12. X6 M
We could sit here and argue all day about whether or not BMW M should be in the business of making SUVs, but there would be no point to it because the firm emphatically does and that’s all she wrote. However, there is a more pointed discussion to be had about which SUVs it chooses to build - and on the basis that the X6 represents just about everything wrong and pointless with the modern car industry before you even get to its badge, we’re going to go right ahead and say that spending upwards of £87k on the M version is probably the last place you should consider investing your hard-earned. Unless you happen to like the way it looks, of course. In which case we can do nothing more for you.
11. X4 M
The same argument stands for the X4 M - in fact, on the basis that it’s smaller (and therefore even more unfathomable) it probably ought to bookend this rundown. But with it starting at £65k let's cling to the idea that it’s cheaper, and therefore mildly less offensive than its famously divisive big brother. You’ll still have to make your peace with the space-limiting rear end, mind - and ignore the prospect of buying exactly the same model in non-awful costume, and for a bit less, too. Pointedly, Matt Bird noted that he’d never seen an X4 M on the road. There’s something to be proud of, Britain.
Let's head off the stewards' enquiry here: yes, clearly the sane choice would be to put the XM not just at the bottom of this list, but underneath it in a lead-lined coffin. But hear us out: granted, the XM is enormous and absurdly expensive and needs plugging into the mains to work properly and is about as pleasant to look at as a dodgy cardiogram. Yet on its (admittedly short) list of virtues is blank-sheet newness and - on the basis of a prototype drive - ample evidence of a frightening amount of technical expertise being brought to bear. Moreover, where the X6 and X4 M are hackneyed to the point of being nonsensical, the XM is a concerted, flag-in-the-sand attempt to give the buying public what they apparently want. In other words, you're definitely going to see them on the road, Britain. Chew on that.
9. X3 M
Okay, let’s get serious. If you simply must have an SUV, the X3 M is worthy of serious consideration. It's built on the M3’s platform after all, and equipped with the same weapons-grade engine. It is, therefore, very fast and, unlike the X4 M, it is in possession of a sensible bodyshell. On the other hand, in its enthusiasm for making the X3 M live up to its billing, BMW has made the car a little unrelenting. You can expect to be jiggled - and that’s not something Porsche Macan or Jaguar F-Pace buyers have to suffer. But if you can live with that shortcoming, and are immune to the charms of the saloon (or the forthcoming M3 Touring) the X3 is easily among the quickest, most aggressive SUVs you can buy. Which is quintessential M behaviour.
8. X5 M
If there’s a BMW SUV which can be said to have earned its M badge, it’s the X5. After all, the first-generation model is arguably genesis for the entire concept of a car-like SUV - it was already wowing people with its innate drivability back when Land Rover buyers were saddled with the Discovery II. The fact that, nearly 25 years later, you can buy one with a 625hp V8 almost makes sense; it represents the march of inevitable progress. And while some might still blanch at the sight of an M on its bootlid, there’s no question that the latest Competition-grade car can do things that would make your head spin.
7. i4 M50
It is the very presence of a stonking V8 in the X5 M that very nearly saw it usurp BMW M's first go at building an all-electric model - but let’s be a bit progressive for once and acknowledge that the i4 M50 is a suitably hefty first swing of the zero-emission bat for an operation we traditionally equate with six or eight cylinders. For one thing (and in stark contrast to the XM) the i4 is a sober attempt to appeal to early(ish) adopters, and while it doesn’t necessarily feel like a proper M car just yet, there’s enough gumption on display to suggest that BMW is heading in the right direction. Also, it’s a conventional saloon - so a bonus point for that, too.
It can be rather easy to forget about the BMW M8 Competition, which seems a crazy thing to say about a V8 rocketship that shares so much with one of the best super saloons on sale. But that commonality with the M5 is both blessing and curse for the ultimate 8 Series; on the one hand, there’s the same almighty twin-turbo V8 and freakishly capable xDrive system. And on the other is an interior and overall ambience that’s hard to distinguish from the cheaper saloon in possession of the more iconic badge. Not to say anything of the alternative sports cars that might be bought for the money, from Mercedes SL to Aston Vantage. If you like M cars, then you’ll probably love the M8 in all its forms - especially the swept-back Gran Coupe - as it’s brimmed with attitude and speed. But it isn't as memorable as some.
