Earlier this year, the man in charge of BMW M, Frank van Meel, offered a bit of early confirmation that the next generation of M cars will be available with manual transmissions. For months following, not much was said about the matter, as many were preoccupied with the G20 3 Series release and the fact that BMW was seemingly skipping the manual option (at least, for gasoline-powered variants) on the entry-level sedan for the first time in its seven generation history. Recently though, another, rather outspoken BMW executive expressed to Road & Track that the next M4 should be the, “fortress of manual,” and that it’s going to be rear-wheel drive, but with an all-wheel drive variation available as well.
This latest news, which came after interviews with BMW brass at the L.A. Auto Show, picks up where things left off back in July, when M Boss Frank van Meel said manual transmission take-rates on the M3, M4 and especially the M2 have kept three-pedal availability on life support. According to the executive, as long as customers continue to, “vote with their wallets,” BMW will work to fulfill demand, and now, it seems like those who opted for three pedals in their modern M car have helped ensure a stick-shift will be around in the next M4, which is is rumored have a production schedule that may stretch all the way until 2027 or 2028 according to BMW development chief Klaus Fröhlich.
However, the decision makers at BMW remain all too aware of the reality of the situation. With the ever-growing horsepower and torque figures put out by each new generation of performance automobile, the manual transmission becomes less practical to use, more difficult to develop and more expensive to include. The current-generation M5 is the first to go without a manual transmission drivetrain variant, but you’d hardly be blamed for thinking the stick was killed off in the previous F10, as almost no one bought one with a six-speed as opposed to DCT. As we mentioned in the previous article, beyond the horsepower wars and performance sacrifices, the unstoppable trend towards autonomy is likely an even larger threat to the manual transmission, as there’s simply no way the two can coexist within a modern automotive platform.
So, while Fröhlich has promised with his own words that “there will be a manual in the successor to M4,” the longterm horizon still looks a bit bleak for those of us intent on rowing our own gears. Contrastingly though, the future of BMW M cars seems quite exciting. During the same interview with R&T, Fröhlich also talked about the next-gen M4 being available with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, and the M4 is marque’s icon when it comes to performance. Specific attention was paid to ensuring the first AWD M car—the smash success F90 M5—did not exhibit the same tendency for understeer that other AWD competitors from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and others experience when pushed to their limit around a curve. The F90 achieves this improvement all while weighing less than its purely RWD F10 predecessor, but is available only with a specialized version of the ZF eight-speed automatic. The lightweight AWD setup of the M5 will reportedly find its way democratized to future versions of the M3 and perhaps other M cars as well.
Like the current M4, which can be had in standard, competition package, CS, GTS and potentially CSL guises going into the near future, Fröhlich has also assured that various different versions of the next round of M cars will be available through production. Specifically referring to the M4, Fröhlich expressed an appreciation for what Porsche has been able to do with the 911, offering a refined and desirable base model Carrera and outrageous, track-ready GT3 and beyond, with a myriad of minor variations available in between. It sounds like the M4 may be given this treatment in its next platform iteration, and the added variety would be a welcome change of pace. —Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]