Toyota Prius / BMW M Coupe.
Not quite peas from a single pod, but not too far off either. These cars have more in common than one could possibly imagine. In terms of performance, ability and audience, they are clearly different. Their similarities are apparent in how purposeful they both are, and how well resolved. At the end of the day, these are both very high performance cars for enthusiasts, created by enthusiasts.
Generally speaking, passionate people could not possibly have a place of prominence in the modern development and manufacturing chain. Let’s look at it this way – a product created with a healthy dose of passion and with the enthusiast in mind [and true high performance] has no mass market appeal. And this is the very mass market that is the breadwinner of the modern mainstream manufacturer. On occasion, a manufacturer will create ‘limited edition’ reskinned versions of existing platforms with extra plastic cladding, mildly tweaked mechanicals and interiors, hoping that the glow will rub off on the more mainstream cousins. Clearly, this is not a long-term solution, as evidenced by the state of the top US automakers.
This is the story of two remarkable modern cars that could not be more different from each other, yet belong in the same stable of products created with passion : Toyota Prius and BMW M Coupe. Not a meaningless shootout between a souped up go-kart and a frugal fuel-sipper, this a study in similarities.
For a start, both cars were created by people who must care about what they do. In an environment rampant with products created with indifference, or regard just for the immediate bottomline, this is a rarity.
When the M division at BMW took on the Z3, they created a car for those who like to drive hard. A car that routinely gets called ‘cute’, the M Coupe is a little monster. And I do mean little – it looks small parked next to a Mini. It seats 2 in perfect comfort as long as they are no taller than 6′-2″ and relatively trim. There are no rear passenger seats at all, or even a spare wheel. But there is space in the back for many books, photographic equipment, golf clubs, a medium size suitcase and a carry-on bag, or a large audiophile approved turntable. When seated within, one wears the car. Like a good suit, this is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated. The controls are all within appropriate reach, the steering very precise, the suspension tight. It is impossible to not be fully involved with the driving experience. That the window glass does not fully retract into the sills is an annoyance [the good people of Car Talk commented on this as well in their short-term review], ably offset by the high curbside clearance of the doors – the doors will swing over all but the tallest of curbs. The straight six is a perfect accompaniment to the package – an engine configuration that is the most stable and evenly balanced of the pack that includes the V, the W, the rotary and the boxer. The chrome topped gauges are the perfect garnish, as is the minimal model badge on the back, which simply says ‘M’. Less minimal is the four-set of exhaust pipes, a not-too-subtle indicator of what to expect in a shoot-out. In stock form, the M Coupe is practically track-ready.
In a different kind of shoot-out, the Toyota Prius is king. It will never burn rubber, of which there’s a lot less than on the M Coupe to begin with. The Prius rides on relatively skinny tires, for less rolling resistance. Talk of engine displacement is meaningless, as it will run solely on battery power during most slow in-city crawls. How is this a car for the enthusiast? As with the M Coupe, it must be experienced to be appreciated. The Prius is tailored for efficiency. Start with the most aerodynamic of profiles. Combine with small, lightweight engine and electric motor in conjunction with a seamless, continually variable transmission, regenerative braking, lightweight wheels and narrow tyres – you get a car completely and obsessively tuned for one purpose. A machine for a different kind of enthusiast : the maximum mileage fiend. For said fiend, there’s a large and informative real-time fuel consumption / efficiency gauge. This allows the truly obsessive among us to try and attain ever lower fuel consumption on every trip. A full appreciation of this package requires a mental shift of priorities – this is not a machine to pull away in from the light, to race Porsches [or even a Civic], to haul large stacks of lumber. This is the accompaniment to fresh produce from farmer’s markets, a low-energy consuming lifestyle, the organic cotton t-shirt and blue recycling bins. You’ll be smiling as you drive along for a full month without filling up, bathed in the glow of light streaming in from the vast expanse of glass, watching crowded gas stations from afar through beautifully resolved sightlines.
Such cars often become members of the family, sometimes quite literally. I know of at least one other person who’s owned both, and I have no doubt there are more such owners out there with similar stories. Let us know who you are, share your experiences with us, and stay tuned to this blog for more.