Ugly SUVs and an electric car takeover: like it or loathe it, the future is here
“M’s next bespoke car is an enormous SUV, and the least attractive I have seen”
In 2022 BMW celebrates the 50th anniversary of its fabled M division and to celebrate, it has revealed a new concept car that will beget only the second exclusively M car in that half century.
Of course the first was the M1, Giorgetto Giugiaro’s beautiful two-seat wedge built from 1978-81 that provided the seed from which the entire cult of M subsequently grew. And I’ve wondered ever since what form the next would take. Actually I’d presumed it would be another mid-engined supercar to pay homage and bathe in the reflected glory of the original. Briefly it seemed I might be right: back in 2008 BMW created an utterly stunning, up-to-date re-imagining of the M1 and called it the M1 Hommage (sic). I’d have been very happy with that.
But no. M’s next bespoke car is not only an enormous SUV, but perhaps the least attractive I have yet seen, a title for which there is no shortage of competition even with BMW itself, let alone the wider world beyond.
What does it show? That BMW’s designers (and the board that signed it off) have lost their minds? A convenient conclusion perhaps, but one that withstands little scrutiny. In fact the only credible inference to be reached is that BMW is simply doing what all manufacturers strive to do and create cars their customers want to buy. And at the risk of making unsupported assumptions about the Motor Sport readership, I expect the kind of person who wants to buy a vast SUV designed to make as aggressive a statement as possible in the rear-view mirrors of their prey would profile poorly against a typical customer of a periodical such as this.
But it’s still sad BMW now considers that is how best to represent all that M stands for today. Then again, if it did make a small, light and beautiful supercar, it would probably struggle to sell just as much today as did the original M1 back when it was launched. Careful what you wish for, I guess.
I sit on a thing called the Car Of The Year jury. You may remember some of our better choices (Porsche 928 in 1978, Jaguar I-Pace in 2019), and perhaps you’ve been kind enough to forget our less visionary winners (Renault 9, 1982, Vauxhall Insignia, 2009). Well the shortlisted cars for 2022 have just been announced and what is astonishing about it is that six of the seven nominated cars are electric. And there were plenty of other EVs on the long list (the Tesla Model Y reviewed in this issue among them) that failed to trouble the jurors further when it came to voting time.
What are we to think of this? Well, COTY is really a consumer award. It is not aimed at enthusiasts and the popularity and therefore importance of the category in which each car sits is a crucial determinant of success, so we should not be too surprised that the Maserati MC20 progressed no further either.
“The EV revolution isn’t coming. It’s here now, and here to stay”
The surprise, and to many it will be enormous, is that there is just one hybrid on the list, itself a single variant of the only ICE-powered car to make it through, the Peugeot 308. It is an old and hoary cliché in this business to call hybrid a ‘bridging’ technology between our ICE past and electric future, but as of now, that bridge appears to be a hell of a lot shorter than originally suspected.
Now, just because a bunch of hacks calling themselves a jury who never buy new cars anyway decide to smile upon the EV revolution doesn’t mean that’s what’s going on in the marketplace right now. But I truly believe we are seeing something seismic here which will be reflected in the sales figures very soon. And if, like Peugeot, you have decided to take a watching brief and won’t introduce an electric 308 until 2023 at the earliest, when Renault will have an electric Megane on sale early next year to compete with the VW ID3 and others, I suspect you’re going to find yourself spending most of 2022 repenting at leisure. The change isn’t coming. Like it or loathe it, it’s here right now, and here to stay.
At about this time in previous years I have been minded to nominate my own personal cars of the year, the qualification criteria for which – blind prejudice – could not be more different to those of the august Car of the Year organisation. But this year the pickings have been not so much slim as skeletal. There were some pleasant surprises, the Hyundai i20 N most obvious among them, though the Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition is right up there too, but nothing game-changing. The Ferrari SF90 should have been, but is too flawed. I thought the Roma was far better at its intended job and had I not been unlucky enough only to drive it in filthy conditions, it could have been a clear winner. In the event and at the risk of repeating almost everyone else who’s driven one, the new Porsche 911 GT3 was the best of the bunch, though not perfect.
Finally a quick word to go with all the others about my friend Tony Dron who passed away in November. To most motoring journalists he was everything they wanted to be: a respected and accomplished writer and a successful racing driver across a dizzying number of disciplines and decades. He was all of that to me, and something else besides. He was a kind, funny and thoughtful friend, as interested as he was interesting. Rare qualities indeed, especially among racing drivers. However much we may miss him, we should feel luckier by far to have known him at all.
A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel