By Mack Hogan
No brand has such a special relationship with enthusiasts as BMW. While some herald the automaker’s commitment to driving dynamics, others decry them as overhyped, maintenance nightmares. But whether you love or hate BMW, few deny that the desire to fill every possible niche has lead to some unnecessary models.
From luxo-barges to little hatchbacks, the Bavarian giant makes 20 different vehicles, counting different body styles available. Available worldwide with as few as 3 cylinders or as many as 12, BMW more than anyone else is fighting to maintain exclusivity in a brand with sales rivaling the mainstream automakers. With so many models, its no wonder that they’ve produced some head-scratchers. Here’s our picks for the most confounding
BMW X6M50d xDrive
Say that name out loud. X6M50d… xDrive. Ugh. The fact that the X6 exists in the first place is a problem. Someone decided that they needed to make a less practical X5 that looked worse and costed more, and then they called it a Sports Activity Coupe. Whenever I hear that, I just think of some bored designer in Munich trying to see if he could get corporate to sign off on calling a product the SAC. The existence of the X6 is horrifying.
But they didn’t stop there. The suits in Germany decided that their pure, raw M division needed to be defiled by the X6. Not a hardcore coupe with a slick-shifting manual, a 5000+ pound hunchback from hell. The pranksters at corporate were shocked that their joke was actually selling, so they did the only thing that could make this thing less attractive to buyers — they made a diesel version. I can’t possibly believe that anyone at BMW thought that X6 M buyers were worried about fuel economy, so the only logical explanation is that the people of BMW are just messing around, seeing how ridiculous they can make a car before people realize the entire business structure is just one long episode of Prank’d. I hope Ashton Kutcher comes out soon, because this is hard to watch.
As easy as it is to pick on modern BMW for the company’s relentless creation of new niches to fill, the old BMW had some problems as well. Most notably, the Isetta. With a thundering 1 cylinder, 13 HP engine, the Isetta hit 60 mph… never. Maybe on a hill. On level ground it could manage 53 mph. And, as Jeremy Clarkson famously demonstrated, the front hinged door meant that you couldn’t pull all the way into your garage. Sound too good to be true? Well, clearly, BMW needed help to produce this leviathon of German engineering. The BMW Isetta was actually just an Italian design built under license for Germany. Other versions were licensed all throughout Europe. But, being BMW, they didn’t want to make parts that readily available, so they reengineered the entire vehicle and made it so most parts were non-interchangeable.
BMW has a terrible habit of making hatchbacks that look terrible. Just like the X6, this was designed to make a regular model look more sporty. I get the terrible roofline, because I’m used to that from BMW. But the e46 318ti manages to butcher every single aspect of the design, from the horrendous headlights to the goofy taillights and the flat butt. I’m sure it was great to drive and it might have even been good value, but one look at the 318ti makes me glad that the U.S. only saw one generation of this crime.
BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo
Had it existed in a vacuum, the 5 series GT would have been excusable. Sure, it costs too much and just looking at it makes me want to go to confession, but every company makes mistakes. But the problem with the GT is the X6. The X6 is a lifted 5 series with a sloping roofline. The 5 Series GT is a regular 5 series with a sloping roofline. Realistically, we didn’t need either of them, but if you’re going to make a useless car at least only make one. In a similar vein, I could have put the X4 and 3 series GT, but at least they manage to look alright. The 5 series GT was the genesis of a renegade German company hellbent on making variations of variations of special versions of regular cars. This is the company that makes the 4 series GranCoupe, a four door version of a two door version of a four door car. Nothing is off limits for BMW anymore, and I blame the 5 series Gran Turismo. We could have stopped them when they were weak, and we didn’t.
BMW M760Li xDrive
With the new 7 series, BMW wanted to finally bring the fight to the Mercedes S Class. Long slowed by Bangle-era designs, a lackluster interior, and an inability to compete technologically with Mercedes, the 7 series has never really found its stride. For 2016, BMW decided to double down on luxury, creating a more advanced, more refined, and more comfortable car while still maintaining the essence of the “Ultimate Driving Machine.” They decided it was time for the 7 Series to grow up. And what says grown-up like an M-tuned twin-turbo V12 putting down 600 horsepower. Apparently, the V12 of the previous generation 760 just didn’t put down enough power.
Fine. That’s fair. High end luxury cars tend to put a lot of power and torque down in the pursuit of luxury. But once again, BMW has stuck an M badge on a car that should never get one. Sure, they didn’t call it an M7. But the name M760Li xDrive is so painful that it might have been worth it to just bite the bullet and make it a full fledged M car. The fact is, the BMW already had a V12 flagship and Alpina builds their B7 on the exact same production lines as the M760Li xDrive. And just like with the X6, BMW decided that an M version wasn’t heretical enough. They took their gargantuan vehicle and added on a few inches between the wheels before calling it an M car. That’s right, the L in M760Li xDrive means that it’s long wheelbase.
BMW makes some fantastic cars. Like Jelly Belly, though, if you offer enough flavors than you’re bound to get a Chili Mango every once in a while. It’s the price of doing business. As much as I’d love to say that these cars show that BMW has lost its mind, when you consider that the X6 can be made on the same assembly line for a similar price but fetch a few thousand more at dealerships, it starts to make sense. Hopefully BMW won’t take it too much further.