For some reason, many enthusiasts look down on the lineup of M Performance vehicles. These vehicles sit squarely between the more pedestrian entry-level models and traditional M models, receiving more powerful engines, bigger wheels, and an honorary M badge slapped on the trunk lid. Yet, because of their more aggressive profile and driving dynamics, enthusiasts can’t help but compare vehicles like the X3 M40i and M240i to their full-blown M versions. But, they often overlook areas where an M Performance vehicle actually does a better job than its full-blown M counterpart.

But often, drivers might be better off behind the wheel of one of these “M-lite” vehicles. With their softer suspensions, lower price of admission, and stout powertrains, sometimes, the M Performance version is really the one you should’ve bought. Luckily, we’re here to help you do the research.

Price Gap Between M Performance and M Models

BMW M550i xDrive

Even looking at a small sample size of M Performance vehicles paints a clear picture: they’re less expensive than regular M models. For example, the M340i starts at $56,400, and the M3 (rear-wheel drive) starts at $74,300—a $17,900 delta, nearly enough to purchase an E36 M3 to go alongside your M340i. And personally, that’s likely how I would spend my money. The X4 M40i and X4 M offer a more manageable price gap of $12,500, but that’s still a lot of money for most people.

Counterpoint: an M model holds its value considerably better than an M Performance vehicle. Lower production numbers and high desirability and collectability make M models easy to sell secondhand. So, you might make your money back if you move to sell the vehicle later. Of course, if you’re leasing, this doesn’t help, and either way, you’ve got to have the extra scratch to start with, or you’re out of luck.

M Performance vs. M Models: What Are You Missing?

BMW M340i M Performance Model

BMW bills their M Performance vehicles as “the Athletes.” They identify them as “road-ready vehicles enhanced with the epic engineering of BMW M.” And people say truth in advertising is dead. That’s an astoundingly honest and pretty accurate way of describing M Performance vehicles. Unless you plan on tracking your vehicle – often – or place a high premium on the added engagement an M model offers, you’re better off with an M Performance model.

When considering your next Ultimate Driving Machine, the ultimate question is: what are you really missing when you purchase an M Performance vehicle instead of the M model? You might miss the additional power if you’re launching your car regularly or attempting triple-digit high-speed runs. That isn’t to say the M Performance vehicles are slow—they aren’t. The steering might be a bit more communicative in the M model, but at their core, all models share variable sport steering that does an okay job of telling you what the front wheels are doing. The M vehicle gets a more performance-oriented and beefed-up suspension, which helps on the track. But the M-lite almost always rides softer and is more suitable for street driving—especially in places with less-than-ideal road surfaces.

Lastly, you’ll miss out on any options and aesthetics limited to the full M car. If you love the bucktoothed, bucket-seated, manual transmission G80 M3, you probably won’t find the more restrained styling and automatic transmission of the M340i palatable. Are all these trade-offs worth a 20% – or much more when you start adding options – price hike? Your choice to make.

Making the Right Choice: Deciding Between M Performance and M Models 

BMW M240i xDrive M Performance Model

To summarize, you should consider the following points when deciding between an M Performance vehicle and an M model:


  • How do you plan to use the vehicle? If you aren’t tracking the vehicle or don’t dedicate time during the week specifically to drive your favorite road, you might not need the full M. If you have a 30-mile commute on the worst highway in America or have a field of speed bumps between you and the office, the lower-slung and sport-sprung M model wouldn’t be my first choice.
  • Does the M model offer features you can’t get on the M Performance one? If you’re not looking for a manual transmission, carbon-fiber bucket seats, or M-specific colors, your reasons for buying the M model rapidly dwindle.
  • Can you justify the extra cost? Whether or not the full M is easily affordable, you shouldn’t pay for something you don’t see value in. Both M Performance and M models offer exceptional value, but only if you value what they do best.

Good luck finding the perfect M or M Performance model for you!