We recently sat down with Albert Biermann, Head of Product Development for BMW at the German automaker's high performance M division, to get a taste of what's going on behind the scenes. We had a lot of questions, and Biermann did his best to answer them without giving his PR minders heart palpitations.

What did we learn? Plenty. But here are the highlights: The M wagon is dead, all-wheel drive won't be coming to the current M5, the M6 is due to hit in the summer, and offering a manual transmission on BMW's twin-turbocharged sports sedan is a massive headache thanks to us pesky Americans.

1. Where is the Z4 M?



It's a question many of us have been asking repeatedly since the E89 version was introduced in 2009. But we're also well aware that the Z4 – particularly in the U.S. – has been engineered to be more of a convertible grand tourer than outright performance machine. Nonetheless, Biermann wants one. Desperately. "There are days when it hurts we don't have a Z4 M car," Biermann told us, saying that he wants to develop one, but the business case has to be there first. And right now, it just isn't.


2. What about weight?



If there's any topic we're most interested in from M, it's weight reduction. But Biermann surprised us when he revealed that the goal of every M car isn't to lose weight from the model on which it's based, but match that vehicle's weight. "We add so much to these cars," Biermann said, "that it is difficult to bring the weight down." Case-in-point: The current M5. The E60 M5 was about 200 pounds heavier than the 5 Series on which it was based. The F10 M5 comes in just 30 kg (66 pounds) heavier than the 550i. "We're getting closer," Biermann says, but conceded that costs have to be kept in check and, say, adding a carbon fiber roof to the F10 just wasn't feasible.


3. Will we see an all-electric M?



With BMW pushing hard into the electric space with the Mini E, ActiveE and now the i3 and i8, is it just a matter of time before we see an M version of an EV? Biermann seems to think so. "Our job is to provide emotion and fun and maybe out of different drivetrain concepts. There will be a day when we will not only tweak combustion engines, but electric motors. But we have to continue to provide the M experience."


4. What's the final word on the all-wheel-drive M5?



In short: No. At least, not with the current version. That should put the debate to rest, but Biermann admits that M is looking into it for future models. "There might come a point with torque [output] where you need all-wheel drive," Biermann admitted, but right now, it's not necessary. More interestingly, when we asked about the lack of an electronic torque vectoring differential on the F10 – something we expected to see after the X5 M and X6 M came so equipped – Biermann said that his team tested it early on in the M5's development, but determined that with RWD vehicles, it's unnecessary and overly complex. "We can do more and have more control with the electronic differential," according to Biermann, so for the time being only the X models will get both AWD and the trick diffs.


5. Where's the M5 wagon?



At this point, one of Biermann's underlings chimed in. "Do you know how many M5 Tourings we sold? 1,056." That's worldwide. And apparently that's just not enough of a business case to justify it for the F10. (Pay no attention to the Cadillac CTS SportsWagon and the meager amount of money needed to covert it to V-spec.) Regardless, M-ified wagons just aren't compelling enough for most buyers for M to invest the time, effort and money to develop. So don't expect an M3 wagon anytime soon either. Not that we were holding our breath...


6. When do we get a manual M5?



Next year when the M5 makes it Stateside, you'll be able to spec either the seven-speed dual-clutch 'box or a six-speed manual. This fact seems to irritate Biermann. "Here's the problem with the stick," Biermann tells us in a slightly annoyed tone, "only the U.S. wants it. And with the DCT, there's no question about how it will behave. With a manual, the driver is a serious question." Biermann's argument is clear: Driver's suck and the DCT is so good that a manual decreases the performance. Further – and this wasn't explicitly said but clearly implied – the amount of engineering resources that go into adapting the 560-hp sedan to accept a manual cog-swapper is significant. Biermann and his team would undoubtedly prefer to shift those funds and man hours into other endeavors, but they can't because the U.S. – M's largest market – demands it. And Biermann takes it one step further. "I don't know how long we'll be able to keep doing this, but at some point, we'll just have to say 'no'". So is the F10 the last of the manual M5s? We wouldn't be surprised.


