The hot-hatch war continues unabated, but BMW is adamant it won’t be entering the battle with a full-on M-branded hatchback.
With the likes of the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45 hyper hatchbacks fighting it out at the top end of the market while more affordable models like the Ford Focus RS also bring big performance bang for your buck, there’s space for BMW to join the race.
The brand already has the BMW M135i hatchback, which falls under the M Performance brand – that means it’s not as manic as it could be.
As such, its six-cylinder turbo engine runs short on outright power – with 240kW and 450Nm it’s no slouch! – but the RS3’s five-cylinder engine has 270kW/465Nm, while the four-cylinder engine in the A45 has 280kW/475Nm and the Focus RS’s four-pot has 257kW/470Nm.
And unlike the bigger hitters in the class, it’s rear-wheel drive. All-wheel-drive helps get the grunt to the ground more effectively, leading to quicker sprint times – BMW: 4.9 seconds from 0-100km/h; A45: 4.2sec; RS3: 4.3sec; Focus RS: 4.7sec.
The competition between German manufacturers is venomous, so a more potent hatchback would seem a likely outcome.
But CarAdvice spoke with a couple of members of the M division at the launch of the new M2 Coupe who suggested that the hatchback segment isn’t necessarily the playground in which the Bavarian maker wants to pick fights.
BMW M head of product management Carsten Pries said “it always depends on what we get as a starting point”. And by that it’s clear he was suggesting that the brand’s rear-wheel-drive heritage is a consideration that buyers know and respect.
With BMW likely moving towards a front-drive architecture for the next-generation 1 Series – using the UKL platform, which is also capable of all-wheel-drive models (such as the X1 and 2 Series Active Tourer with AWD in some markets), it seems unlikely that a front-drive or all-wheel-drive hatch with big power is on the cards.
“As long as we have a rear-wheel-drive basis, it matches so perfectly with what we want to bring across as an experience, as a feeling,” Pries said, indicating that a link to the world of motorsport is vital. “Motorsport is still rear-wheel-driven.”
Pries made it clear, too, that a six-cylinder engine is something that remains important to the M brand, even when four- or five-cylinder engines have been proved to outperform the BMW engine.
When asked if a four-cylinder model could form a part of the BMW M range in the near future, Pries said that it’s not what’s expected of the company, nor is it something he is keen on.
“I hope not. Because we obviously like in-line six-cylinder engines at BMW – they’re part of our DNA. They create a lot of excitement, they generate all the power you need, and also this hallmark sound that we have,” he said.
BMW M2 chief engineer Frank Isenberg made it clear that a four-cylinder, M-badged model isn’t something he thinks would fit with the brand either.
“At the moment I would say no,” he said. “In five, eight years? I can’t say. I don't believe, and I don’t hope.
“But as you’ve seen in the last couple of years, we’ve expanded to other cars – so it would be wrong to say no,” Isenberg said.