Heresy: A front-wheel drive BMW Minivan

Featured Posts, Interesting | August 14th, 2012 by 15
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The Anti-Christ In 2008, my wife and I made and absolutely unsavory decision to trade her Volvo XC70 Ocean Race Edition for a Toyota Sienna …

The Anti-Christ

In 2008, my wife and I made and absolutely unsavory decision to trade her Volvo XC70 Ocean Race Edition for a Toyota Sienna XLE minivan. It was the most painful, automotive decision we had ever made. Not only would this vehicle be a Toyota but a Toyota MINIVAN! But for a family vehicle, it just made too much sense. Soon after I fondly named it, “The Anti-Christ”. Now in 2012, there’s a new Toyota Sienna Limited, “The second coming of the Anti-Christ”, sharing the space in the garage with my X5. Decked out with more electronic and entertainment amenities than our family room and sharing many luxurious toys from the Lexus parts bins, it’s made life with Anti-Christ v2012 more palatable.

bmw minivan

A BMW Minivan

As an BMW enthusiast family and if a BMW Sports Tourer were offered, we certainly would have bit the bullet, paid a bit more and slightly given up a little size and some amenities to be hauling our family around in a people mover with a Roundel vs rounded “T” in the hood and hatch.

In a recent post titled “Weeks away from BMW’s first front-wheel drive vehicle” the BMW Compact Sport Tourer is rumored to be the first of a series of, dare we say it, front-wheel drive BMWs. Adding insult to this heresy, the Compact Sports Tourer appears to be BMW’s first foray the into sports tourer segment. If I had to bet on it, I might even set a wager that the Compact Sports Tourer is headed to the US even if it would be at least a few years out). With the recent word that BMW is looking at building a plant in Mexico for when the compact range is set to shift to front-wheel drive, I think this is a clear possibility.

The Compact Sports Tourer will take a more compact MPV form like the Mazda5, verses the not-so-mini minivans of late, but I feel this could have quite a bit of appeal to for small families desiring an Ultimate Sports Touring Experience if marketed and priced correctly. Ford was the one carmaker who’s definitely on the right tack with such a vehicle. The Ford C-Max is the right design for a sports tourer for families and should be the functional model that BMW should emulate.

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2012 Ford C-Max

“R” Lessons Learned – Take note BMW

A few lessons can be learned regarding sports tourers from the unfortunate (or fortunate) demise of the Mercedes R-Class “Grand Sports Tourer” for the US market after 2013 model year. Some would say that the demise of the R-Class for the US shows that sports tourers, even a Grand Sports Tourer in the case of the R, in this segment don’t sell very well in this market, especially against Siennas, Odysseys, and Town & Countrys.

However, I contend that the R-Class was a very well executed sports tourer and should have been a success. In fact we considered one when we were shopping for our minivan. It’s size, gas and diesel power plants, all-wheel drive offering, safety, and the fact that it was a Mercedes-Benz all should have made this vehicle a good, if not very good, seller in the luxury segment in the US. There was only one thing that brought down the vehicle that killed its practically as a family vehicle, the lack of sliding rear doors.

The R-Class has absolutely massive rear doors about the shape and size of Montana that open outward as most car doors do. I’m sure their functionality and size were carefully thought out by schwabian Mercedes-Benz engineers to provide easy access for passengers to the 2nd and 3rd row seats, but the design is the Achilles heel of this vehicle. Massive doors are difficult for children to open, they’re heavy and can be dangerous to little ones who’s heads don’t even reach as high as the bottom of the window. They cannot be easily opened while parked in a garage or a tight parking space with out causing damage to the door or whatever is parked next to it. Most importantly, they cannot be motorized to open and close at a touch of a button, which is a huge benefit when making a mad dash to the vehicle from a soccer field in a raging downpour. Yes, it was the doors that doomed the Mercedes-Benz R-Class for American families.

Interestingly enough, it will still be marketed in China and elsewhere, where it is primarily used as an executive luxury transport and in most cases has chauffeur to manage doors for the easy ingress and egress of those in the rear seats.

Mercedes-Benz made a bold move into the realm of sports tourers when they designed their Vision GST Concept in 2001. BMW needs to look closely at this vision and strive to capitalize on the shortcomings in its design.

BMW would have to look no further than Mini’s reverse dual hinged door from the Mini Rocketman Concept or the “suicide” doors of the i3 concept for uncommon but innovative solutions.

So BMW, do your homework, look at internal designs, talk to families, give the test vehicles to your engineers with young families, but learn from others missteps and for God’s sake, get the doors right!

15 responses to “Heresy: A front-wheel drive BMW Minivan”

  1. digivue says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised after shifting 1 series to the wrong wheel drive.

  2. GG says:

    Bet it handles well going in reverse!

  3. Giom says:

    I wonder how many ppl said the same about the Isetta, back when it brought BMW back from the abyss? With the current economic uncertainty, this idea seems like forward thinking to me.

  4. Luca says:

    Minivans in Europe are bought for different reasons than in the US. Europeans love small minivans like the Ford C-max because of their higher driving position, practicality, and roominess. The same reasons Americans love SUV’s. Unlike SUV’s though, MPVs or Minivans take up less space on the road and are more fuel efficient- very important factors in Europe.

    The reasons for buying a minivan are different in Europe. It has nothing to with sliding doors or seating for seven (large American-style minivans like the Town & Country are very unpopular in Europe). Likewise in the US, customers rarely buy SUVs because of a genuine need to go off-road.

    Therefore, yes the 1GT is likely to sell well in Europe. Look no further than it’s main rival the Mercedes B-class which sells very well precisely because it’s not an over-sized family hauler like the R-class. It’s compact yet spacious, practical yet fuel efficient. Will this type of car sell in the image conscious US where fuel is still (relatively) cheap? Well that’s a different story.

  5. David says:

    Good article Mike…

    Yet I don’t see myself driving a BMW Minivan…I would rather get a large SUV, even a touring. Not sure what BMW plans to do but I’m assuming it’s all related to not losing market share.

  6. Blue says:

    If BMW makes minivans, I will hate them forever. No, this is not a loud-mouthed teen brat talking but a family man. Purely from a marketing point of view, the BMW brand has always tried to focus on its sporting heritage and offering the “ultimate driving machine.” Slowly, this has been watered down to a point where we see cars such as the X5 and X6 in production today. I can still accept this, since these cars are still fast and actually handle somewhat well. But if a minivan is ultimately made, then BMW better stfu about selling “ultimate driving machines.” You will be just like any other automotive manufacturer who cares more about money than actual driving pleasure.

  7. LW says:

    Heresey? No more so than a BMW SUV like the X5.

  8. Orb Emmel says:

    That’s funny… a BMW Minivan you would call the Antichrist, BUT… you have an X5… Funny how things evolve… 15 years ago, BMW selling an SUV was an heresy. 10 years ago, BMW selling a 1-series was an heresy.

    You don’t like it? Don’t buy it…

    If I needed such a car, I’d rather have a BMW than a Toyota, or even worse, a French car.

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