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.
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.
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!