With the arrival of the turbocharged 991.2 Carrera (which is apparently brilliant), the classic rear-engined Porsche now starts at prices north of ninety grand. That’s all fine and dandy if you’ve got that sort of dough, but your humble author does not, and therefore his eyes will sometimes find themselves wandering from their favored marque to gaze at more attainable brands.
One such brand is BMW. While the Bavarians placed themselves in a rough spot in the not-too-distant past, aiming for compliance and mass appeal over visceral driver enjoyment (cough cough numb F30 3-series steering, cough cough fake engine noise through the speakers in the turbo M5), they seem to have somewhat regained their poise of late.
Full disclosure: what got me in the door to the just-renovated showroom at my local dealer was the redesign of the X1. What was formerly a small rear-drive wagon is now, horribly, a not-a-real-BMW super-trendy small luxury crossover with a Mini Cooper S engine and a front-wheel-drive platform. Fellow blogosphere resident thetruthaboutcars.com says the X1 “for purists…is an abomination; an affront to everything E46 M3 owners hold sacred.”
Fine. But it’s also a nicely proportioned, efficient runabout with some incredible packaging work done. Many of these small crossovers are just TOO small, even if they offer decent driving dynamics (looking at you, Mazda CX-3). With the X1, I could actually pick up my 6’1” father from the airport and not feel bad about putting him in the rear seat, even with the panoramic roof option installed. His luggage would fit easily into the cargo area, and we could still get home quickly, since the direct-injected 2.0L TwinPower Turbo 4-cylinder makes 258 pound-feet of twist all the way from 1250 to 4500 RPM. A zero-to-sixty time of 6.3 seconds is nothing to sneeze at (0.2 faster than a ’65 Shelby GT350, among the manliest of manly-man cars), and meantime we would still manage better than 30 MPG highway.
Beyond the X1, though, there’s a raft of other fine vehicles churning out of the Werks in Munich. The M235i has already scored a place on Car & Driver’s 10Best. The just-released M2 is garnering plenty of praise. Jeremy Clarkson chose the i8 over the new M3, but then moments later reverted to form and backed the M3, effectively showering praise on both cars. The M4 bested a base 991.1 Carrera in a C&D comparison back in summer of 2014 (perhaps urging forward Porsche’s turbocharging-the-base-models program). The price-leader 320i offers four doors, rear-wheel drive, three pedals, and a shift lever for a very reasonable sum.
It continues as you climb on up the money ladder, too. For right about the same-sized briefcase-full o’ cash as you’d need for a stripped down 991.2 Carrera 3.0, one could have the very same cylinder count and displacement in a new 740i with a fair number of pretty incredible toys (I think the “Panoramic Sky Lounge LED Roof” is my favorite, or maybe it’s just those beautiful leather seats). The new 7-series is about as far removed from the bloated last-generation one as it is possible to be—it redefines the concept of long, low, and sleek. Thanks to a ton of carbon fiber (lessons from the i3 and i8 apply here) in the construction, it trims 285 pounds from its bulbous ancestor. Unsprung weight drops fifteen percent. Someone should tell Q Branch that the 7-series is once again ready for double-oh duty.
One more Top Gear note—in the final series, the chaps took some fast GT cars to the Australian Outback. Clarkson himself helmed a BMW M6 Gran Coupe, and had the following to say about it:
“In the early days, BMW’s M cars sounded like 500 yards of ripping calico and they had telepathic steering and they were magnificent. In recent years, though, some of the magic has sort of gone. With this one, though, it is back. It is properly back. God, this is just electrifyingly good.”
So while Porsche becomes an SUV brand (see above) that also makes a few expensive sports cars on the side, it must remember that its competitors have been making reasonably attainable, reasonably high performance vehicles for a long time. One day when a child sees a 911 and, surprised, asks, “Porsche makes little cars too?”…well…that will be a sad, sad day.