Mountain Wheels: A sampler of BMW’s fearsome M models reveals total automotive menace
Automotive enthusiasts long have looked to BMW’s M models as the pinnacle of factory-built, high-performance excellence — with good reason. They’re all built to autobahn specs, they’re responsive, and they’re all uniquely striking.
However, just as Mercedes Benz has discovered, they’re also now in huge demand, and the result is an ever-expanded range of full-blown M performance models in both the company’s car and SUVs.
Recently, that caught me behind the wheel of two blazingly fast and entirely different M autos, a 2019 M2 Competition Coupe and a 2019 M850ix super-cruiser, plus a period last fall with the equally impressive BMW X3 M40i compact SUV/crossover.
The trio demonstrated, each in their own way, what enhanced power, stiffened suspension and race track-worthy steering and braking can do to push BMW’s already well-sorted products into the stratosphere — with pricing also reflective of that.
First, the cars. I got almost back-to-back drives in two sunset orange metallic-painted road monsters, the fiercely angular M2 ($67,945, as tested) and the extremely sophisticated M version of BMW’s all-new 8-Series, a grand touring machine tipping the scales at just under $120,000. Yikes, indeed.
Top Gear’s BMW-obsessed writers have called the M2 the most real and grounded of the current M family, and I totally agree, with the Competition package making it a fierce contender for autocross domination or super-cool, late-night canyon trips.
While other Ms have blended all-wheel drive and electronic aids to achieve increasingly synthetic malice, M2 is rear-wheel drive and feels much more driver-initiated on its turns, its immensely forgiving braking and suspended in mid-air (a sensation I do not suggest on your own drives). Even better, the six-speed manual transmission is standard; I got a double-clutch automatic for my drive.
Imagine a one-size larger Subaru BRZ with 405 horsepower, hard-wired for rigidity and gussied up with only the slightest carbon fiber flash inside, and you can imagine the pure dance of chaos offered by one light, fast and ferocious automobile.
You get to dial in the throttle, steering and transmission responses to your own liking, and with blattering spurts of exhaust and a 7,000 rpm redline, you can hit 60 mph in 4.0 seconds or wind it out to 174 mph with the M Driver’s Package.
From its cool, teardrop-shaped aero mirrors to its super-bolstered seats, M2 is relentless, and it will hold a gear and resonate off a canyon wall like nobody’s business.
The 8-Series M is absolutely the most distinctive model in the company’s non-hybrid lineup, a straight-up, old-school 2+2 cruiser that just happens to boast a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8. While it can and will do breakneck speed, the M850xi was more suited for sophisticated and comfortable long-distance travel. It softly charges along — even in sport mode, you have to be judicious with the throttle to make it bark — and you will certainly feel the car’s length and weight in corners, though the xDrive all-wheel drive adds to overall confidence.
Looks alone are remarkable, with a long, low and heavily sculpted hood and deliriously low tail. Inside, the controls are not quite as busy as other M models, with a gleaming crystal gear selector, and seating more suited to long cruises than racetrack outings.
For 2020, BMW has pushed the M8 and its convertible version to 600 horsepower or relentless 617-horsepower Competition versions of each — topping out at 189 mph.
Perhaps a bit more suited to all-season motoring, the M version of the well-rounded X3 crossover also can be everything to everyone. Mine sported a 355-horsepower 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbo and offered driving that was visceral, lively and joyous — not words you often hear with SUVs. Fabulous acceleration, remarkably grounded and engaged handling and an attractively upscale blend of body and interior upgrades.
BMW has of course outdone itself with the heavily revised 2020 M models of both the X3 and the slightly larger X4 powered by a 473-horsepower version of the 3.0-liter six-cylinder twin-turbo — or, like the M2 I drove, available in 21-inch-wheeled Competition versions that boost that power to 503 horsepower.
That substantial increase in power moves these taller but not full-sized “sports activity vehicles” into magnificently dangerous territory, with top speeds of up to 177 mph. Like the rest of the M family, you’ll get eight-speed automatic transmissions with lightning-fast manual shifting, plus xDrive all-wheel drive that prioritizes the rear wheels but also allows front grab when required. They also get adaptive suspension to allow real-world or track stiffness, as required.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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