Editorial: Back To The Future, And Then Back Again

Interesting | December 27th, 2016 by 8
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Let’s sit down and talk about cars. Let’s talk about the past, the present and the future. Let’s talk about how things used to be …

Let’s sit down and talk about cars. Let’s talk about the past, the present and the future. Let’s talk about how things used to be and how they are now. We have to. Why? Because there’s an epidemic of nostalgia running rampant and unless we sit down and explore things in a clear light, some of us are likely to walk away from something that could be quite great.

I’ve heard actual humans say things like “I don’t need ABS, or electric windows or power door locks or electronic stability programs or traction control on my BMW.” This editorial is a matter of opinion, but seriously? Come on. I don’t think these people realize they’re talking about a German luxury automotive manufacturer, right. Not an Ariel Nomad.

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And that’s my problem. People living in the past, waxing lyrical about “how great the old BMW’s used to be” about how the “new ones are watered down” and how BMW has lost its way. Give me a break. These are the same people that said the E36 was miles off the mark of the E30, and when the E46 arrived, lauded the greatness of the E36. When the E9X arrived, it received the cold shoulder and the E46 became the golden child overnight. When BMW introduced turbos, all hell broke loose. Apparently everyone forgot they were used (and to great success I might add) by BMW in their race cars. If you start talking about the 5 Series, you’ll hear people refer to it as though they were talking about the holy grail. “Forevermore shall the E39 reign supreme.” Nothing will ever even come close to that generation. Ever. Not even 13 years later, apparently.

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Look, I love the old BMW’s. I’m not trying to take away from their legendary achievements, and If I had the money, I’d pay top dollar for a mint E30 M3 or a pristine Interlagos Blue E46 M3 or a fresh E39 M5 in Le Mans Blue. I would. But not for one second would I say they’re better than the latest and greatest cars that come out of Bavaria. Why? Because progress is king. These cars that we revere as “the greats” were great at the time of their introduction. They were supremely engineered. Using the most up-to-date know-how and technology, they were the fastest, best equipped, best looking and sharpest handling cars on the road. That time was then. In this time, the one we’re living in now, we have tech that’s capable of using your GPS location to determine the road you’re on, to take into consideration the weather, the wind, precipitation, and adjust your suspension on the fly. And since the car is capable of figuring out the style of driving you’re doing, it then can also soften the suspension and have you glide over that rough road ahead that it knows is coming up because of the constantly updating database, or, actively adjust your suspension for each upcoming corner on whichever track you’re on to give you maximum grip.

We have head-up displays, wireless charging and systems that will assist and help you avoid accidents now. Saying you hate all the new BMW models because they offer too many options and as a result this somehow “dilutes” the brand, is a lot like saying you don’t want to fly Business Class on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or the Airbus A380 because you prefer the original Wright Brothers Flyer because “it kept it real.”

Using that same logic, these people would be totally fine with using candles in order to illuminate their house, instead of say, incandescent, or worse, fluorescent bulbs. LED lighting would be outright blasphemy. And in their driveway you’d expect to see a parked Benz Patent Motor Car and a Motorola brick phone in place of a iPhone/Android/Windows device.

My point is this; the old school cars were magnificent during their glory years. The history books tell us they won many races, were owned by famous celebrities and for many it ignited their love for the automobile. But just because there were no heated seats offered by BMW when you joined the BMW train (or turbos, or power windows, or navigation, or whatever) once they started offering this thing that wasn’t a thing in the past, if it violates what you as a consumer believe to be “the right way” and it deviates from your ideal mental picture of what BMW stands for, trust that it doesn’t automatically mean it’s a bad thing. Can you imagine the first person that sat in the very first car that was equipped with seat-belts? I’d imagine it would have played out a little something like this:

“So I get in you say?”

“Yes, you slide into your seat, as you’d normally do. Then, you bring this belt over your shoulder and lap and snap the buckle in place securely.”

