Editorial: M Division Losing Touch with History?

Others | October 13th, 2009 by 29
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It started with the grandfather, the patriarch of what would be a long line of champions, its heart was a high-revving 3.5L inline-6. Not surprisingly, …

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It started with the grandfather, the patriarch of what would be a long line of champions, its heart was a high-revving 3.5L inline-6. Not surprisingly, that same engine was a large part of the car’s soul and character. It was the BMW M1 – the very first BMW to be produced as an official M GmbH(then M Division) vehicle. On July 10, 1978 with that first crank of the massive M88 engine of the first M1 to roll out of the M Division workshop started a tradition that spanned another three decades – naturally aspirated, high revving, high horsepower engines to power the best BMW’s made.

The M88 itself would stay in service for another 10 years, filtering down from super car status to super sedan status in the first M5 and M6. A modified version of the M88 would lose 2 cylinders and 2,200cc of displacement and be dubbed the S14 to go on and power the screaming E30 M3. Time marched on and models continued to evolve but the same principles of the engine remained – the engines must rev freely and as high as reliably able to. Examples would include the E46 M3 with a 3.2L inline-6 that redlined at an impressive 7,900 RPMs or the E60 M5 who’s naturally aspirated V10 ran out of steam at 7,750 RPMs.

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For many, the naturally aspirated, high-revving engines are what defines the M Series cars to enthusiasts. Only in those higher RPMs did the engines come alive and show their since of urgency to bear their soul. Wind out an M-constructed engine on a back road or a track, keep the gears low and the revs high and you will understand the appeal of M cars. The E46 M3 and its S54 engine don’t feel particularly special but above 3,500 revs on the tachometer, the driver is rewarded with a growing metallic symphony from the exhaust. Even the current naturally breathing V10 of the M5/6 is surprisingly sedate until the engine is wound up and at full force.


But, is that all threatening to change? Yes, actually it is. BMW’s famed M GmbH has decided to use forced induction on its next generation of engines as a means of increasing horsepower and efficiencies. After 31 years of naturally aspirated, peaky, well-tuned engines, the NA engine may disappear from one of the most vaunted specialty divisions of any car company in the world.  Sources quoted by Edmunds a few weeks back, mention the 2012 F10 M5 being powered by a twin-turbocharged V8 compared to the free-breathing V10 of the current M5 and they’ve already released the X5 and X6 M’s, both sporting turbocharged V8’s. Rumor has it the next M3 will carry turbos under its hood as well.

Many may feel that this isn’t a big deal and really just an easier way, from an engineering standpoint, to produce higher horsepower figures from lighter engines in the not-yet-kaput power wars between the Germans. And why not? Audi and Mercedes have both used forced induction with success in the B5 S4 and it’s turbocharged 2.7L V6 and the previous E55 AMG with its 5.4L V8, respectively. Both companies are now dabbling in both turbo- and supercharging for high performance vehicles – and that’s a great thing.

But perhaps it isn’t for BMW as they’ve always strived to be more than just what the competition was. With so many other ways and technologies at BMW’s disposal, why not turn to lighter weight vehicles for improved performance?

Sure, Audi’s RS6 sports a turbo’d V10 pushing out 570HP to offset its scary weight figure – but why does the M5 have to do this with its engine too? the N54 in the current 335i is an incredible engine – just look at the awards it’s won ad nauseum, but max torque is achieved by 5,800 engine revolutions. It doesn’t have to carry with it a sky-high redline – and the current forced induction V8’s of the X5/6 M’s top out at 7,000 RPMs.

Yes, power is there, but is the urgency and that special feeling of keeping revs wound up like M cars of soon-to-be-yesterday still going to be present? By adding turbos do you remove the soul and passion of the Teutonic engine?


Perhaps. Many enthusiasts used to say that the further M GmbH got away from the E30 M3, the worse things got for the driver involvement – it looks to be that they could be wrong: the further we may be getting from the E92 M3, the worse off we may be. I only hope that in another 10 years, technology will have moved on allowing BMW to move back to naturally aspirated, high-revving M engines – only time will tell though!

