Has the BMW M badge been watered down?
‘M’ is celebrating its fiftieth birthday this year. No, not the thirteenth letter of the alphabet (perhaps a lot older), nor Mrs. Judi Dench (and as a gentleman I make no comment on when a national treasure is on this earth), but the division that makes BMWs go faster.
In 1972, M had only a few employees and its inaugural project – the 3.0-liter CSL “Batmobile” – didn’t have any M badges on it. This is no longer the case. Having built some quite exciting cars over the past century, the M has blossomed into a Goliath – a car that comes with the weight of expectation from enthusiasts and owners but is also glamor and allure for people who aspire to the top of a BMW. And people are willing to pay a premium to have many, many M badges on their cars. Even if the car in question isn’t actually through a rigorous M Motorsport-derived process—rather than Trinny and Susannah’s makeovers dressed it up to look like a proper M car. But BMW does not care, because expanding the competence of M earns it a lot of money. But is it out of control?
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If you go to the BMW configurator, you will see a few BMW M badges on cars that are not technically M cars (BMW iX M60 / i4 M50 etc.). But when you get to the dedicated M division – home of the “proper” M cars (M3/M4/M5/M8 etc.) – there is one pariah: the M240i xDrive Coupé. Now, as you well know, a proper M car based on the 2-Series is called the M2. He is not. But it is still found in the M world on the BMW website. This bothers me more than it should. So much so that I had to go and drive an adopted M3 myself, just in case my wires crossed and deserved to be in the M section.
With every auto manufacturer currently battling for electric car dominance, I shouldn’t dare attack a powerful, low-hanging two-door coupe built on a custom platform (which has no doubt been a nuisance to engineering and finance) with a composite six-cylinder engine. Longitudinally with actual pistons and oil stuff in it. But at first glance I can’t help but be a little cynical about the M240i because it reads like many modern BMWs: big, heavy, controversially designed but ultimately very qualified when it comes to speed. And don’t make anything about it, the 240i is a powerful M car. In fact, with 368 horsepower, 369 pound-feet and a 0-62 mph time of just 4.3 seconds, it’s exactly the same speed as the original M2.
Compared to previous ‘M Performance’ models (models with visual M cues so your colleagues who don’t know much about cars think you have an M when in reality you don’t), it’s the most non-M-looking M ever, especially when Stand next to the M3. It robbed the iconic split aerodynamic mirrors, similarly marked muscular lines, a prominent hood bulge (like having a bigger, more powerful V8 under the hood when it’s not there; it’s a 3.0-liter turbocharged 6-liter with a 48-volt hybrid) and the same– If not more – M badge than the actual M3. This is all well and good. But it is very clear that there is no lightweight or sporty application for cars. Which is what those few employees of the day did and honed to make the CSL Batmobile and the original M philosophy carried forward.
But where M cars really come into their own place is their driving. And this is where you feel the biggest difference between the M240i xDrive and the M3 Competition xDrive. Although the newer M3 and S58 engine don’t have the same blaring motorsport tone as older M3s; As soon as you start the engine he feels angry and frustrated as if he wants to run free. M240i no. It’s got a flat, quiet, lethargic and creamy tone to it but – annoyingly – more induction noise than the compound rubbish that comes through the M3’s speakers when pressed hard.
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Same deal with gearboxes—both cars use an eight-speed automatic, but the M3’s baby sibling hasn’t quite hit puberty yet and isn’t confident enough to change gear when you want to. And when it does, it does so by the path of least resistance. But thanks to a great new firmware update, the M3 lets you know it’s changing gears and now shifts thanks to the added burp of torque when upshining.
Equipped with xDrive systems (you don’t know that with the M3 as there are no exterior badges to identify it) both cars send the drive back and then forward when necessary, but the 500-horsepower super saloon is certainly more playful in its distribution than power. It also shares the same quick steering and numbness associated with bags of front end grip and traction. Both are extremely fast on paper and are easy to drive with a decent lick. But within seconds of driving the M3, you can feel the additional, more expensive and competent M Motorsport hardware working with you — a stiffer chassis, better dampers, and plenty of little bits to fortify you and give you the ability to push a little harder — as the M240i ends up feeling heavy and pudding when pressure on it.
So what did you learn from this exercise? Well, it made me appreciate all the extra hard work he put into making the M3 and M. And it looks like a proper M car. Where does the M240i frankly. So it shouldn’t be in the M section of the BMW website. Or put M badges over it. The rant is over.
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