A few weeks ago I found some of my old BMW posters. I used to go to the dealership all the time with my dad for service, and they'd give us stuff like this. It was cool then, but it's immensely cool now. This lineup of M cars is staggering; I've never seen this image anywhere aside from the poster, which I'm guessing was probably made in '98 or '99. All the models are so special, so understated and so compact. There is no excess. Some of these cars may not have been classics at the time, but eleven years on, that status is cemented – they're all legends now. Perhaps the odd one out is the then-new E36 M3 convertible, which has its faults, but as it was the sole representation of the E36 M3, it gets a pass.
About that word "Excess"
Predictably, this delves into a tirade against the BMW of 2011. I'm sorry. It's easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize, but as a massive fan of the BMW of this era, it's been tough to sit and watch the direction they've gone. When Chris Bangle left his mark on the product design, I pretty much ignored the cars of that period because I didn't like the way the look. But now that he's gone and BMW has rushed, design-wise, back into the other direction, I still don't like where they're going. That's when I realized it's not just about exterior styling, it's the basic philosophy.
In the current climate of safety regulations, German horsepower wars, and fuel efficiency goals, it would be impossible for BMW to produce cars just like the ones of 1999. The product bloat that happened in the last ten years happened to every car in almost every segment. But I think Mercedes and Audi are much better suited to making those bloated cars, and BMW has struggled with it. So, Kevin, is this just the standard boring rant about all cars getting heavier?
Not quite. What if BMW didn't make the 3 series enormous in 2005? Why did it get so massive? Sure, Mercedes and Audi put out performance cars in that segment with 400+ horsepower, and so BMW followed suit. But what if BMW hadn't? The praise and hype around the new 1-Series M shows that there's tons of interest for a lightweight, performance-minded car with "only" 330+ horsepower and a reasonable price. Not only that, but some media outlets say it's quicker around a track than the bigger, heavier, more powerful M3 (and, respectively, the C63 and previous Audi RS4).So if BMW had launched the E92 as a purer, quicker, lighter car than it's competition, but down on power, do you think it would have been criticized? I don't. This isn't a bulletproof theory, but something to think about.
Also, I said it wasn't about exterior styling, but it partially is. BMWs now, at least the newly launched 5 Series and 7 Series (I don't know the chassis codes because I stopped caring after the E-- model cars), are by most accounts, conservatively styled. To my eye it looks like they were trying to emulate the muscled posture of the E39 and get far, far away from the wonkey-ness of the E60. But they're too fussy, and there's too many lines. You can just tell that a German scientist in a labcoat calculated that "THIS CREASE WILL IMPROVE THE VISUAL TENSION BY 27%." I don't buy it. To put it concisely, there are so many fake creases and character lines that the overall shape of the car is lost. There is no form. Bangle's brand of Flame Surfacing may be gone, but the idea is very much still alive: a lot of lines drawn to say very little. Whatever genuine tension, proportion, and subtlety may have been styled into these cars is lost.
BMW tries to get us excited about concept cars by using action words in the most sterile way possible. BMW "ActiveHybrid Vision ConnectedDrive Concept." It sounds like something that comes wrapped in plastic you'd find in a hospital. Or a version of Microsoft Windows. BMW 5 Series ConnectedDrive Home Professional Edition. Is this a critical flaw? Of course not. But the company that produced the E39 M5, the BMW of old, would never, ever release something resembling the name "ActiveConnectedVisionDrive."
If you've stuck with my disjointed, half-baked and sometimes incoherent mashup of thoughts, thank you. Despite this, I don't dislike BMW, and I'm at least trying to convince myself that I'm not living in the past. But it's foolish to think that the BMW that build the M cars on that poster is alive today — it has become something else.