We currently live in a world where you can buy an SUV with almost 600 hp, a sedan that has over 700 hp and an electric car that can get from 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds. Things are getting a bit out of hand. The problem with it is that all of this extra power, performance and capability isn’t actually making cars better. Sure, it’s making them faster, but better? No, not at all.
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BMW is just as guilty of this as everyone else. In fact, it might even be more guilty than most. See, with all of the increases in horsepower lately, we’re losing the ability to really push a car to its limits and have fun. If you drive a 500 hp sports car, you will lose your nerve, or kill yourself, on an open road before the car even gets close to reaching its limits. However, if you drive a car with, say, 200 hp, it’s more fun than the 500 hp car on an open road because you can push it to its absolute limit. Being that BMW made itself famous for building cars with modest power figures but brilliant road dynamics, the Bavarian brand is more guilty than most of switching to giant power figures and impressive spec sheets.
In the past year, I’ve driven a MINI John Cooper Works with 228 hp and a six-speed manual on twisty back country roads. I’ve also drive a nearly 800 hp Shelby Terlingua on a race track. Guess which was actually more fun? If you guessed the MINI, you were right. The Shelby is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it constantly felt like I was going slow in it, even though I was pushing 80 mph through corners, because it’s just so damn capable that I never reached its limits. It took a proper racing driver to show me what it was like to really push that car, something that can only be done on a track, in a full racing suit and helmet and scared the hell out of me. I, a mere mortal and ham-fisted idiot, was able to really push the MINI JCW to its limits, filled with screeching tires and blood-pumping thrills, on normal legal roads at speeds that wouldn’t land me in jail. And the MINI has about a quarter of the power and performance of the Shelby.
Modest power but brilliant handling will trump massive power and performance any day of the week. It’s the exact reason why the Mazda MX-5 is such a beloved car, despite it having less horsepower than some lawnmowers. It’s also why cars like the E30, E36 and E46 BMW M3 were all so loved. They could be pushed to their limit, revved out and thrown around on normal roads by normal people without ever really being too dangerous.
Of course, there are good reasons for the massive increase in power these days. Cars are heavier than they ever have been, thanks to modern safety regulations, luxury requirements and standards. Plus customer demand for quieter, more comfortable and more technological cars has increased. So to make these heavy sports cars fast, automakers have to seriously bump up the power. There’s also modern emissions and economy regulations, which force automakers to turbocharge and downsize their engines, thus adding dollops of torque and mostly killing the fun.
However, it’s also about padding their stat sheets. Each and every performance car maker is in a sort of…erm, “ego”-measuring contest with one another to see who can make the fastest and most powerful car. If BMW comes out with a 425 hp M3, Mercedes-AMG must do better and vice-versa. It’s exhausting.
The BMW M3 used to be the best overall, everyday sports car, thanks to its brilliant chassis, perfect amount of power and everyday usability. You could push an E46 M3 on public roads, rev it all the way out and really have some fun without killing anyone. Nowadays, the M3 is a supercar. The current BMW M3 Competition Package is just as fast as a stock Ferrari F430 was when it first came out. Mash the throttle in a current M3 on a public road and one of either two things will happen: You die or get arrested. It’s insanity.
But, there just might be a savior and it does indeed where a blue and white roundel — The BMW M2.
With its 365 hp 3.0 liter engine, the M2 is capable of 0-60 mph in just over 4 seconds. That’s fast, but not butthole-clenching fast. It’s also really fun at normal speeds, not jail-time speeds. There’s a reason enthusiasts like the M2 more than the M3/M4, because it’s more fun. It isn’t scary and it doesn’t need a race track to prove what it can do. In fact, it isn’t trying to prove anything, it’s just trying to be fun. It’s funny, none of the most fun cars in BMW’s current stable make more than 400 hp (M2, M235i and i8).
I hope BMW learns from the M2, learns that it doesn’t need to out-horsepower AMG or Audi Quattro or anyone else, but instead go back to making modestly powered cars on brilliant chassis that are fun on public roads. Let’s let the horsepower wars end and go back to having some (safe) fun.