“Why would I want that? This restricts my movement and is uncomfortable. I mean, just look at how I’m no longer able to slide around on this driver bench. See?”

“Yes, well, you shouldn’t be sliding around in your car seat while driving. See, in case of an accident, this safety belt will keep you from flying through your windshield and save your face from a most horrible fate. It’s a safety feature!”

“I see. I suppose I’ll give it a try then.”

So progress is good. But I’m sure by now you’re probably thinking “OK, all good, but I’m not complaining about safety features. I’m complaining about other stuff like turbos and AWD systems on M cars and why on God’s green earth can you order a car that’s not a true M car with so many M badges, and also what’s up with all the weird coupe SUVs?!”

The subject of how BMW is now using turbos and how that’s not what they’re known for is a super moot point. As I mentioned earlier, BMW has used turbos in the past, and more importantly they did it in actual motorsport racing, and they did it well. The turbo-lag subject is also moot because turbo-lag is virtually non-existent thanks to the great leaps made in turbo tech on the variable turbo sizes, etc.

AWD. Yes. This is something that all other manufacturers offer on their models. BMW just so happens to be known for their rear-wheel drive formula where emphasis is placed on sporty dynamics. BMW offers AWD models for the people that want the added security, whose daily driving stints do not include drifting around corners and precision power-slides. Yes, such people do exist. There was massive fear and panic in the M community that the next M5 would be AWD only, but that fear got squashed when we recently learned that the next M5 will have a button, which when pressed, turns your AWD M5 into a RWD M5.

Lastly, and I think this is the most important note that a lot of BMW enthusiasts seem to be forgetting: BMW is an automotive company that competes on the global market. A market that is full of other very competent automotive companies that also know how to make cars. A market that is regulated and governed by strict rules that relate to emissions and the overall carbon footprint that a company can generate. BMW has to make money, and it makes money by building cars that people will want to buy. And it offers these cars with various engines, some hybrid, some not, but the goal is to get you excited all the while appeasing the ever-stricter emissions standards. That’s why you see the i brand and the new “e” models which rock hybrid technology. So If people want SUV’s, BMW will make SUV’s. If people want sexy SUV’s, BMW will take a classically sexy design like that of a coupe and it will shape it and craft it and market it as a “Sport Activity Coupe” and so was born the X6 and the X4. And guess what? People are buying them like hot cakes! And if someone wants to get some of that gorgeous M-inspired design by adding some of those M Performance Parts, which include the little M badge onto their 335i because they either don’t want a full-blown M monster or maybe they can’t afford it or maybe they can afford it but they’d rather spend that money on a 401K or a trip to Monte Carlo or Maui or Warsaw, BMW will be there to fill that niche and take that money. Why? Because they want to have all their corners covered. Because Audi does it with the S models, their S Lines and their RS variants (on top of the base models) and so does Mercedes, which, God help us I’ve lost track of how many different models they have. Starting with the base models to the AMG variants, to their AMG + variants, to their AMG Black variants. It boggles the mind. The point is, if you want a BMW, you have a ton of options to satisfy your tastes, all of which cost money.

That’s right. Money. BMW needs it in order to carry on inventing things and to continue making cars. And it’s also what fuels the skunk works teams. The teams that every now and then are given the freedom to build something special, like the E46 M3 CSL, or the 1M, or the M4 GTS. BMW has to be profitable to be able to allow for such gems to come out of the factory doors. The truth is, there are more people out there that are fans of BMW, who go out and buy their ideal BMW, be it an X5 or a i3 or 740e or even an M3, and these people don’t even know what “CSL” stands for, or where the Nurburgring is located. Their reasons and tastes differ so wildly, and who are we to judge them and to say they’re wrong? Design, power, safety, status, image, performance. Whatever. There’s enough space for all of us to enjoy whatever it is that we enjoy the most out of our BMW’s. It’s not brand dilution, it’s product portfolio diversification. It’s filling every gap, satisfying every need and appealing to your broad audience. So in a way, all those SUV’s purchased by people who don’t know what a rear differential is made the production of your 1M possible! Your “I want my BMW’s hardcore, ultra-performance oriented all the time” thinking is right for you. It’s not right for everyone. Remember, BMW is a company that sells cars on the global stage. It’s not Radical Cars or Ariel. It must cater to a lot of customers if it wants to sell and remain profitable.

