The desire is visceral, so strong it almost hurts. It envelopes me when I see one of the handful of cars I truly love. I’m not talking about a Ferrari or modern Bugatti. There are maybe twenty cars I’ve come across over the years that instantly make my chest tighten and set the adrenaline pumping. There are a pretty varied bunch of vehicles in this very exclusive group.
I was recently a passenger in a two year old 520d. Goes without saying, not one of the chest tighteners. Not even close. First time I’ve been in one though. The F10. 20 odd thousand kilometers on the clock. Run (obviously) by a guy that didn’t have a real interest in cars but still wanted a Beemer. There wasn’t any strong response when I asked about his ownership experience and I felt he wasn’t too happy to talk cars so I made do with my own biased observations. Even though the engine hadn’t fully cooled when we sat in and fired the ignition it really (I mean REALLY) sounded loud and clattery. In fairness it did quieten down pretty soon after. I wasn’t driving and there was traffic for some of the 10 kilometres or so we drove. It didn’t seem too lumpy though and the gearchange was just as slick as in the family bus. However it didn’t feel anything like as smooth or special as my 20 year old engine which has travelled almost 16 times further with 3 fewer gears to lighten the old block’s load. The interior was a real disppointment. Despite having leather almost everywhere and the cockpit being angled towards the driver it didn’t feel all that different to a well specced 1 series. (I have been in a good few of these recently). I especially didn’t like the plasticky looking gearshifter, the feel of the leather nor not having that nice cocooned feel that makes you feel almost at one with the machine.
I have a lot to thank the boys from Bavaria for. I always knew that cars were important but it was my first glimpse of a 6er that made me realize just how important. The other trio of ’80s heroes from the vierzylinder couldn’t but reinforce this point. There are more BMWs on my private list than from any other manufacturer.
On my travels on the internet I came across this ad. The featured car, Munich’s E28 is one of the very few four door cars that makes my “chest tightening” list. The last line of copy reads : “The day, of course, that a BMW becomes ‘typical’ is the day you should stop wanting to own one”.
I could probably finish this post right here, right now as where I’m going is pretty obvious. But no. I have something to add. The very things that made this car atypical (straight 6, petrol power, RWD, understated styling, relative scarcity) are slowly being whittled away in all but the most performance focused models. You might say that we all have to move with the times. Other manufacturers have aped the recipe also which reduces the atypicality. I can’t blame the Münchers for people trying to copy their success but it seems to me though that there is race to the lowest common denominator. They, also have done more than their fair share of imitation. You’re either typical or you’re not. A brief reflection on the current model range makes for sobering reading. A small overstyled underpowered diesel crossover? Check. A medium sized overstyled mostly underpowered diesel SUV? Check. A large overstyled almost exclusively diesel powered SUV? Check. A ultra large extremely ostentatious truly ugly (probably diesel powered) SUV? On it’s way, don’t you worry. A FWD mostly diesel powered 4 cylinder people carrier that looks suspiciously like a Kia Carens? Check. More to follow? You can be sure. Three uninspiring saloons: An anonymous three series? Present and correct. A brand new 5 series that was designed to elicit the word “Meh” from anyone who cares about cars? You betcha. The cherry on top being a truly terrible 7er that 20 years ago even a wealthy oil sheik would have baulked at being driven in. I can barely even bring myself to mention the truly execrable X4 and X6 “ess eh vees”.
Up until recently there were only 3 pinpricks of hope. These were to be found in the lowest and highest even numbers. The middle man 4 series has always looked a little bloated to me even in 2 door guise. One of these two glimmers has been extinguished with the launch of a hatchback instead of a coupe 6er. (At least that might lower the value of second hand GranCoupes.) The 2 series coupe is a beacon. You can even get a straight six (if you spend a lot of money). I also love the i8. Neither are that far off that list. These are hardly the big sellers though.
It’s probably a safe bet the Quandts won’t be losing any sleep over this. Well over 2 million BMs, Minis and Rollers rolled off production lines in 2017. Almost half were diesel. This is over double the 2003 figure. I promise I’m not being awkward, just disappointed. More and more people are buying an increasingly homogenous and typical product because of a badge and a perception. 30 years ago they were telling us not to buy shit like this.
Sorry BMW it’s over, don’t call me I’ll call you.
10 thoughts on “Breaking Up”
And on Valentine’s week and all!?!
Thanks for this instalment Mick.
It made me think…..BMW are probably not the only guilty brand trading on former glories.
Although, perhaps at a personal level, we are all guilty of accepting the homogenous and typical when greater things are possible……I know I have. 🙂
Yes Greg that’s true. It’s just a pity that a company that had such an individual and strong ethos no longer seems to give a rashers. The i8 shows what they can do but they are making so much from selling X3s it seems nothing else matters.
Aha, the distraction of the thing called ‘money’…
So its agreed an i8 for each of us, sorted.
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Boom! Mike dropped. You’ve said what we’ve all been thinking. They’ve sold out.
Couple of exceptions.
1. The current M3 is a triumph. But it’s probably the last 6 cylinder. Word is the next one will be a turbo tortured 4. Might get you the times on top trumps but I’m expecting turbo lag, fussy transmissions to manage all that torque and a crap sound. The current M3 has sound piped in to the cabin which is a bit weird btw. That alone might mean the champ has peaked.
2. I’m totally biased (I own one) but the two series is a peach. Rwd available in 6c and a handful if you want it to be. Unsophisticated, unrefined but fun. Might not go as fast as the bigger brothers but a whole lot more fun.
So if not BMW whereto from here?
I’m with you Clex. I’d include the i8 with your 2 honourable mentions. I was going to ask you the exact same question. Maybe the next post might shine a little light on this murky matter?
Looks like fertile ground for another post!
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That E23 I saw recently is one of those cars that set BMW apart. When these were parked next to a Renault 30 it was obvious who’d spent money. Yesterday I saw a Renault Espace, the new one. Apart from one stupid detail it looks like a special car and has presence. I imagine if you want a driver’s saloon that Kia’s Stinger will feel more BMWy than most of the 3-series range.
The bigger picture is in the sad fact that the cars many of us admire are not what people want today. I don’t think many want the kind of car a 1988 BMW 520i was.
Sad but true Richard. Those sales figures don’t lie. I still haven’t seen a Stinger in the flesh but looking forward to. It does seem to be closer to the 30 year old 5er than anything currently issuing from Munich. Are we perhaps at peak BMW? At this point I kind of hope so as I despair each time I see a bland 3 series or any of the X models.
I try to find the good/interesting in any car, but my drive last year in a previous model 520d (that the rags told us was the best exec car in the world) left me more than underwhelmed. It was quiet on the motorway and economical, yes; in every other respect it was worse than my brother-in-law’s tired 1999 528i. Huge yet claustrophobic, hard to see out of, truly terrible and inconsistent electric power steering and generally about as involving as a ’70s Volvo 144. I preferred the airport rental Skoda Octavia which, though coalmine dark inside, at least had the virtue of being honest. Please tell me they aren’t still clinging to the fatuous “Ultimate Driving Machine” strapline?
Peter, thanks for the visiting and for the comment. Now that you mention it I haven’t seen the “ultimate driving machine” tag line in a while. I know it’s been said many times but if it’s not a petrol straight six then it’s not really a BMW. Fully agree on the 520d. It was fine and functional but that’s not why you buy a Beemer. My E38 has the same engine as your brother in law and it really is a peach. Thirsty, yes and not all that fast but ultra smooth with a beautiful soundtrack.