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Monday 10th December 2012


4 Series or not there will never be another M3, at least not as we know it

The arrival of the new 4 Series and the implied threat it represents to the continuation of the M3 lineage says a lot about the way BMW bosses view the M brand.

M for marketing, reckons Robertson
M for marketing, reckons Robertson
Would they really kill off the M3 though? In a flash, given how much emotion BMW sales and marketing boss Ian Robertson attaches to M. Which is to say none.

Don't misunderstand. Robertson understands precisely how important M is to BMW's bottom line in terms of prestige, halo models, brand bragging rights, showcasing technological know-how and the rest. Does he give a flying one through a rolling donut that the latest crop relegate the driver to the least important component in a vastly complex machine? In a word, no. When we asked him last week how BMW intends to keep the M3 alive in the post 4 Series world he simply batted the conundrum aside with a disinterested "we've thought about this."

And what of the complaints from the likes of us that the M5 and M6 are too aloof to be fun? Barely concealed irritation at the impertinence and a well-rehearsed party line that increased technology enables modern M cars to be all things to all drivers. Apart from, it'd seem, the ones who actually like driving. A fact only highlighted by the manual M5 we drove last week that at last revealed a degree of character. Flawed, perhaps. But entertaining, engaging and a whole lot more involving.

The link is tenuous but traditionally at M's core
The link is tenuous but traditionally at M's core
So the E92 M3 stands, potentially, as not only the last to wear that celebrated badge. But also the last M car as we know it. Cars like the E92 and E60 M5 were never going to get mass acceptance. They're too focused, too furious, too peaky and way, way too thirsty. That's what we as journalists and customers told them. So, with all its considerable guile and resource, BMW has addressed these complaints, as you would expect. But, just possibly, killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

Doesn't matter. A new breed of customers, free of rose-tinted nostalgia and happy with turbo enhanced torque from 1,500rpm and a zillion different settings for every interface don't care. And they're buying. An M car wins at DTM at its first attempt. The brand looks cool and they don't care that the car they now buy now shares nothing in spirit, let alone breeding. M evolves into a profitable performance/luxury sub-brand, Robertson and his fellow suits are happy.

M5: a gearbox away from greatness
M5: a gearbox away from greatness
Where does that leave us, other than prowling the PH classifieds for old M cars and moaning about how things aren't what they used to be? There is hope. As Harris discovered recently cars like the M135i prove there is life in M yet. It may be that we need to move on and accept 'lower case' M as the new benchmark and leave the 'proper' M cars to the badge snobs. So be it. Almost under the radar of everyone - Robertson's suits and all it seems - the spirit of M has proven its ability to adapt and survive. Hopefully.

Author: Dan Trent
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