Editor’s letter

Frank’s, aah, frankness has done a lot to restore my faith in the M performance brand

GLENN BUTLER

HOW REFRESHING TO HEAR A CAR COMPANY ADMIT ITS FLAWS. MAKES SUCH A CHANGE TO THE PIG-HEADED ADHERENCE TO THE CORPORATE LINE THAT USUALLY DOMINATES DISCUSSIONS WITH EXECUTIVES THESE DAYS.

Many car companies would see only weakness in BMW M2 program chief Frank Isenberg’s admission that the 1 Series M Coupe (also his baby) could have done with more development. But Frank’s, aah, frankness has done a lot to restore my faith in the once-great M performance brand.

“We learned a lot from the 1M,” Isenberg told us at the M2 launch. “The tricky behaviour at the limit … that was what we were not really happy with. It just happened. We had a very short development time and it was the first time that we used a turbocharged engine with a lot of torque. Maybe we could have used a year more development.”

He also admitted the 1M’s stiff suspension “wasn’t the best set-up”, and its ESC “not that sophisticated”, both of which I experienced testing Six months later in the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 M5 I experienced the same imbalance: “Removing the ESC safety net altogether is risky; the M-diff locks up abruptly and a small slide can quickly turn lurid … especially with those turbos obfuscating throttle connection. With so much grunt, the foot-to-fury connection needs to be more direct … the M5 is a tangible step away from M’s core value that once placed the driver above all other concerns.”

BMW, perhaps hoping to set me straight about this new generation of turbo M cars, arranged a meeting with then M Division boss Friedrich Nitschke. He showed little interest in my feedback, except to refute it. “I heard this from a lot of journalists at the [launch] in Spain … before they drove the new one. [Afterwards] 90 percent of the car in 2011. But it went deeper than that.

I came to the conclusion that BMW M Division’s vaunted balance – driver, drivetrain and dynamics all working together – had been undermined by one of its first twin-turbo engines; a 3.0-litre straight-six producing 500Nm from just 1500rpm.

“The 1M’s ESC works hard even on perfectly dry roads, suggesting that there is so much torque … the rear tyres struggle to cope,” I wrote in a Wheels comparison with the Audi TTRS and Porsche Cayman. “Driving beneath the threshold is harder than it should be because the driver doesn’t have feedback when the limit is near … There simply isn’t the same transparency as there has been with naturally aspirated M cars in the past. A noticeable step backwards.”

attendees said, ‘Okay, it’s a real M5’.”

I didn’t expect Nitschke to agree with me, but I did hope for more than banalities and doggedly sticking to the company line. Perhaps if Isenberg had been there the conversation might have been more productive, because he has now proved that he – and by extension BMW M – can admit its flaws.

And learn from them.

The word from the M2 launch is that it goes a long way to restoring M’s vital harmony, which makes me eager to drive it. I’ll let Frank have the last word, and I hope he’s right: “You can feel safe in this new car, and confident in this car. You can go up to the limit without being afraid. It’s not as tricky. It’s less intimidating.”

Frank’s, aah, frankness has done a lot to restore my faith in the M performance brand

Who’s the best?

I always thought dynamics engineers at performance brands had the best gigs.

Their job is the test sports cars to the limit and beyond to make sure they deliver in the hands of customers. Now I reckon it’s car company video stunt drivers who have bragging rights. Check out BMW’s video of the M4 GTS in action and you’ll see why: wheelsmag.com.au/M4GTS