We used to know what to expect from a BMW M car. Razor-sharp responses, an exotic hand-crafted powerplant and a level of handling genius beyond any of its immediate rivals. And then we didn’t. It’s not easy to pinpoint quite where the dilution in these brand values began, when we started to get overweight and underbaked M Cars, but it’s clear that the M division is delivering once again. The BMW M2 was a stunning return to form and the next-generation M3 and M4 twins could well put Garching back on the top step of the podium. What we know so far is indeed tantalising.
Frank van Meel, the ex-quattro boss who introduced all-wheel drive to M cars, is gone, replaced by Markus Flasch, the youngest person to head the division. You’d like Flasch. The 38-year-old Austrian might have inherited cars like the new X3 M, X4 M and upcoming M3/M4 from van Meel, but he’s determined to put his stamp on the next round of models. That includes the welcome return of an iconic badge.
“We will see more limited editions, special ones like the CS and you can also imagine a CSL,” said Flasch. “We won’t see the GTS sub-brand in future; there won’t be a GTS and a CSL,” he clarified. “CSL stands for light weight, racetrack ability and the purest M character that you can achieve in a car that’s still got licence plates on it.”
It’s likely that the Australian M3/M4 line-up will initially adopt three tiers: Pure, Competition and CS, kicking off with a rear-wheel-drive Pure model with a manual gearbox. Flasch stresses that development of these variants will be dependent on individual markets’ demand. “As you can imagine for M3 we were able to take over the entire drivetrain concept that we offer in the M5, and we were able to do a rear-wheel-drive version as well, plus manual transmission,” he said.
Expect power outputs to open at around 338kW for the Pure and 353kW for the all-wheel-drive Competition, while weight will drop by around 70kg for the rear-drive chassis. The M4 will be the likely recipient of the CSL badge in 2021, and there will also be an M4 convertible, ditching a folding hard-top for a lighter and simpler soft-top. There’s also likely to be different frontal air dam treatments for the tiered M models.
“We can do whatever the markets globally demand,” Flasch said when pressed on details. While he confirmed that the 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged S58 straight-six would form the basis of the next M3/M4, beyond that he wouldn’t be drawn. Asked whether there would be separate rear-drive and all-wheel-drive models, Flasch chuckled and said, “I can’t confirm it. But I’ve driven the cars.”
Contrary to certain expectations, the M3/M4 won’t be unveiled this year. “We’ve got enough models coming up this year for M,” Flasch said, namechecking the X3 M, X4 M, M8 Coupe, Convertible and Gran Coupe as well as the X5 and X6 M, and ruling out any chance of the M3/M4 appearing at the Frankfurt Show.
The trajectory of the current crop of M cars combined with the sensitivity to market demands only bodes well for the next M3 and M4. The Garching renaissance looks to be gathering pace.
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