Yesterday, I returned a BMW Z4 M40i back to the brand’s HQ, in Northern New Jersey. It was a complicated loan experience, thanks to switching cars due to a tire issue. However, all in, I spent about two weeks in the new Z4 M40i and learned quite a lot about it during that time (reviews coming soon). However, it wasn’t until I was halfway to BMW HQ that I realized the problem with the Bavarian brand at the moment — it’s too sensible.
German brands are known for being smart, calculated, pragmatic and successful. They make cars that make sense for their markets (even if we sometimes don’t always agree. I’m looking at you, X2) and cars that they can profit from. However, even most German brands make at least one car that’s dumb. By that, I mean that they make at least one car that doesn’t make any practical sense, a car that isn’t going to be a massive sales success but is going to be awesome and is going to make customers want to buy other cars from that brand, just to get a taste of it.
BMW isn’t one of those brands. Allow me to explain.
Of all the premium German brands, BMW is the only one without something silly and fun. Mercedes-Benz has the AMG GT, a car that has at minimum 479 hp, and a maximum of 577 hp from its twin-turbo V8 and is only rear-wheel drive. Its most extreme iteration, the AMG GT R has nine traction control settings.
Why nine and not the usual two or three?
Because nine is more, that’s why. It’s a tire-shredding psychopath that looks incredible, makes an astonishing noise and yet can’t hold a candle to the 911’s sales. So, on paper, it doesn’t really make any sense for Mercedes to sell.
But it’s awesome.
Porsche, being Porsche, makes the 911 GT3 RS and the GT2 RS, cars so hardcore that even the most hardened enthusiasts wouldn’t want to drive them on the road. Does anyone really need a GT2 RS, a car that has enough power to launch satellites into orbit, as a road car? Of course not but it’s astonishing and spine-tingling.
Hell, even Audi — a brand known for making sensible wagons and hatchbacks and for having a design language so banal that even its sportiest cars look like diesel family cars — has something thrilling purely for the sake of being thrilling. It makes the Audi R8 V10 Performance, which is a mid-engine supercar packing a naturally-aspirated 5.2 liter V10. Forget downsizing and turbocharging; Audi goes big with the R8. Its sales are in the toilet but who really cares when you have 610 rampaging horses screaming at 8,250 rpm behind your head?
BMW’s craziest car? The BMW M8 Coupe, which has gobs of power but is also safely all-wheel drive, has multi-stage configurable brakes and enough drive modes to make KITT seem like a child’s toy. It’s all too computerized, too sensible, too safe, too smart. BMW needs to make something dumb and fun for the sake of making something dumb and fun.
To be honest, the brand actually used to do so. The original E28 BMW M5 was insane when it first debuted. People though BMW had gone ’80s-style mad on cocaine and Huey Lewis when it stuffed a motorsport-inspired I6 into a family sedan, giving it 286 hp. That much power in a sedan, back in 1986, was simply madness.
But it spawned greatness. BMW’s original ‘Z’ roadster, the Z1, was a plastic-bodied two-seat convertible with doors that slid down into the body. Why did BMW make downward-sliding doors? Who knows but the car was awesome and nearly every enthusiast loves the mere idea of it today.
Photo: BMW Classic
Even more recently, the 1 Series M Coupe was designed and built on the down-low by BMW’s engineers who begged for board approval to build it. After countless meetings and convincing, it was finally given the chance and an icon was born. Yet, it seems that BMW has forgotten how to do it. Profit-chasing and corporate sensibility has made the brand too safe. Don’t get me wrong, BMW still makes excellent cars, cars that I’d put my own money on. But there’s nothing that really captures the soul anymore and it’s sad because the brand’s history has shown us it knows how to do it.
One of my favorite comedies is Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, starring Will Ferrell. It’s about as unintelligent as movies get but it makes me cry-laugh every time I watch it. There’s a scene in the movie where Ricky Bobby’s (Ferrell) boss tells his uptight team manager that he needs a little more “dumb cowboy” in him.
While that’s a bit hyperbolic in this case, it’s sort of the sentiment I’m shooting for. BMW needs to make something absurd and hilarious. Something that appeals only to the heart and not to the mind. Something that makes no sense on paper but all the sense in the world on the road.
BMW needs to have some fun again.