M-Cars: Lost the Magic Touch?
Are the new M3 and M4 no longer cars to long for? If so, where do we go from here?
I'll admit it, I'm a BMW fanboy. I never used to be, but since buying an F32 (4 Series) last year I've become infatuated with the brand. At the start of the year, I remember having a chat with a colleague at work that further cemented my love for the brand. We went through a selection of popular brands, talking about who has made the highest amount of attainable cars we want? Not the best cars, the fastest, or anything like that. But the ones we really yearn to have, and stand a chance at owning some day.
We started with VW (since we were sitting in one at the time). There were a few that we spoke about. The MK2 Scirocco, the Phaeton, and the GTI Clubsport S were all mentioned. We then went to Mercedes, and as you can imagine the list was big. A W140 S-Class, a C126 SEC, a W123 couple, an R129 SL, an R107 SL, a C215 CL, and a W201 190E were all on the list. After Mercedes, it was Audi, and we realised that though Audi have always made very good cars, they don't evoke that sense of "I have to own this" which other cars do. (I'm sure there will be a great deal many people out there who disagree strongly with that.) We then went through a few more manufacturers that had big lists; Nissan, Ford, Honda, and more before arriving at BMW. What followed was a list that included every M-car or semi-M ever produced. From an F82 M4 CS (pushing the bar of "attainable" there) to an E34 M5 Touring, we realised there wasn't any low points in the history of the brand sportier cars at least, which we could pin point as them missing the mark. Having that realisation was the exact moment I became, for lack of a better term; a fanboy.
BMW Press Release Photo
There was an issue though. Shortly afterwards I remembered about the then newly released M135i, and how it looked less like a shark (how a BMW should look) and more like a beaver that desperately needs to see an orthodontist. It really was such a shame as the design was otherwise shaping up to be quite nice, if a bit generic. It was at this point I realised that BMW were not immune making cars with an "M" in their name that I didn't want.
Some would say that I should have known something was up when the X7 and 7 Series turned up with massive kidney grills previously, but at least they didn't look ugly. Despite this, when BMW unveiled the Concept 4, even though I was disappointed that it wasn't an 8 Series lookalike I was still confident that if they did put a big grill on the new production 4 Series, they'd at least have the self-respect to pull it off. I was wrong. They didn't pull it off.
Then spy shots started appearing on the internet of the new M4 - which also had an ugly face. "Oh dear! Still though", I told myself, "at least the M3 should be a more conventional piece of design, the 3 Series has a normal grill." Turns out that was wrong too. As we are all fully aware now, neither the new M3 or M4 aesthetics live up to what most people were expecting from them. Sure, some people do like the design. However with all due respect to them, nobody can deny they are a minority.
I don't doubt for a second that both cars will be outstanding to drive, and do a million other things well too. Do I really want one though? No.
So if the M3 and M4 are no longer things to long after, then what now? Well there two cars that you can substitute them for. The Alfa Romeo Gulia Quadrifoglio and the Alpina B3. I know the Alfa has had a lot of praise in the past, but when was the last time you saw one on the road? It's a car which deserves to have sold in much larger numbers than it has done. July 2019 was the last time sales of the Gulia in general, not even the Quadrifoglio, reached more than 1,000 units in a month across the entirety of Europe. Meanwhile BMW sold 8,823 3 Series units in the same month, which was actually one of the 3 Series poorest months for sales in 2019. Let’s not forget too, the Gulia Quadrifoglio has just received some mild tweaks to the suspension set up for the 2020 model year that’s only made it even better. As for the Alpina, they've always been rare, but I have a feeling that their new B3 will be one of the company’s most popular models ever. No tacky grill design here, just a classic look that doesn't insult fans of the brand.
Both the Alpina and the Alfa offer an intense driving experience with the ability to become comfortable when you want them to be. What separates them is the way these aspects are balanced. The Alpina leans more towards comfort, with its comfortable seats and extremely refined drive. The Alfa Romeo, though still a smooth tourer with that V6 engine, is the more raucous drive. Less sound proofing, quicker steering, and a firmer set up equate to an experience which differs from the Alpina as being noticeably rawer.
Whichever one you choose, you'll be making the right choice. Now that we've briefly gone over the purpose of each car, here's some numbers to show how they compare to Bavaria's ugly duckling.
You can see from the table above that the two cheaper cars do, on paper, outperform the new M3. As if those figures weren't enough, remember how well the Gulia Quadrifoglio is keeping its value on the used car market - and do I even need mention how little an Alpina will depreciate? Of course, there's a lot more to a car than numbers, and I can't comment on what the new M3/4 is like to drive, as nobody has had a go in one as of yet. Though, I'll bet that soon we'll be seeing a considerable amount more Giulia Quadrifoglio models on the road, as well as the odd Alpina B3. As for my original statement in the title of this article? I'm afraid that for the time being, yes. While I respect the brand for, like Alfa Romeo, making efforts to keep the manual gearbox alive in mainland Europe, as well as rear wheel drive, they've lost a bit of that appeal they had such a grasp on. If you're like me and feel this way, do remember that there are alternatives out there that might just be a better buy.