BMW knew exactly what it was doing by naming its new 750-horsepower, plug-in hybrid SUV simply “XM.” Fans knew it, too. The XM isn’t obviously based on any existing BMW car or SUV, like M cars tend to be. It’s its own thing. When it begins production next year, you won’t be able to get an X-sans-M. This is a standalone model that belongs entirely to BMW’s performance division. The last time BMW made a car like that, it was called the M1.
The thing about the M1 is that being a flagship wasn’t the reason for its creation. Of course it was, but that outcome was secondary. The M1 was made for racing and had to be homologated as a road car to compete in various categories. So BMW sold examples to the public, too.
I know this is all very obvious, and I know it’s no fun to pooh-pooh new things just because they’re new and different and weird. The XM can evidently claim a scourge of broken keyboards and smartphones, judging by the prevalence of self-reported nausea from internet car blog commenters over the last 24 hours. We’ve all read enough of the incendiary, entitled takes every time BMW does this — I don’t need nor want to add to them.
At the same time, I also can’t accept the XM as the “M1 successor” many bloggers and enthusiasts have painted it as based on a technicality, the double roundels above the rear window and a couple sentences in BMW’s press release. You know, BMW also mentions the XM’s “coupé-like character” in its text so passively as if to Trojan Horse that statement into the reader’s psyche as fact. Does that make it so?
Maybe the XM reflects what M is now rather than what it was. I can accept that. But I can’t read it as an M1 sequel, partly for the aforementioned reasons and partly because BMW already visualized such a vehicle more than a decade ago. It was called the M1 Hommage.
The M1 Hommage bowed at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in April 2008. The car was clearly never intended for production — it’s never been seen in motion and didn’t have an interior. Even if BMW had been planning to make it, the global recession hitting critical mass later that year would have scuttled such plans.
In that sense, the M1 Hommage was less a car and more sculpture. But it did inspire the design of the i8, and that very much was a car. You can especially see the resemblance in how the side windows trail past the C pillar, separating the bulk of the body from the top.
Ditto for the shape of the rear diffuser. The i8 more or less broke these bodywork elements into discrete parts, but the forms — specifically the metallic trim that cuts back toward the center of the rear end as it dips down to the floor — trace similar lines between both cars.
Need I also point out the i8 was mid-engined, and the football field’s worth of hood surface area ahead of the driver on the XM reminds us that the SUV very much isn’t. Bearing all that in mind, I’d reckon the i8 has as much claim to the “M1 successor” designation as the newest member of the family.
BMW clearly isn’t interested in making anything predictable or conventionally attractive in this decade. If you couldn’t guess by now, I can’t stand the way the XM looks, but then I’ll give the designers some credit for creating a vehicle that is wholly, unabashedly deranged, rather than boring skeletal nasal cavities into the front of an otherwise routine sedan. The company has fully committed to the bit and isn’t folding to pressure. That deserves kudos, even if I lament the obsession with making full-size pickups look modest.
BMW will probably never again pen cars that remind us crotchety old heads of its golden era; on the flip side, they won’t always make these, either. This is a phase, and it too shall pass, as is eternal in fashion and life. May we let it go and find peace. And no matter where BMW places this 6,000-pound cinderblock in the lineage that is M, ultimately that sort of thing is just a matter of perspective. In this case, yours is as good as theirs.