29 responses to “Editorial: M Division Losing Touch with History?”

  1. L1ndja says:

    great article.For me the M division ends with the M3 e92.FRom now on all of the engines will be turbocharged and will only rev until max 6700rpm something like the 335i maybe!but not enough to ever top the sound of an high reving Inline 6 or v8.The automatic gearboxes are also false and no true driver or car enthusiast wont approve them!

  2. Auday says:

    Great article!!
    thanks for finally publishing an article that shows the other side of the argument, regardless of which side is right.

    For me, engine wise, the S65 (of the E92) is the last M-Div engine, and the E46 is the last M-Div car (although I would give the E92 a bit of credit as it’s still way better than the E60/E63, I just wish that it has a different steering).

  3. wazon says:

    N/A engines from BMW are great and M3 E92 will be a cult car, since it’s perhaps last NA M car. I will miss NA engines and top engineering from BMW in this area. However, it’s not BMW’s fault that they have to make turbo-charged engines. It’s rather demand of time, market and law. Cars are supposed to produce less CO2, be faster and more luxury. It’s only harder and harder to combine all these feature without using turbos. Since cars improved in terms of luxury and getting more technology on a board, it’s hard to make it significantly lighter than ancestor. Actually, making car with the same weight as ancestor weight is great achievement. But brand new car is suppose to have significantly better performance than ancestor. BMW could deal with this by applying improved version of V10 for M5 or some totally new NA engine, but it’s almost impossible to do it without increasing emission of CO2. The last one pose great problem for car maker, especially in Europe where since 2012 car buyer will have to pay tax for each gram of CO2 above 130g. I don’t know exactly how much one will have to pay, but from reliable sources I heard that it gonna be 2000euro of eco-tax for Passat 2.0T, imagine how cost of M5 would increase, if it stay with NA 5.0 V10. So reducing CO2 emission is important task from selling point of view. If your car produces less CO2 than its rivals, then it can be cheaper than its rivals and hence more lurking to customers. M5 E60 emission is 344g of CO2, turbo in M5 F10 will allow to reduce emission under 300g. It’s not impressive outcome, but only first step eighter and – unfortunately – step in necessary direction. Level of tax for 2012 is of course top of iceberg, in future it will only increase. Anyway, BMW has to be where they are already going, if they they want to survive on market. In general, M cars are not as expensive cars as Royce-Rolls, Lambo, Ferrari and they are adressed only to people who are extremaly wealth and who have attitude of indeference to car’s cost. After all, you can have M3 for 1000euro/month in Germany, 1200$/month in US. It’s expensive, but there are a lot of people who could pay such money for car without being extremaly wealthy! But if price of M cars increase too much, BMW could lost people who was on the border line of people enough wealth for M-car. And I believe that great number of M customers won’t pay 10.000 euro more for their cars. (Just think why Audi decided to replace V10 biturbo in brand new RS6 with V8 biturbo). I know that singnificant number of us could drive CSL version of each M car, but I really doubt that most customers evaluate performance so highly that they would resign from comfort. Fact that they almost don’t spend time on a track says something about their priorities, so M cars have to be luxury eighter, if BMW wants to earn some money on them. It’s sad that we won’t see brand new NA BMW engine for M car, so let me hope at least that BMW will produce the best charged engines ever!!!

    • Auday says:

      Nice analysis, but unfortunately it doesn’t make the picture much brighter. We should start stocking on the current M-Cars, or maybe look somewhere else.

      Wazon, Dont you think that they could add 10 or 20 extra HPs (for Marketing) to the current S85 and reduce it’s emissions slightly using some new technologies they developed during the last 10 years? I’m not the expert but I have the feeling that they could if they want to.