Biermann's own BMW



Side Note: Biermann asked BMW Individual for "something special" to drive. The result is the beauty above: a custom-painted M5 that's a combination of metallic brown, grey and a subtle shade of purple that shifts in the sunlight. It's gorgeous and doesn't have an official name. Also, he calls the 1M the "little one." Which is just cute.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 125 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        sparrk
        • 3 Years Ago
        You have a point there , but i think there is something else to consider too. In Europe the M5 is very expensive, mostly older people buy it. Old people prefer automatics. In the US, M cars are a lot cheaper than in Europe, younger people can afford them, people who want more interaction with the car.
          me
          • 3 Years Ago
          @sparrk
          So you want more interaction than being able to choose what gear you are in with less than 100 ms delay? I guess you enjoy notchy shifters, grinding synchros, noisy throwout bearings, and bad clutches. I'd only take the manual if it were cheaper.
        b33g33
        • 3 Years Ago
        Germans are such pompous ******** when it comes to their sense of superiority and self-righteousness over everyone else. You remind me of a German acquaintance who claimed to know everything there was to know about the US from a 2 HOUR layover at LAX where he didn't even step outside the airport. Most of the 'M' car buyers in the US happen to be real enthusiasts who track their cars more often than not (look up the stats). Unless you're actually in competition, the advantages of a DCT transmission on track are offset by the lack of visceral feel. Why, exactly, do you think the 1M is offered as a manual only option everywhere in the world?
          • 3 Years Ago
          @b33g33
          [blocked]
          me
          • 3 Years Ago
          @b33g33
          Probably 5%, if that, of M cars will be tracked in the US. The vast majority are bought by 50+ year old men who let their wives drive them in the left lane at 55 mph.
      crzykdd
      • 3 Years Ago
      Besides the fun factor, the reason the manual is still in demand is that it is tried-and true technology that wont break or cost a leg and and arm to fix once the car is out of warranty. The flappy-padle gearbox stuff is great, but things get different once you actually start to USE the car as it was meant to be driven. The last thing any owner wants, is to have their, I dunno, lets say $15,000-$20,000 gearbox fail after a track event, and then have their warranty voided by the dealer because they *GASP* drove it on a racetrack (like the whole M divisions purpose, right?). I can tell you we had one customer spend almost 10k fixing his SMG on an E60 M5 and that was just for the pump assembly, clutch, and flywheel. Maybe if BMW can convince people here that the new gear-boxes are durable and wont screw the owner in costs if they decide to hold onto the car past the warranty period, then they might see demand for the manuals diminish finally.
        Mondrell
        • 3 Years Ago
        @crzykdd
        +1. Some of these newer gearboxes are indeed disproportionately expensive to maintain/repair, especially once the car goes out of warranty. Whereas the cost of automobile service tends to remain constant or increase, the value of the car itself of course falls. So in five to seven years, repairing a SMG or similar unit may cost a third or half of what the car is worth, if not more. Many I know would rather put that kind of money into a new(er) vehicle that's still under warranty rather than putz with something sporting good odds of breaking to the tune of four or five digits yet again, and while I'd rather take outright ownership and no payments for a while, I can understand someone saying "No thanks" to writing a 10k check for reparing a now $50k car.
        50merc
        • 3 Years Ago
        @crzykdd
        This guys absolutely knows what he is talking about!!
      EMTtech
      • 3 Years Ago
      who cares if its faster? there is a huge joy reduction in the whole driving experience. the whole //M experience, without a manual gearbox in the middle. where is the joi de vivre without one? if this is the last M with a manual, Porsche will gladly accept the alienated customers of manual transmission removal in the M division I'm sure. /rant
        vext
        • 3 Years Ago
        @EMTtech
        Yeah? The panamera is dropping the 3-pedal manual next year. The 911 will do the same soon enough as they succumb to the ever-present pressure to lower lap times on the 'ring. Lambo has already dropped them entirely. Less than 5% of Ferraris have them. No one's complaining about them being no fun but 50% of the American crowd and that number dwindles yearly. Yes EMTtech, Porsche will take you next year or the year after. But how long?
          NTIV10
          • 3 Years Ago
          @vext
