BMW going FWD – Don’t check Hell’s Temperature Just Yet
With the premiere of Active Tourer concept, the first rumoured front wheel drive BMW has finally materialised – from a company that has used rear wheel drive as a selling point for years, even mocking front wheel drive competitors in several ads. So why on earth would they sell a FWD car now?
In fact, BMW insiders have revealed plans of making no less than staggering 12 models on that platform! But should that surprise us and should BMW fanboys now shake their heads in disbelief and accuse BMW for blasphemy? Short answer – no. And here are a couple reasons why:
1) BMW already makes an outstanding FWD car
Released in 2001, the MINI was a textbook example of marketing success. BMW was clever enough to pitch the car to a market that values image, design and prestige, added a bit of driving fun and the new millennium MINI was born.
It was so desirable that buying one was like entering an exclusive members only club and the predicted yearly sales were sold off within first few months. Of course, BMW wouldn’t let the car just be all show and no go, as it was blessed with one of the finest chassis around, hailed as probably the best driving front wheel drive since the original Mini.
The motoring press was ecstatic and even Jeremy Clarkson himself stated that “Even though this is as british as a bratwurst, it is the best handling front wheel drive car I’ve driven”. During later years, the lineup expanded to a convertible, estate, roadster and even an SUV. Still, the core hatchback is the most popular model.
2) Most of the target drivers don’t care (and won’t notice the difference)
BMW has conducted a survey and the results were staggering almost 70 percent of 1 Series Hatch owners were unaware that their car was rear wheel drive. What does that mean?
Those people were buying it for safety, reliability, comfort and of course, the prestige of owning a BMW. However, almost 100 percent of 1 Series Coupe owners knew that their car was RWD.
3) Compact cars are better with front wheel drive anyway
Rear wheel drive requires the driveshaft to power the rear wheels which intrudes cabin and luggage space and makes the car a bit heavier. In a compact car, these things count, that is the reason why the first 1 Series was so cramped at the back. Furthermore, it is true that RWD makes the car more responsive, agile, stabile and balanced but driving at normal speeds there is little difference to an average driver. A car with 150+ BHP would be better with RWD although some FWD cars are able to demonstrate that it isn’t necessarily so (Cooper S, Focus RS anyone?)
4) BMW needs economies of scale
Smaller cars are notoriously expensive to produce but are becoming increasingly popular so it is obvious that BMW needs a stronger presence in this sector. But without economies of scale, it is hard to make a significant profit. The main competitor in the compact class is Audi’s A3 which has all the advantages of Volkswagen ubiquitous platform sharing – there is no need to develop an entirely new platform as one can underpin more than 20 model of the entire group.
Even Mercedes has entered a partnership with Renault to produce small engines. With shared components between various future BMW/MINI models, it will be much easier to develop a new model and make it profitable.
So then, fear not. Your Ultimate Driving Machine won’t be compromised and by judging things at the moment, they might be the most radical BMWs yet.
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