      • wazon says:

        As Matt Stokes pointed out below, they could make NA engine and reduce its emission, but cost of it would much higher than making turbo-charged engine. From marketing point of view, it’s important since Benz or Audi would be able to provide cheaper product with similar perfomance, perhaps less technologically advance than BMW would be, but in most cases it’s price what decide. So, if BMW wants to survive they have to produce turbo engines. Moreover, I am not sure whether – for example – tuned up V10 from M5 would do the work. Two friends of mine have M5 E60, one tuned by Kelleners Sport (btw cost of 12000euro or something in this vincinity), other tuned by Hamman, both delivering above 550hp and they do great against other cars, much better than stock M5 E60 but still I don’t see these cars surviving in competition up to 2015 as upcoming M5 should.

        Whether to search somewhere else, it depends on what you need. If you’re looking for the best handling coupe for 4 adult persons, it still will be BMW (M3, of course :D) or if you are looking for driving pleasure in saloon, M5 will be the best offert, or if you are searching for large coupe, M6 still will be lurking offert for you. In upcoming future there will only less and less NA engines in cars in these segments. Personally, I’m not against turbo engines in BMW since their resposiveness is great (in X6M it’s amazing, according to journalists) and they provide max torgue from the lowest rev speed. These engines don’t need to rev to almost 9000rpm, becuase range of rev speed that is for disposition is greater than in any NA engine. Anyway, it still doesn’t mean that I don’t admire perfect engineering in BMW’s NA engine, but there too small numebers of customers, who would buy a car because it’s a piece of great engineering when they can buy a cheaper car with similar performance. Sad, but it’s the world we live in and BMW has to change to survive. I wish them best on the new path since I still believe that they are making the best cars in their segments and doubt that I won’t buy BMW in future.

  4. Fab article!

    But the first M3 wasn’t exactly a all-purist configuration. I mean, a four cylinder isn’t what you’d call sporty. The key of its success was the handling and the interaction with the driver. And in that field, BMW still has the edge when compared to its rivals, not only in M cars. The M E92 is gone a bit soft (contradictory to its road version, the E90 is much sharper than E46) but we’ll know soon if the new cars are as good as before. The next M5 is nearly here.

    • Auday says:

      “The key of its success was the handling and the interaction with the driver”

      That ship has sailed since the E60 :)

    • jon H says:

      “I mean, a four cylinder isn’t what you’d call sporty.”

      …..really? Not sporty like sayyyyy miata? s2000? The successor to all modern BMWs the 2002? For 1988 a 200hp 4cyl was more than sporty. It was almost exotic.

  5. Matt Stokes says:

    People need to understand the requirement for the M division to be able to offer competitive products at comepitive prices. BMW’s rivals are doing it, so BMW will have to stoop to their levels in order to meet the price and regulation targets.

    Yes BMW can make NA engines upwards of 600hp (Mclaren F1 anybody?), but can they do it at a saleable cost – especially when profits are down and people are tightening their purse strings.

    The future, as I see it, lies with electric motors.. ie:

    High revving straight six ~ 350hp, with KERS system providing an extra 100hp (for instance), coupled with lighter construction… unfortunately I doubt that technology is good enough (or cheap enough) at the moment to get to market on this next generation of cars…

    I see it as maybe a short term thing though.

  6. Andrew says:

    Part of my point was that with more weight saving technologies you can retain high-revving naturally aspirated engines with the same overall performance as a forced induction car. Yes, maybe the horsepower figure stays the same or declines but if the power-to-weight ratio drops some then the car can still be a winner.

    Light weight technologies is a more logical step to me than significantly altering engines.

    • Matt Stokes says:

      Possibly, but in the market place Logic may have to give way to Cost.

      Don’t forget that inevitably cars grow in size from one generation to the next, they are also expected to offer more safety and additional features. So not only are you trying to make a product weigh less than its predecessor, but you are also invariably adding more weight to it before you even begin!

  7. Matt Stokes says:

    Also worth considering that it was only the very early M cars that were born out of competition, true motorsport DNA… however these days, for one reason or another… that’s not the case… and it’s not necessarily BMW’s fault.

