The Wussification of the Auto Industry
Author: Steve B.
Recently the rumor mill has been saying that BMW, purveyors of all that is RWD (except the 1 Series, and Mini, and the X1, and the X3, and the X5, and nearly every 3 and 5 Series in the state of Colorado), are going to begin building M cars with X-Drive. Naturally, this has caused Bimmer fanboys to flip out so much that they all used their turn signals on their way home from working as investment bankers. Today, I’d like to discuss this wussification of BMW and other brands, and why it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
We enthusiasts are a unique bunch. We get a visceral satisfaction from driving; the more manual effort, the better. We like heavy steering with quick ratios, mastering fancy heel-toe footwork, short throw shifters, stiff suspensions, and firm brake pedals. Our dream cars have no air conditioning, no stereo, no roll down windows, and some don’t even have doors. We cried murder when Porsche decided to water cool their engines, when BMW and Porsche switched to electric power steering, and when Ferrari added traction control.
We’re weird and we’re the minority, the majority of the population only wants reliable transportation. Auto manufacturers only really have to answer to one group of people, their shareholders. And shareholders only really want one thing: Profits. So we need to make sacrifices, be it AWD M cars, missing third pedals, or even forced induction.
This is a little hard to say, but we’re all crazy. I mean, back when Cadillac first put an electric starter motor on their cars, were people running around yelling about how frustrated they were that they didn’t have to break their wrists every time they started their car? No, but I guess some French people were because Citroen was still building cars with crank starters in the 1950s, but they’re French… Did we get upset when cars started coming with synchromesh and we finally stopped grinding gears every time we shifted? No, we appreciated that we could find 2nd gear and that our transmissions didn’t need to be replaced every time we stopped for gas.
The Ferrari F12 doesn’t have a manual, but it shifts faster than you can blink. In fact, you can’t buy a new Ferrari with a manual anymore. The Jaguar F-Type R can now only be purchased with AWD and automatic, which is good, because if you’re not Jackie Stewart, it will kill you. Twenty years ago, Porsche had to make the 911 Turbo all wheel drive because it was most famous for snap oversteer and the certain death of anyone brave enough to drive it. Now, the insane 911 GT3 and 918 are automatic only. Acura, Audi, Mercedes, and Lamborghini have all bailed on manual transmissions in favor of smarter, faster automatics. I mean, my wife’s VW Tiguan automatically downshifts for her when it senses that she’s going downhill. How cool is that?!
This is the price of progress. It’s what carmakers need to do make profits. Most of us car enthusiasts can’t afford the M cars and AMGs we lust after. So for carmakers to make a business case for these land missiles, they have to cater to the people who will buy them: Trophy wives. Trophy wives can’t drive a stick, and they don’t know how AWD works, but they think they need it to get around in the winter and don’t care how fast the car is, but they need the most prestigious badge. And that, right there, is why BMW wants to make the M5 and M6 all wheel drive. Why sell them a 5 Series with X-Drive for $63k when you can sell them an M5 with X-Drive for $95k? Profit.
I hardly think that AWD M cars will be boring, or that they’ll lose their character. It’ll just be a bit different kind of character. No one complains about the Audi RS7 being boring. In fact, aside from the lack of USB ports, the only real gripe I’ve heard about that car is it’s too fast. All you have to do is watch one Ken Block video to see that 4 wheel donuts are the best kind of donut. How awesome would it be to do those in a full size luxury car? Then you can tick off a sub 3.5 second 0-60 time because it’ll grip that much harder off the line. And if you’re worried about weight of AWD, the RS7 is less than 100lbs heavier than the current M6. BMW is one of the leaders in mass produced carbon fiber. Besides, these cars are meant for high speed runs on the Autobahn, not shaving a few tenths off your time at Laguna Seca (get an M2 for that).
So BMW fans, you can switch off your turn signals, you have nothing to worry about. Although BMW and the rest of the industry are going soft, BMW is not going to abandon you. They’re just making cars that make more fiscal sense, and appeal to more people. I, for one, can’t wait to get my hands on and AWD M6 with a Carmax warrantee in 5 years. It’ll be a blast!