          Porsche is doing a double lifespan for the 991 (14 years) and has committed to keep selling manuals as long as customers keep buying them (read that on here a while back). Plus they just created an all new 7-speed manual. That's not changing anytime soon, unless the entire world all of a sudden stops buying manuals.
      RSS007
      • 3 Years Ago
      I find it a bit funny and strange at the same time, that the US has a demand for manuals specifically. Is there a change in perception coming into the USofA? I thought automatics were kings here.
        AndyMidd
        • 3 Years Ago
        @RSS007
        I thought that was strange too. Maybe its that in America a performance car absolutely must be seen to have manual. Whereas here in Europe, we are more accepting of a semi-auto performance car.
      MyerShift
      • 3 Years Ago
      For me, although not able to afford such a grand machine as the M5, it isn't about performance. It's about involvement. That's why I want a manual. I say if you can't drive a manual then you have no business owning a sports model or a sports car. Handicapped and have the money? I say expect to pay for the accommodation. Get a LUXURY car if you want an automatic. Rich poseurs indeed!
      Dvanos
      • 3 Years Ago
      As along as the entry level BMWs like the 1 & 3 series offer manuals I'll be happy as a clam, since I will never be able to afford an M3 or M5.
      JK
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is a fantastic article, thanks so much for posting. I am a huge MT fan and after months of debating bought an M5 with the crappy SMG, sold it after 1 year. Then my dealer told me that you MUST try the new DCT in the M3, it will blow your mind; again nothing special and in my opinion just felt more like an automatic transmission that blips the throttle for you on a downshift. I have nothing against technology or innovation but unfortunately the laws that govern my country do - speed limits are not changing and these paddles get boring after a while. My point is that if I was on the track or blazing down the autobahn I could see how these transmissions would excel but in the real world you got to get your pleasures where you can and right now shifting a nice engine is one of the last remaining joys left in a society obsessed with efficiency and slowing everyone down. P.S. BMW Canada just stopped bringing all rear wheel drive 5ers and also there is no option for 6MT anymore. I am not going to complain to anyone but BMW seems to be globally lost which is why I bought a Porsche (6MT Targa4s).
      PeriD
      • 3 Years Ago
      can we talk about what is more important here- Biermann's M5 is painstakingly gorgeous. get that color here. now.
      Crasher7
      • 3 Years Ago
      I do want a Z4 M
      Codeman
      • 3 Years Ago
      I would've thought that the Americans would mostly want automatics, and that the rest of the world would prefer manuals. o_O
      matt
      • 3 Years Ago
      The irony is that the last M car BMW brought to the states, the 1M, was only available in manual. Why? I'd argue because it was more fun to drive that way. BMW has had problems for a while now figuring out it's M division. They can't decide if it's supposed to be building AMG style v-10 muscle cars (old M5), great GT cars (M3), fun cars (1M), behemoth SUV's (X5M), or everyday drivers (f10 M5). it's always had a bit of an identity crisis, but nobody cared because they always came through delivering a great product. I think it's time they decide what they want to be when they grow up. If the M division is all about performance and racing, maybe it's time every model was offered in an IS version. The 550is is all about fun on the way to work, the M5 is about all out performance. The only thing I know for sure is that I enjoy a manual more than I do a double clutch semi-auto. I have no interest in racing my daily driver though.
        vext
        • 3 Years Ago
        @matt
        Matt that's my point!! I totally agree with you. Yes get an "IS" version and row your gears and stomp on it all day and AcidTonic can "floor it daily" without the expense and refinement of an M car. My point is that you're paying for performance that you're taking away. Yes "have fun on the way to work" and save your dough. BTW the Motor Trend had this to say about the M1... But is [the M1] better [than the m3]? Lieberman and I agree: No. This big, heavy, and expensive M3, with its unflappable confidence and lascivious powertrain, is the car we want, the car we'll remember as the best of the naturally aspirated Ms. It's the one we'll tell young gearheads about in a few decades with the same fondness and reverence as given its E30 ancestor. The 1M doesn't measure up to the M3's standard. Few cars do. He's not talking about a manual transmission car
      Dennis Baskov
      • 3 Years Ago
      I would love to see a M version of Z4 that would resemble the track version. Now that would be a hot car...
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