BMW Plans Front Wheel Drive Car

Say it ain’t so!

By Chris Haak

BMW’s Dr. Norbert Reithofer, Chairman of the Board of Management at the German automaker, has confirmed that his company will sell front wheel drive BMWs in the smaller size classes in the future. His quote:

[The small car] segment is expected to grow further. And we will take advantage of this opportunity. We are exploring the possibility of developing a joint architecture for the front and four-wheel drive systems of these cars. In other words: There will be front-wheel drive BMWs in the smaller vehicle classes in the future.

Dr. Reithofer also quickly went on to add that “BMW will continue to be a sport-inspired brand. We at the BMW Group continue to deliver maximum performance, tackle new challenges and sharpen our competitive edge.

So, the good news, BMW fans, is that it’s unlikely that we’ll see BMW suddenly become a German Lexus. In fact, though we’ve seen rumors that in the future, the 1 series could move to front wheel drive, I’d peg the most likely front wheel drive-based model as a subcompact Audi A1 competitor. As there’s not really an easy way to slip a model name below the 1 series (without resorting to such nonsense as “sDrive35is”), the new subcompact would likely be called the 0 series. I know what you’re thinking; it does sound silly, like putting a football jersey on a jockey with a “1/2” for his number. Perhaps the company anticipated there being so much room for more models below its bestselling 3 series.

At any rate, traditions aside, the biggest concern about this concept is in how to deal with torque steer, which continues to be a problem with nearly all front wheel drive vehicles that put a lot of power through those same wheels that are also asked to steer and brake. BMW has proven, however, that it can built fun-to-drive front wheel drive cars with its successful reincarnation of the Mini brand. With the Mini, BMW even manages to get the proportions right on the Mini Cooper, specifically with the fashionably-short (and frankly, BMW-like) front overhang and dash-to-axle ratio.

The front wheel drive BMW, apparently referred to internally as the UKL1 (which stands for Untere Kompactklasse, and means sub-compact in German), will share both its platform and production facility with the third-generation Mini Cooper. That means it will be built in Mini’s Oxford, UK plant, but should more or less look like a BMW, only smaller.

According to rumors, the smallest of Bimmers will be offered as both a 3-door and 5-door hatch, with a two-seat roadster variant also likely to appear. BMW is also working on new three- and four-cylinder engines to power both the UKL1 and the next Mini. The downsizing of both cars and engines is intended to help BMW to meet its target of reducing its “fleet’s carbon-emissions worldwide by at least another 25 percent between 2008 and 2020.” Knock one cylinder off the Mini Cooper’s four banger, and right there is a 25 percent reduction in cylinder count.

I’m somewhat concerned about what a front wheel drive car might do to the BMW brand, but frankly, the company probably has the technical know-how to build the most engaging front wheel drive car on the market, and has more or less proven this with the Mini line. And since BMW kind of went off message with the all wheel drive models (and really went off message, or “went rogue,” if you will, with the overweight, gasoline-swilling SAVs, is the front wheel drive concept not a big deal, or just another nail in the coffin for BMW’s brand purity.

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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