Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Can 1[M] be greater than [M]2?

Can 1[M] be more than [M]2?
The 1 Series M Coupe was great. Will the all-new M2 be greater?

BMW has done much wrong upon enthusiasts over the last few years. Bigger and frequently blander cars, over-inflated pricing, and endlessly creating and filling seemingly infinite, pointless niches; these represent the bad. But we can't ignore the good BMW has done recently, from a electric-hybrid sports car to the ever-amazing, almost-too-fast-for-its-own-good M5. And then there's the pinnacle of everything “right” to come out of Bavaria recently, a car bearing the name 1 Series M Coupe, the one vehicle to look and act like sporting BMWs of yore and the sole example of a recent production car built by the German automaker to gain near-unanimous praise. Its demise was sad yet inevitable, but now BMW has graced us with a supposed spiritual successor to the 1 Series M Coupe: the M2. Can it live up to the reputation of the car for which it can credit its existence?

In the rare application of a classic formula in which a small, light, nimble car is given a big boost in power, suspension/braking equipment from the company's best, and a manual gearbox as its only transmission, the 1M's brawny good looks were surpassed only by its driving dynamics and ability to induce a smile upon its operator. This old-school recipe came as a bit of a shock amid a very revenue-driven, forward-thinking era at BMW, with the likes of the i3, widespread turbo-tech, a carbon/composite 7 Series, the aforementioned slew of niche-carvers, and so on. The 1M was unexpected, out-of-nowhere; an outlier and a standout. Its price point was unnaturally low, its credentials make it an absolute riot, and the reviews imprinted upon the bytes of the internet will all help us remember that the 1M was extremely special.

The M2 is effectively slotting in where the M3 (or M4, I suppose) used to live in BMW's lineup, a locale filled most recently by the 1M. What used to be a luxury sports-coupe, today's M3/M4 duo is now the size of a proper GT car-- but back when it was smaller the 3 Series-based M cars provided a raw, albeit luxurious, driving experience. Its inputs were direct and it made you do some of the work rather than it doing the work for you; it was an analog-feeling car with a digital complexity.
This translated to the 1M, but since the M2 has “gone to finishing school” the latter may prove to be less of an enthusiast-minded driving experience. More attention to detail, more technology, more overseeing your every move, more press, more attention, and more draw for more customers. It's BMW taking advantage of a situation in which they know they have a captive audience in interest and finances.

Speaking of finances, we have to address the elephant Monroney in the corner, one that is a potential problem for the M2: price. Praised for its performance-to-dollar and enjoyment-to-dollar quotients, the 1M carried an MSRP starting around $47k. What else was available in this price range around the time it was available? TT-RS, Boss 302, ZL1, base Cayman...and that's about where its competition ends in the realm of similar pricing. Finding further equal matchups requires digging into the used market, maybe with an AMG SLK, E90 M3, Cayman S, or Corvette (preferably a C6 Grand Sport or Z06). The new M2's competition is much more dangerous if we assume the MSRP of $51-53,000 that rumors put it at. The predators looming on the horizon bear names like Mustang GT and GT350(R), Scat Pack and Hellcat, ATS-V, Corvette, Camaro SS and upcoming ZL1, Cayman, and even so far as the CLA/GLA45 AMG twins and the rumored RS3. All of the aforementioned are genuinely enjoyable, fast, dynamically sorted performance machines. None of these may be “direct competitors,” but will the M2 even have a “direct” competitor, something with rear-wheel-drive, a turbo inline-six, and its small-for-today size? I'm not saying that any potential M2 customers will cross-shop it with a Hellcat, but the M2 can't be a half-assed effort if it's going to fill the shoes of the dearly-departed 1M when it comes to smiles-per-dollar quotient relative to the other new options out there. And isn't smiles-to-dollar what it's all about if you're not dead-set on shaving off those last few tenths of a lap?

Similarly, we must also address used car prices as a sort of an indicator [you can insert your own joke here about BMW owners not using their turn signals]. That of the 1M is increasing, but I doubt it the M2's will do the same seeing as they will build and sell as many as they can and the car as a whole will be recognized more widely and now just by BMW and automotive enthusiasts. It's going to be a less exclusive car and one with a much broader appeal, a combination which while usually lends itself negatively to a specialty car's personality.

This and the thought of what its lineup is composed of in mind, it's so very easy to claim BMW has “lost its way,” with a 7 Series that's always trying (and usually failing) to out-S-Class the S-Class, a slew of cars like the 5 Series GT and 2 Series Active Tourer, a front-wheel-drive platform (which they claimed would never happen), and a 3/4-Series that's taken up gluttony. And then there's the M2, a car that, in light of anything BMW is doing with the rest of its more mainstream offerings, promises to be great. But how great?

And herein lies the M2's biggest foreseeable problem: we expect it to be great. Every bit of speculation and every bit of anticipation circulating the car has come along with a qualifier addressing how fantastic it promises to be. Everybody wished for greatness with the 1M, but we knew little and based most of our guesses on hope; it was a “this could be fun, let's see if it works!” project whereas the M2 is an improvement upon the previous car's mantra in every quantitative way. But its qualitative characteristics are what will matter most, and while I'll hedge my bets that it's going to be a outstanding driver's just can't and won't be the 1M. The M2 may be more well-rounded, and it will be of no surprise whatsoever if when the veil on the embargo lifts it reveals only glowing, bow-down-to-your-master praise, but it won't be on par with what came before it. I can only hope it is though, and that I'm wrong about it versus its predecessor.

The 1M was great. It was a legend of the internet era, if you will. But while the M2 is certainly more car than the 1M, this is not a case of wanting more. What made the 1M great was less: less size, less weight, less of the bloated, cash-driven mentality that's plaguing BMW. Coincidentally, it's what may ruin the M2. What it really needs to be is more of less, but regrettably it seems to promise to be so in only bad ways: less surprising, less extreme, less raw, less simplicity, less insane relative to everything else at its price point. The M2 will undoubtedly be a great car, but the 1M was the greatest BMW in recent memory. And for all the reasons above, the M2 will not be better than the legendary 1M. In the age of coupes that are sedans and sedans that are coupes, BMW has managed to pull off a mathematic miracle: proving that 1[M] is in fact greater than [M]2.

[I reserve the right to pass final judgment if BMW were so nice as to lend me the keys to each for a week. Or even a day. An afternoon, maybe? I promise to return them with most of their respective rear tires and a nice write-up to go along with my smiles, and I'll even clean my drool off the steering wheel. Please? Pretty please?]

-Ross, 10/28/15

Pictures courtesy of: Hooniverse, Autoblog, Jalopnik, BimmerFile, etc.

1 comment:

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