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.