Debate: Has BMW lost its way?
Looking beyond the gargantuan grilles of the M3 and M4
If you were to name the greatest BMW in the last five years, your answer may be the M2 CS, M5 or M8 Competition. The Bavarians certainly know how to craft an engaging, luxurious and competitive driver's car... or do they? Some of their latest creations have abandoned the traditional BMW recipe, lag behind their competitors and are served in an unattractive or controversial package. Sure, every manufacturer develops a few flops but the direction BMW is heading is arguably concerning. This article will raise a few critical points about the current lineup but will finish with a list of brilliant vehicles the marque has produced.
What happened to the design language?
Many enthusiasts whine over the BMW's modern design language so I will try to keep it brief. It is totally acceptable to have a few controversial designs to spark conversation and generate attention, like the 4 Series. The problem arises when half of your lineup looks like it deserves a badge from the corners of the globe where copyright does not exist. Let us list current BMWs with divided opinions on their design: 1, 2, 4, 7 Series and the X4, X6 and the X7. They are by no means 'hideous, kill it with fire', but are easily outclassed by their more attractive competitors.
Chris Bangle was no controversy-free artist but hey, at least everything was different. That goes to you too Mercedes and Audi; stop photocopying everything. BMW's design chief claims that the new, large grilles will help the vehicles get more noticed in the Chinese market; a country where the larger the grille, the more affluent the individual is perceived and thus the more respect they will gain.
Abandonment of the traditional recipe
Adding a few relatively inexpensive models to your lineup to generate more revenue is a wise decision. It may cost you some of your legacy and the company's founders may be spinning in their graves, but as long as it doesn't have a performance badge it is fine. It seems the executives at BMW didn't catch on when they launched the four-pot M135i and M235i xDrive Gran Coupe, but all can be forgiven if they're better than their predecessors, right? The straight-six, RWD M140i from a few years ago is not only more powerful and quicker than the M135i, but also has better weight distribution (50/50 vs 60/40), sounds meatier and is better proportioned in terms of design. If you are going to downsize your engines, at least make the new vehicle more exciting than the last.
Awesome cabin materials, ancient layout
It's no secret that BMWs have well-put-together interior with hard and soft plastics in all the right places. The ambient lighting is a nice touch but lags behind Mercedes' obnoxious but dazzling night club lighting and Audi's two-colour system. The technology aspect of modern BMWs is brilliant, but even thinking about turning heated seats and adaptive cruise control into subscription options in a $50K+ car is insulting to the buyers. It is a BMW, not an Apple Music subscription. Please, BMW, drop the idea.
The nail to the coffin is the interior layout, which has practically not changed in a decade minus a digital gauge cluster and infotainment software. If it works then why bother changing it, right? Besides, BMWs have always been about the ultimate driving experience rather than the cabin. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the competitors have caught up and offer an exquisite driving sensation as well as a Star Trek interior for identical money. This does not mean that BMW have mediocre interiors, but rather that they should be more bold and creative. Below is an interior comparison of a 5 Series, E-Class and A6 each ten years apart.
Some heroes rise from the darkness
Whilst some BMWs have gained ungodly amounts of weight (M3 and M4) and have grown teeth, others have stayed true to the fundamentals of BMW and are simply incredible. The M2 CS and Competition are fantastic little sports cars, the 5 Series is an elegant business package and the new 3 Series is simply best in class. Though some of their cars may look funny, such as the beaver-toothed 7 Series and the X7, there is no denying that most of them drive as a BMW should. Would you pick them over the competition though? That is for you to decide.