It’s not an easy thought to come to terms with. But it’s true. I have fond memories of playing Super Mario. It was great fun. As a kid, I thought it was the best thing ever. Now? It’s still fun, but you have games that offer ultra-immersive worlds, VR and hyper-realistic graphics. Although Super Mario will always have a special place in my heart, thanks to nostalgia, I’m not playing that now. I’m playing Halo in my LED-lit living room while checking email and texts on my iPhone. Same goes for the E30. It’s a legend. It stirs up feelings and emotions. It’s a gem. But would I be driving it daily? Not a chance. I’ll take my head-up display, heated seat, sport + mode, Sirius radio, wireless charging BMW that will warn me of bad traffic and re-route accordingly. If you want a no frills, bare-bones, zero creature-comforts, focused track day car, then BMW is not the company you’re looking for. The M4 GTS, BMW’s answer to a proper track day car, costs north of $135,000. Today, the enterprising enthusiast can pick up a rougher-around-the-edges E36 or even E46 and build it out to be a decent track day car, but don’t confuse the two recipes as they’re very different. The general recipe that BMW prescribes to is; premium power, performance and handling when you want it, luxurious comfort everywhere else. That’s why you have the various driving modes to switch between: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport +.

Realistically speaking, how many people have enough space and money to afford a track day toy as well as an everyday car? If you’re married and have children, you probably have one additional vehicle for your spouse. That’s 3 vehicles already. And one of them is likely an SUV or van of sorts. If the cars you remember from back in the day were lacking in equipment, it’s because there wasn’t much equipment to be equipped in the first place. But now that there are so many options, why wouldn’t you want, say, an F80 M3? You have 425 horses on tap, which is more than enough power. You can get it with a manual transmission, which will make you feel like you’re in control. It has 4 doors, so you can carry people or stuff. It handles beautifully, it looks gorgeous and you can get it with the Competition Package which makes it even more capable in the right hands. It’s not a watered-down E30 M3. It’s the M3 of this generation. An M3 you can easily live with. One that you can use to drop your kids off at school in the morning, then go to work, then stop for some groceries on your way back home. And on the weekend? Take it to the track. Why? Because it can do all those things.

So again I say, looking at BMW as a company through the lens of your nostalgia is not only unrealistic, it’s keeping you from enjoying all the goodness that can be had today. Saying you can live without the advances in safety, efficiency, technology and performance that have been made within the past 30 years in the automotive industry, is backwards thinking. I love being able to turn on my oven without having to first bring in fire wood. I love being able to call my loved ones from my cell whenever I want, instead of having to go to the post office and asking the nice operator to connect me. I also love the fact that I have running water on tap, and no water wells anywhere nearby. Integrated plumbing, central heating, airbags, direct injection and turbochargers. All progress brought on by hard-working, creative problem-solvers.

The BMW community is comprised of some of the most fiercely loyal, opinionated and passionate automotive folks on this planet. This is a beautiful thing, and it’s something that I truly hope will carry on growing and expanding. But let’s not let automotive snobbism, nostalgia or lack of information stop progress from taking place. Or worse, keep us from tasting the joy of driving the latest and greatest Bavarian goodness that BMW has to offer.

I know this is a polarizing piece. It’s my opinion, and we’re all free to have our own. If you agree, great! Let us know in the comments section. If you disagree, that’s also great. Take part in this discussion and let us know what you think.

Until next time, Freude am Fahren my friends!

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