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The bosses of BMW’s M Division are big fans of Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 N

Frank Van Meel, the king of M, loves the Korean super-hatch’s fake shifts and drift mode. Could it influence an electric M3?

Published: 20 Jun 2024

An all-electric BMW M car is inevitable. The M Division has already admitted it’s working on a quad-motor prototype, exploring ways to preserve the tail-happy fury of the greatest M cars in the battery-powered age.

Surely BMW M is also busy benchmarking the current class leaders then? You can bet the engineers have been tearing up tracks in the Porsche Taycan and various Teslas to see what they like – and what they don’t.

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But when we grabbed BMW M CEO Frank van Meel at a recent preview of the new M5 (stay tuned for more on that next month) we asked if he’d had a play with the brave’n’brilliant Hyundai Ioniq 5 N – complete with its augmented gearshifts, fake revs and drift mode. And his response? A massive grin.

“I like they way they think – that’s the way we think as well,” said Frank. “You need to have feedback [in the car]. If you’re on the track you don’t have time to look at your speedometer or tachometer. If you’re racing, if you take the time to look at your display, two cars will overtake you. So what you want to have is a way to know what gear you’re in, a way to ‘feel’ the revs.

“In a pure EV with one gear, no sound and no emotion, you don’t know if you’re doing 125, 150 or whatever. You need a solution for that. You have to find a connection to the brain of the driver, without forcing you to look at your speedometer. So I think what [Hyundai] did with gear emulation and sound – which is actually what we’re working on already – is the way to go. We need something like that in our fast performance cars.”

Van Meel said he wasn’t worried about M being branded ‘inauthentic’ by faking noise, because any augmented noise would always tally with the driver’s inputs.

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“We wouldn’t do a fake supercar or spaceship noise,” he laughed. “I don’t think the ‘WRC sound’ in the Hyundai sounded like a true WRC car, but I like the way they think.”

Asked about adding simulated gearshifts to future M cars without a gearbox, Van Meel said: “We’ve been working on this for some years already and I think we have some very interesting approaches to this [problem].”

Frank’s right-hand man Dirk Häcker – the development boss of BMW M – added: “I think it’s very important to create a new dimension of an authentic sports car, with the driver at the centre, and not to do a ‘PlayStation’. I think we have to take care not to add too many features, and to have ‘one mission’ with our cars, not to spread it too wide.”

Häcker noted that although the Ioniq 5 N is styled to look like a sporty hot hatch, it’s actually the height and weight of a crossover SUV. But, nevertheless, he agreed it’s a “very interesting” car.

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Keen students of fast German cars will realise the irony here. Ten years ago, the boss of BMW's M Division was a gentleman by the name of Albert Biermann. After 31 years at BMW, he sensationally quit and joined Hyundai – and was instrumental in creating the hot hatch-crazy N Division – which now looks set to influence the next generation of BMW M cars.

What’s German for ‘small world’? And what features are you most looking for in an electric BMW M3?

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