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BMW driving modes are useless

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Someone emails me a triggering question, and they (probably) didn’t even know they were doing it. What drive mode settings do I use for my cars? Seems innocent enough. Let’s walk and talk, as we tour the recent BMW of Turnersville show.

Send me your questions!


BMW of Turnersville show
The Adro kit is becoming more commonplace.

Hi Mike. Have my G80 on order, and though it’ll be my tenth BMW, it’s my first M car.

My question – how do you program your M modes? I know M cars have two settings, but do they work differently from M Performance cars? Coming from an M340i.

So excited!

– Lynn


G8X M3
It’s a G8X invasion, sorry.

Lynn, you might be surprised to find that adjustable drive modes have been around for awhile – even cars in the 90s had them.

G80 M3 M drive mode settings

First, an answer as to how I set up my M3. My M1 setting is:

  • Throttle: Sport +
  • Brakes: Sport +
  • Steering: Comfort
  • Suspension: Sport
  • Traction Control: On

And my M2 settings:

  • Throttle: Sport +
  • Brakes: Sport +
  • Steering: Sport +
  • Suspension: Sport
  • Traction Control: MDM mode
BMW of Turnersville show
The way to do this is to paint it all one color.
BMW of Turnersville show
The M4 CSL’s strut brace might just make the perfect addition…

If you’re wondering, the instructors at the BMW Performance Driving School usually leave their car’s steering mode in comfort, even on track. They recommend this because Sport can sometimes get a bit heavy, but does nothing to increase feel.

I’ve been using MDM more because the computer cuts the throttle a bit when shifting if you have traction control on fully. Remember, if you get the M Driver’s Package, you gain the ability to adjust the traction control with ten different settings.

Can we think about that for a moment? Is there someone, somewhere in a parking lot, who starts at level 1, drifts the car, and repeats for each level of traction? How on Earth can you tell the difference, or know ten different situations where you’d need each setting?

BMW of Turnersville show
I would definitely do an X3 M in Sao Paulo.
BMW of Turnersville show
What a $100,000 BMW looks like.
BMW of Turnersville show
A few classics were there as well.
BMW of Turnersville show
This one is still for sale.
BMW of Turnersville show
A few new M2s were there so there goes the neighborhood.

Set and forget

This seems like an innocent enough question, but more of my cars have had adjustable driving modes than have not, and the thing is, once you set the car how you like it, the feature is useless.

“How you like it” is a key term here, and sure, perhaps you might like your throttle less touchy than me Lynn, but M cars should always be a bit of a handful.

And if you leave your M3’s brakes in “Comfort” please email me, because I do not know how you can stand it. Feels like stepping on a bowl of oatmeal.

Silly slicing

BMW of Turnersville show
Always great to get some inspiration.
BMW of Turnersville show
You can always say hi!
BMW of Turnersville show
The individual colors are prodigious.

I will be the first to tell you that I am not a suspension or drivetrain engineer. So BMW, why are you leaving the decision to me?

The M3, the M5, any modern M car – leave them in comfort and they are soft, but still more harsh than an M Performance model. It just feels like it’s on a leash, the car choking to death. So you adjust the suspension to its Sport setting. Did it change something? Maybe…hard to tell. Feels harder, right? Or is the ride just worse? Can the car pull more Gs on the skidpad now? (No).

Some cars, like the WRX, have four different settings. This is the automotive equivalent of ADHD. Oh, bump coming! Hurry, switch to comfort! Ok, now smooth, switch back to Sport +!

BMW of Turnersville show
These just don’t seem nearly as exotic as they once were.

Or the Blackwing, amazing as it is – there is no Comfort mode there. Basically goes from “Hey, a rabid PitBull is chasing me!”, to “OMG are those the aliens from Independence Day?!”

If you’re going to give me modes, I want Lexus LS for cruising, M5 for Sport, and Porsche Carerra GT for Sport +. In other words, give me changes that matter.

One button to rule them all

BMW of Turnersville show
A sea of sameness. But still, lots of fun.
BMW of Turnersville show
Big boys were out in force as well.

I can see some purpose to drive mode adaptability – but perhaps M Performance cars do it better. Press the rocker switch next to the shifter for Sport, and everything changes. The transmission shifts faster, the suspension firms up (if you have the adaptive suspension), and the steering becomes heavier. Point is, one button does it all, because you either want max attack mode or not, right?

This is a hill I suppose I’ll die on, but modern cars would weigh less with these systems taken out. With less weight, you need less power. A smaller engine means better handling balance, and a softer suspension tune because lighter cars don’t need to be as stiff.

BMW of Turnersville show
Respect your elders.

I’m not saying cars without adjustments are perfect. The Nissan Z was a mess without any help from its driver. But perhaps turning it correctly from the start would be a big help.

So Lynn, long answer to your short question is, take the time to set up your new M3 drive mode how you like it, and then leave it be. But don’t expect to ever find a “just right” setting.

BMW of Turnersville show gallery

BMW of Turnersville show
BBS wheels are delicious.
BMW of Turnersville show
BMW of Turnersville show BMW of Turnersville show BMW of Turnersville show BMW of Turnersville show BMW of Turnersville show BMW of Turnersville showBMW of Turnersville show BMW of Turnersville show BMW of Turnersville show

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