It would be reasonable to suggest that the current 510hp M3 and M4 Competition met with a less than favourable public reception, given the price increase and the contentious styling. Nothing should detract, however, from just how good the pair are, which is why they rank so highly here. By combining quality finish from the upper echelons of the BMW range with an immensely capable and highly engaging drive, BMW has created an unforgettable brace of M cars. Indeed, it’s why the M4 outranks the M8 here; it's hard to want for more on the performance or perceived luxury front. Indeed, the only reason to hesitate is that (not unlike the M8) the M4's coupe-only status and £81k starting price does suggest a number of very capable, purpose-built sports cars - which means there's always the nagging thought that the current iteration of BMW M's definitive recipe should be bought with rear doors included.
Of course, if you do want a saloon, there's really nothing quite like a BMW M5. Rivals have come close - and some might even pip it in certain areas - but for the consummate performance flagship, a car as comfortable as it is thrilling and as subtle as it is wickedly fast, there’s nothing to match the original. The current F90 generation has been around for a few years now, but it's been getting better ever since it launched. That culminated in the CS (undoubtedly one of the 21st century’s greatest M cars, and only missing here because you can no longer buy one new) though there remains plenty to recommend the ‘regular’ Competition, especially with the mid-life update that fixed the ride quality. A more capable, even faster M5 will be along in a couple of years, utilising the XM’s electrified V8 for what will be a monstrous 750hp 5 Series PHEV. But it’s going to have to be something really special to surpass the all-round appeal of its sublime predecessor.
If the M4 faces the perennial Porsche problem, the M3 stands alone as the best super saloon on the planet. Perhaps a Giulia has lightweight effervescence on its side, but it has the interior of a car half the money. An E63 has V8 charm in spades, yet it can’t compete with the M3’s perfectly judged ride and handling. Whatever the opposition offers, the M3's counterpunch tends to be knockout-worthy. With a rapacious turbo straight six, endlessly entertaining handling (improbably made better still with xDrive fitted) and a superb interior, the M3 Competition is now so broadly talented and immensely desirable that it makes an M5 hard to justify unless you simply must have a V8. Look past the face, ignore the haters and embrace BMW M at its best. Or sit on your hands and wait for the Touring.
2. M4 CSL
The CSL wouldn’t be a BMW M lightweight special without some sort of controversy: the old M4 GTS, plus the M5 and M2 CS, were met with considerable opposition when announced, too. But the criticism of all (typically centred around weight and price) shouldn’t take away from just how good they’ve been to drive. And the CSL is certainly no different in that regard, taking the standard M4’s precision and surging confidence and cranking the dial way up. Beyond the shouty exterior is a chassis of real quality, subjected to a raft of methodical, obsessive upgrades to bring out the best. The engine is a force of nature, the driving assists are fantastically calibrated, the balance is perfect, and anyone who doesn’t enjoy a drive in a CSL is doing something wrong. And the old M3 CSL was a heck of a lot of money, too, before you say anything…
This might be going out on a limb, given we've only driven the M2 as a prototype so far, but we're already convinced the car is going to be pretty special. There’s a lot shared with the M3 and M4, for a start, from the engine to its differential, and we've already noted how well-sorted they are. Unlike the G80 and G82, however, the G87 will be offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, and that promises to make all the difference - even if, very cheekily, BMW will make you pay £1,090 for it. As the world moves towards an autonomous, electric, not-very-interesting-for-the-moment future, so the appeal of a straight six, rear-drive, 460hp, manual M car – you know, like the ones they used to make – absolutely soars. Which is why BMW knows it can charge for a stick. Nevertheless, if the improbable bandwidth of the M3/4 can be fused with the rowdy attitude of the previous M2, BMW M's final pure combustion car will be more than deserving of this spot. No pressure.
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