve seen Z cars, 5s, 6s, and even X BMWs sporting M badges and full on M builds.

This brings us to the newest and much hyped addition coming later this year, the M2. The 2-Series came stateside in 2014 and its already under lineup changes. Initially offering the 228i and M235i (as mentioned above), BMW is now moving toward 230i, M240i, and the fully M’d out M2. Two M badges in the same model line.

2016 BMW M235i

On a side note, the 2-Series is phenomenal. Its plastered to the road and the rear-wheel torque steer is like spreading frosting on a cake. The interior is minimalized and does what it should without complication. In fact, the M235i is one of my favorite buys of all time.

That car comes with M Performance steering wheel, sills, badges, suspension, and upgraded engine performance. It comes right off the showroom floor running at 320hp/330lbft and hits 60mph in just 4.4 seconds.

Bring in the M2 and you’ll have a bevy of space-grade design and air damping grooves in the front and rear of the vehicle. The performance jumps 365hp/343lbft rated to screech to 60 in 4.1 seconds. You read that right, 4.1.

That’s a sensational and neck snapping number but half a wince away from the number posted by the M235i (not even the forthcoming M240i). For this change in appearance and fractional performance superiority, you’ll shell out $7,000 more just over the base price.

My knee jerk reaction is confusion. I am not sold on the value proposition of the M2. Nor do I understand the two M badges in the line or the changes to the names/displacements after only two model years.

BMW enjoyed another record breaking year in sales in 2015. You’ll see that a large portion of those sales were the 2-Series vehicle. That isn’t surprising, though. If you were to look at the most popular BMWs of yesteryear you’d find that the 2-Series offering is the closest iteration to E39/E46 3-Series vehicles since that time. The 3-Series has only continued to grow and gain weight since these golden era vehicles.

Enter the M235i: the Saint Anger throwback that re-energizes consumers by delivering on what made BMW wildly consumable to begin with.

Here’s my issue. Now that another M badged 2 is dropping soon, an M760LI is in the making, and the SUV market continues to carry a Motorsports badge… what does M mean any more?

Its fast becoming More. More sales for More money and too Much power. A BMW has been the Ultimate Driving Machine which isn’t just about brutal power (cue MB AMG territory). Its about balance. And the M235i is in Car & Driver’s Top 10 for that very reason. Shoehorning more power and air cowls onto an already great platform is setting the stage for more dilution in exchange for more sales.

One of my favorite car brands has sold out and is about to open for Taylor Swift’s next tour.

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