WTF BMW!? No More Manual Transmission M Cars?
Looking through the history of sports cars, few brands have the same level of reverence offered to BMW’s M Series division. Starting with the BMW M3 in the 1980s, M cars have been some of the most sought-after for generations of enthusiasts. So, upon hearing that the latest BMW M2 would be the last manual transmission M car, the first question that came up was, “What is BMW doing?”
The dual-clutch BMW M car is dead, too
Manuals haven’t been quicker than automatics for quite some time now. In that sense, scuttling the manual transmission makes sense from a performance standpoint. But even more unexpected is BMW’s decision to do away with the dual-clutch automatic transmission as well. This means torque converter automatics will be the only gearboxes available for any BMW M Series car going forward.
The engineering reason for torque converter automatics
As it turns out, there are more than just financial reasons for BMW opting out of manual and dual-clutch transmission M cars. In speaking with Top Gear, BMW engineer Dirk Hacker stated:
“In the M4 CSL it’s faster shifting, and on the other side, we also use this automatic in the new M4 GTR race car.”
And when it came to the potential for a manually-shifted EV, he responded:
“I think it could be done, but we will not do that.”
Hacker also indicated that market forces are compelling BMW to look at how it supplies gearboxes for future cars. In doing so, he discussed a decrease in overall take rate even among enthusiasts. As a result, there is a shrinking market of manual transmission suppliers as well.
That said, Hacker also stated that this all-automatic future may be six to seven years down the road. For now, the current crop of BMW M cars will retain their manual transmission options.
BMW’s continued evolution away from driving engagement
On a personal level, I love the BMW brand. I’ve been chasing down an E30 Wagon and F22 BMW M235i for the better part of the past year. But there’s a reason I’m not interested in any BMW model past the year 2020.
The F-body BMW models felt like the end of an era. With the pig-snout G-Series M3 and M4, and subsequent updates to the 2 Series lineup, BMW continued working further and further away from its tagline, “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It’s not that BMWs aren’t still fast – all of the latest M cars will blast you back into your seat without question.
But buying a sports car is about more than going quick in a straight line. BMW’s vague electric power steering has already separated the driver from the road, even in the most hardcore of BMW’s performance cars.
A push toward upmarket SUVs doesn’t help things. In that space, driving dynamics take a backseat to hyper-practical things like passenger space and ground clearance. And there is a place for those models, but BMW M cars were always sacred. A callback to BMW’s sporting heritage and a way for those so inclined to get modern amenities with a genuinely engaged sports car.
In a way, the end of the manual gearbox is just another step away from the type of engagement that built generations of icons. A sad, but inevitable march toward the same mundanity that has plagued Volkswagen, Honda, and Mitsubishi in the past two decades.
The torque converter automatics are better than manual BMW cars
If that all seems a bit doom and gloom, that’s just the nostalgia talking. If we’re going to be really honest, the ZF8 automatic transmission that sits in cars like the current M240i and M4 CSL absolutely rips. Smoother at low speeds than a dual-clutch, faster accelerating, and more efficient than a manual, there’s no doubt that BMW’s torque converter ‘boxes are a fine choice.
On paper, the switch to all automatic BMW M Series cars makes sense, especially with EVs coming down the pike. But from an enthusiast’s perspective, it’s just another nail in the coffin for driver involvement.