    The E30 M3 was raced as a touring car and a DTM;

    BMW’s current touring car star is the 320si…. right.. yes, anybody think BMW should ditch the M3 in favour of the 320si – to go up against the RS4/5, C63 AMG, IS-F ? And in future the S2000 regs governing touring car racing are likely to become S1600 regs, meaning 1.6l Turbo’s…..

    .. and what if BMW entered DTM? Still no joy, unlike when BMW were competing in DTM, DTM cars currentley ARE NOT based on road cars, they have custom built spec racing engines and drive trains, they are silhouette cars for all intents and purposes.. it would be as much use to a road car as BMW joining NASCAR.

    So… what other options are there? Well, let’s not forget the E46 M3 GT-R… a snip at £250,000…. for other reasons, they decided not to build it… but that wouldn’t have mattered… M cannot exist based on the sales of £250,000 cars…

    … my point is, M road cars have changed because their original reason for being does not exist anymore, M hs moved from Motorsport to Marketing.. and they’ve never done better to be fair to them.

    It’s Natural selection, things must evolve or they die. I do not want to see the M brand die, and I also wouldnt want to see BMW making the same product for 50 years as Porsche has done with the 911, it lacks any originality.

  8. L1ndja says:

    As much as i hate to accept all this,this is inevitable and the High revving engines must be replaced with turbo engines.Such a pity..As for my opinion ,i hate electric cars and i’d prefer diesel and small turbo engines over them at any time.I think that the best use for electric cars is for very small cars and short distances and im against alltime hybrids.I like Bmw’s idea of using electricity in such a way and i think its ok to get a boost of power is nice and in the mean time u save fuel and emit less.Quite cool.But what i really hope is that after 10years Hydrogen engines will be introduced.Thats what i hope and we can avoid using electric engines that sound so poor.Hydrogen engines could be used like Petrol ones.So in a way the petrol engines will be revived and we can ones again get N/A engines and old school style

  9. L1ndja says:

    Oh i almost forgot…Im sry to express myself like this.But i hate these fucking automatic gearboxes.They should really have kept the manual as a standard and ofcourse for thouse who want selfshifter let them have ..But what about thous who dont?

    • lennardt says:

      i hate automatic, too, but hydrogenengines will (i hope) never be the best thing to drive. hydrogen
      -is more expensive than petrol (and it will be),
      -it’s danger (ok, that can be handeled in the car, but I’m talking about transporting it to fuelstations etc.),
      – it diffuses through tanks very fast (I anything about half of a tank is empty after two weeks)
      – and to produce H2 you need a lot of energy.
      So at all it would be not my first choice..

  10. Very good article, I think turbocharged engine for M3 and M5 won’t be tha bad and it’s not the end of the world but it’s time for BMW to produce real super car with monster engine, high-price tag and Exterior and that car should be next-gen BMW M6, I mena M3 M5 with turbo-charged engines and M real luxry car. It’s time to break a record there mus tbe BMW for wealthy people as well!

  11. Auday says:

    @Andrew, Wazon, and Matt Stoke:

    It seems that we all agree on it, but that we are seeing it in different ways, for me the summary is:

    – BMW has to step up to the HP war and have more HP in the new M5 for marketing reasons, and we agree that this is not the spirit of M cars, M Cars are about balancing HP with handling, control, and feedback. The original M cars essence put them on the opposite side of muscle cars, while it seems that Audi and MB are dragging the Sport sedans towards the center or even closer to the muscle cars.

    – BMW HAS TO reduce cost in order to be competitive and make profit (although they are already one of the most profitable companies, but hell yeah if they could make more profit then why not).

    – BMW has to attract other customers who don’t understand or dont appreciate a sports car engine with peaky torque and high revs, so BMW has to compromise and go for more muscle car like engine. They already had to compromise feedback and roughness with smoother and softer E60M5 and E92M3.

