BMW M purists have long been skeptical of the installation of electric technology into their beloved high-performance machines, but it looks like we will have more time to adapt to the way of the future than we initially thought. With the upcoming debut of iNext in 2021, and the full electrified lineup due by 2023, it’s only natural that we also begin to question the future of the M division as well. Our unresolved cogitations end now, however, upon learning that the M division isn’t quite ready to enter the electrified era.
Although we have been exposed to electric technology for years now, that doesn’t exactly mean that it’s worthy of M-level performance just yet. BMW’s hesitation may come as a result of their fanbase—BMW devotees aren’t always the easiest to please, especially when the technology isn’t completely refined. We saw a dichotomy form in the 1970s over BMW’s first turbocharged production road car, the 2002 Turbo, and more recently in 2006 when BMW launched the N54 engine, which led the brand into a new era of forced induction.
The i3’s debut in 2013 once again steered the brand toward the current EV trend, which later brought the introduction of the i8 in 2014, BMW’s first B38 inline-three, mid-engine hybrid sports car. While it has proven beneficial for the brand to follow technological trends in order to remain competitive in the industry, BMW executives also understand the fragility of introducing new and unrefined concepts to their consumers, who will ultimately determine the automaker’s successes and failures.
First impressions are vital—which is why we won’t be initiating introductions with any electrified M-models anytime soon.
Reflecting on BMW’s history, BMW M product manager Carsten Pries reminds the public that when we “look back at turbocharging technology, the response times were not considered appropriate for an M performance car, so we held off on using it until we’d come up with our own solution.” In short, the timing just isn’t quite right. The reason why Pries—and BMW M engineers—are so concrete on this decision is a direct result of the current limitations of electrified vehicle technology: It’s too heavy.
While BMW M CEO Markus Flasch has openly affirmed his positive perspective on the future of BMW and electrified vehicles, and continues to make bold decisions when it comes to both design and technology, it appears that he also recognizes when to curb such enthusiasm. Though all-electric automakers like Tesla continue to push for performance-oriented electric vehicles, electric technology at this stage faces limitations that gas-powered performance doesn’t. Sure, Tesla’s recent Nürburgring slayer lapped the Nordschleife in supercar-territory time, but that was a heavily modified, stripped-down prototype. Sultans of speed like the F90 M5 and Porsche 911 Turbo possess the driving dynamics and interminable performance that performance EVs lack at the same price. Yes, on paper the Porsche Taycan’s power figures are comparable to those of the M5, but it also weighs roughly 400 pounds more due to its electric baggage; it must be charged for use, and the only model capable of challenging the current M5 has a starting MSRP of $185,000.
It may be too early for an entirely new, fully-electric M model to grace the production line, but the stand-alone Vision M Next may very well portend the future of hybrid M models, using adapted, re-engineered electric technology of the present, rather than that of the future. With a mid-mounted four-cylinder engine and only two eDrive motors, the Vision M Next is capable of a blistering three-second 0-60 time and a hefty 600 horsepower. The smaller hybrid setup gives the M an electrified edge in terms of performance without sacrificing too much weight in the form of dense battery configurations, forging the existence of a completely futuristic, driver-focused sport coupe. If there’s any concept that may influence the future of BMW M, the Vision M Next may very well be it.
Just like the aging of a fine wine or cheese, maturation of technology is an integral part of BMW as a brand. Exercising patience in order to receive precision and perfection is something that the marque has led with for years, and will continue to lead with as a part of their automotive philosophy. Searching for a balance between honoring their own legacy and embracing a new one is a notion that I find respectable; BMW recognizes that enthusiasts hold our esteemed high-performance M cars in reverence, and that we will continue to do so, with or without electric technology.—Malia Murphy
[Photos courtesy BMW AG, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG.]