BMW’s M-Division started with what is regarded as the first true M-Car, the M535.
Produced in 1979 and producing 215bhp, it kick-started what became a pillar of the modern BMW line-up. Although it followed the limited-run M1 which was a 270bhp supercar in its own right, the 535m is widely regarded as the first production, road going M-car. But today with the introduction of the M-sport line which has effectively become a trim level and a range of M-cars which steps further and further away from the fundamentals of the M-range we felt like it was time to take a look back and reflect of great M-Cars of past.
That’s not to say the current line-up is to be under-appreciated; the M8 is shaping up to be truly a marvel. The M2 is regarded as an all-round spectacular package, with the Competition poised to really kick the platform up a gear.
But with the higher production numbers and M-badges featuring everything, including 4x4s, you would be forgiven for thinking that some of the Motorsport pedigree and allure has been somewhat diluted in the moniker.
So without further ado, here’s our list of 5 ///M cars that we’ve loved in the modern era. Not in any particular order, hell, not even particularly the ‘best’ in any measure (subjective, after all), but simply 5 M cars that to me epitomise what an M-car is.
There was an outcry of sorts when the M3 switched to a 4 litre v8. There was a general concern that the sharp, lightweight coupe characteristics of the E46 would be lost.
But let’s not forget that the E30 that kicked off the M3 fundamental – started with a 4 cylinder unit.The E92 saw the continuation of the competition pack which produced an out of the box, edgier M3.
This introduced slightly lower suspension giving a slightly more aggressive stance. The M-dynamic mode tweaked the delivery of the 414bhp to the rear wheels and performance of the traction control to allow more slip.
Later revisions in the competition pack meant that the dynamic control was adjusted and BMW went on to release an E92 M3 GTS as the pinnacle of the range.Why I love it: A proper v8 that revs all the way to 8,400 rpm, carbon fiber roof, razor sharp dynamics on the right rubber and the DCT which absolutely danced on the grave of the previous SMG system.
The M5 became renowned as THE supercar-sedan. And rightly so. After the simply imposing muscle-car status of the e39 M5, it was exciting to see how BMW would build on the platform. And the M Division figured the best way forwards was to add two cylinders, creating a 507 bhp V10 engine. What’s more, it was available in Estate/Wagon/Shooting Brake/whatever you’d like to call it form. We rarely see these in Australia so I won’t rabbit on too much about them (Uber cool, would buy.)
Exciting as that already sounds, the engine was a thing to behold. The wail was akin to an F1 car spooling up, resulting in a wild Super-Sedan which could out-drag a Lamborghini. Spectacular. The results were stunning and they later took this recipe and instead wrapped the power plant in the sleeker, lighter, two-door body of the 6 series.
The result was a carbon-roofed 500 bhp RWD GT / Sports car which hustled its girth around gracefull, but sounded like an absolute banshee when provoked. As great as the latter M5/M6’s because, refined now with an arguably more reliable Twin-Turbo V8, I’ll always have a soft spot for a widely loved departure into the world of v10s.
The SMG mentioned above did let affairs down a little, but there’s something alluring about that v10 wail that I simply can’t get over.
Available in Coupe and Roadster guise, the Z4M received a mixed reception. It wasn’t as sharp as the competition, namely the Porsche Boxster. But many, including Top Gear’s Richard Hammond quickly realised – that it wasn’t meant to be. It’s as if the M division were handed the keys the M-parts cave with instructions to go nuts.The Result was a 340bhp, RWD sports car that was, quite simply, Raw. With M-Track mode enable, you were afforded some slip, but disabled, it would simply slide sideways all day long.
You see, rather than laser-like dynamics, it rewarded the driver who took it by the scruff of the neck and man-handled it. The electronic steering of the Z4 was out, in favour of a hydraulic setup which afforded better steering feel. It was simple, with a relatively minimalist cockpit, devoid of excess driver aids.
A six-speed manual box provided the engagement mated to the main event – the BMW m54 engine derived from the M3 CSL of the 346 era. 0-100 came up in around 4.6 seconds, and the experience, particularly in Roadster guise was electric. Some minor modifications saw the somewhat spritely performance become a little more refined.
E46 M3 CSL
The e46 refined the e36 M3 and rather than a complete revolution as we saw in the M5, the E46 saw the M3 retain it’s 6 cylinder in-line power house. The CSL, Coupe, Sports, Lightwieght, was the pinnacle of the generation, bringing with it the iconic “CSL style” wheels. It felt like a proper hark back to the M3 philosophy.The M54 power plant was tweaked and fettled to produce a heightened 340bhp. The carbon-fibre air intake produced one of the finest intake roars on the road. Lightweight materials featured throughout, resulting in a lightweight version of the M3. It was criticised perhaps for the jerky SMG gearbox, the only option available which was particularly agricultural around town and at low speeds. However, when wrangled with at high revs like it was destined to, it provided sharp, crisp gear changes combining to provide a race-car feel.
The Mechanical wail of the motor being wrung up to the 8,000rpm redline, the lightweight dynamics owing to lashings of carbon fiber and removed trim, it all combined to make a stunning package that was worth more than the sum of its parts.
But wait, that’s not 5?
You’re spot on.
It’l need some thought, it’s a rich history and petrol head’s dilemma. From the grows-on-you M-Coupe and Roadster, to the storming M2. And how can I overlook the e30 Evo? Does the 535M that kicked it all off count? How about the original CSL? E39 M5? And that’s before we look at the modern era M3, M4, M5, M6 coupe and Gran Coupe and everything in between. Funnily enough despite being one of the most technically advanced in the lineup, the i8 never came with M badges attached so isn’t in the running.
This final spot isn’t a decision I can make without some further thought!
Edit: And after said time, I think I’ve settled perhaps controversially on the
The recipe is quite simple. Minimal amounts of driver aids, RWD, a 6 speed manual through which an initial 376 bhp (with 369 lbs/ft of torque) raising to 405 (with 406 lbs/ft of torque) and beyond in subsequent Competition models.
The Competition featured the S55 engine, at a lesser state of tune found in the M3/M4 meaning that tuning options are plentiful.
But more so, in standard form you will find a 1,550kg two-door compact sports car which seems to embody everything about the ///M badge. With large, fade-resistant brakes (which will have a Ceramic option in 2020), wider tyres and bulging bonnet it maintains the torque output of its larger siblings. Importantly, it by and large achieves it’s single mission of embodying the original ethos of the M-division. Slicing through corners whilst extracting the linear acceleration as you soak in every bit of exhilaration from the communicative, stiff chassis.
Bringing fun, thrilling performance to a compact, lightweight two-door machine. It might not be the fastest or most powerful M-car out there, but with it’s turbocharged straight-six engine, flared arches, and performance pedigree, it somehow manages to feel like the ultimate driving machine.