    – BMW has to reduce emissions but without increasing costs, and perfectly engineered N/A engines are more expensive to develop, uses expensive materials, and built on such precision to go up to 9k rpm without a problem. and all that means the car costs extra and the maintenance is even more.

    all the Has to/had to statement are related to marketing, cost, new M customers, ,,,etc , non of them is about making a better car, keeping the legend of the M brand that gave BMW that great reputation, keeping the enthusiasts who fuel that reputation satisfied, or to say the least caring about making a better sports car in the definition that M Div engineers talked/bragged about for 30 yeas.

    For us, those “has to” statements mean nothing, we don’t have shares in BMW, and we are not married to the corporate to worry about their sheet numbers and profits. We need to say it, that from our perspective we don’t like that a bit, otherwise they might continue this surge and we would end up with a MB kind of car that has a BMW logo on it (MB themselves had to go through lots of other kind of compromising, way before BMW, and look where this took them in the long run).

    From my perspective, whatever justifications we listed, they dont change the fact that the new M cars have very little M-ness in them and if they change the high-revving, peacky multi-throttle engine they will have almost 0 M-ness left in them, except for the logo and it’s already loosing it’s appeal and reputation.

    • wazon says:

      I think that some things will stay unique for BMW. First, it will be great handling and great handling once again. Applying lighter engine will make achieving of balance 50/50 even easier than when heavier power plant is applied. It’s something that puts BMW in opposition to all muscle car and it something that you won’t find in Benz or Audi. Switching to turbo doesn’t mean that they have to take driving pleasure away from their cars. Actually, I believe that upcoming cars will present great improvement in this area. Second, BMW’s recipe on turbo engines is unique eighter. They use small turbos mainly to increase torgue, small turbos generating pretty small pressure (it’s ONLY 0.2 bar in 35i engine). It’s something against muscle car philosophy eighter, which – as I understand it – would demand from car maker producing as powerful engines as possible and in discussed case using charges generating a greater pressure than 0.2 bara. These two things are continuation of M philosophy, although it’s applied to twin-turbo era, I feel M-ness in these cars and believe that you will feel it eighter, if not right now, you will find the difference between it and other cars, when you drive brand new M-product.

  12. gman says:

    I’m disappointed with the move to turbo motors but my biggest issue with the M guys is the cost of the cars. My salary hasn’t increased at the same rate as the cost of the cars. It appears my e46 m3 will be my last M car that I will be able to afford that’s within 10 years of the model year of production. I wish there was a less costly performance oriented M car I could buy…

  13. Babken says:

    My friends,
    Since it’s M it’s the greatest automobile in the world. And if M engineers decided to make turbo engines, you won’t be disappointed. At least reviewers who have driven X5 M and X6 M say those cars are incredible. So M turbocharged engines are real masterpieces. I’m just looking forward to the next generation M5.

    • jon H says:

      Agreed. The wrong way to look at this is by saying is this wrong. We should be excitedly awaiting new creations from the worlds most creative and exciting automaker.

  14. bw says:

    You know what I miss? The sound of a modem making a connection to the internet with that symphony of eeeeeeerrrrrrrrraaaaaahhhhhheeeerrrrrrrrrtt!

    Those were the days.

    • jon H says:

      kinda like i miss choosing my own gears…but not like I don’t miss rolling my own windows down. where does it end? does it end?

  15. lennardt says:

    I always liked it, that other manufacturers had to make turbocharged engines to get the power of BMW-engines of the same size, because it showed the advantage of technology which BMW has and of course it’s a pleasure if a car reaches high rev and the persons inside can’t do anything else but smile :-)
    But I think (or hope) the BMW-engines will combine the high revs with turbo. A cousin of mine tested the X6 M and he said its really a beast. The next years will show, if ///M loses it’s charm or not. An M1 (hmm i mean the coupe of 1series as an M-car, not the legendary M1) with a 2 litre and very high-speeding fourcylinder like the E30 M3 would be a nice thing. I don’t like the cars getting bigger and bigger and heavier and heavier.

  16. :p says:

    Well i hope they make supercharged M engines that can reach 7000+ RPMs. I like to see some 650+ hp in the 2016 M5 and at least 500+ hp in the next M3

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