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10 years ago, if you asked anyone to rank the company with the coolest cars, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone ranking Toyota above BMW. Fast forward to 2023, though, and it’s a completely different story.

Toyota develops a manual EV while BMW ditches manual M cars

There is perhaps no clearer indication that Toyota and BMW are swapping identities than in some of the headlines from this week. While Toyota is working on developing manual transmission electric sports cars, BMW execs told Top Gear that even the brand’s M Performance cars will be automatic only in the next six to seven years.

That juxtaposition alone is wild, and one that nobody would have predicted when considering these two car brands a decade ago. BMW’s Ultimate Driving Machine mantra is shifting toward the ultra-luxury end of the spectrum. The brand’s current flagships, the XM SUV and i7 EV, aren’t about driving dynamics. They’re about opulence and comfort.

Meanwhile, Toyota is covering the spread with enthusiast-focused vehicles in every segment. From the affordable GR86 to the hyper-engaging GR Corolla hot hatch and GR Supra, there is a sports car for every flavor within the Toyota lineup. Even the Toyota Camry gets a TRD spec, and Toyota is leaning into the Prius’ new looks with its latest GR Prius Le Mans concept.

All the while, BMW’s baseline cars have gone from engaging and comfortable to large and luxurious. To its credit, this is a good business move for BMW. But at the same time, it cuts against everything the brand has stood for since the 1980s.

A photo of the front of the Toyota GR Prius Le Mans concept, featuring a quartet of LED foglights flanking the car's honeycomb grille.
Toyota GR Prius Le Mans Concept | Toyota

BMW M cars lose their edge

The previous generation of BMW M cars were some of the best in history. The stunning F22 BMW M2 along with the M3 sedan and M4 coupe were easily among the best sports cars of the 2010s. Now though, all have grown both in size and weight, and ultra-stiff suspension setups aren’t enough to manage it all.

The result is a new M2 that is on par with the last-gen cars, despite having more power under the hood. And if the goal is for each successive generation to be quicker than the last, the rapid bloat isn’t helping. The 2023 M2 weighs over 400 pounds more than the previous generation, so the extra punch is just making up the difference rather than making the car better.

2023 BMW M2 with a manual transmission, the last new BMW M car with a manual
2023 BMW M2 | BMW

The ironic Toyota-BMW partnership

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this comparison is the timing of it all. It’s no secret that BMW and Toyota worked together to develop the GR Supra sports car for 2019. It came in the midst of Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda’s commitment to making the brand less boring.

At the same time, BMW was readying a new generation of cars that include the pig-snout M3 and M4, along with the latest M2 and a host of new crossovers and SUVs. It is as though the two brands, in swapping technical data, also swapped philosophies.

Toyota’s lineup is among the coolest in 2023

Looking across both the BMW and Toyota lineups in 2023, Toyota has the more compelling lineup of vehicles. From the three sports cars we’ve already mentioned to the newest twin-turbo V6 Tundra and Sequoia workhorses, and now a new generation of 4Runner and Tacoma to power those off-road adventures.

Toyota really is hitting on all cylinders right now, while BMW is ditching their old audience of sports car enthusiasts to chase the luxury clientele wandering through Mercedes-Benz and, dare we say, Bentley lots these days. The price tag attached to the i7 M60 is proof enough of that.

It’s not so much that BMW is making bad cars, it is that they aren’t creating the type of engaging products that dominated magazine covers for most of the past 40 years. Now, cars like the GR Corolla, Supra, and even the GR86 are getting that kind of attention instead.

Related Sorry BMW, But Toyota is the Coolest Car Company of 2023

Sorry BMW, But Toyota is the Coolest Car Company of 2023