On the Front-wheel-drive BMW or The Ultimate Driving Machine: A Blessing and a Curse

Concepts | September 14th, 2012 by 16
BMW Active Tourer Concept Exterior 121 750x500

BMW will celebrate the 100th anniversary of it’s founding in 2016 and while cars are the primary focus of the company currently, it hasn’t always …

BMW will celebrate the 100th anniversary of it’s founding in 2016 and while cars are the primary focus of the company currently, it hasn’t always been. Even when cars were first produced, over 10 years after the founding of the company, they did not become the sports sedans we know and love until the mid-1960’s Neue Klasse offerings.

BMW has a goal to reach two million in car sales . . . soon. To accomplish that they’ve built cars for specific niches (using smart production techniques and brilliant production engineering), but that hasn’t closed the gap between 1.5 and 2.0 million – and can’t, if we’re honest.

BMW Active Tourer Concept Exterior 121 655x491

To get the volume BMW needs, they need to enter new markets (and emerging markets like India) with product that makes sense, like a car utilizing a space efficient front wheel drive layout. But, for most Americans the notion of a front wheel drive BMW doesn’t make sense.

The US market has been spoiled and blessed by performance BMWs, Ultimate Driving Machines. We’ve seen a couple attempts at smaller than normal BMWs being introduced into our market, the 318ti comes to mind immediately. But they were rear wheel drive, and while the 318ti was panned by many, it still has an enthusiastic following.

BMW has, in the past, experimented with front wheel drive (FWD), once prior to the purchase of Dixi, and again after the end of World War II. The first attempts produced a number of prototypes with various engine configurations, but the constant velocity joint was yet to be perfected and FWD, to be marketable, is dependent on that technology. The pretty little 513 that emerged after WW II, was unfortunately stillborn. Instead, the less than ultimate driving machine baroque angels were built.

The BMW Concept Active Tourer will show the way for BMW’s first production FWD car. It’s worth noting that Mercedes-Benz sells significant volumes of A and B-class FWD cars, and the production version of the BMW Concept Active Tourer is aimed directly at the B-class multi-purpose hatchback market.

BMW is blessed to have a strong enthusiast following, with car clubs devoted to the marquee and the BMW driving experience world wide. But they are also cursed by the expectation that they are the ultimate driving machine (something that they’ve only been over the last fifty years of their corporate life). The same enthusiasts who sing hosannas to the BMW 335i will be cursing the newest, FWD, BMW.

But BMW believes that their very survival as an independent company depends on building more – and more diverse – vehicles. If Porsche can build a Cayenne – which helped keep that company afloat – can we truly begrudge BMW for building a FWD car?

The history of BMW has been one of building the best possible product possible, within their engineering frame of reference, and within the confines of the company’s circumstances. It has brought us gems like the 2002, the E30 M3, and the startling F10 M5. They will continue to make great driving sedans and sporting coupes – but the future will also bring product that makes sense for emerging markets and changing consumer preferences.

16 responses to “On the Front-wheel-drive BMW or The Ultimate Driving Machine: A Blessing and a Curse”

  1. Cybo says:

    I totally agree with you on this matter. I’m european and BMW has also here a kind of “halo” that is very difficult to assimilate to a FWD van. Anyway, if this is what is needed in order to keep BMW independent so they can keep bringing great cars alive, then I say welcome!
    BTW, I’m unable to find a picture of neither the BMW 513 nor the pre Dixi FWD car.
    Would yo be so kind to point us to any online source?

    • Hugo Becker says:

      There is no online source for images of these cars that I’m aware of. BMW has a publication titled something along the lines of, “The Development of the BMW Automobile 191x to 1932”. I don’t have access to my copy at the moment, it’s about 5,000 miles away. The 513 shows up in a couple of books – but I don’t remember their names off the top of my head.

      When I’m back in the US I’ll reply again with the titles.

  2. Manchester Man says:

    BMW make the best RWD cars, arguably better than Mercedes, Jaguar and Lexus. If BMW were to make FWD I have a feeling they will probably produce the best FWD cars due to their remarkable chassis engineering.

  3. On point and well written Hugo. Thanks.

  4. Giom says:

    I would much prefere to live with a BMW that makes brilliant fwd cars (too), than a BMW that ends up with Indian owners and a great history. Nuf said.

  5. A nice read. Great historical perspective!

  6. fredyschiftan@aol.com says:

    Its about time, alll those other brands have copied BMW success in their RWD philosophy , now its payback time . I really hope they will sell well and take back sales from those who are so envious . The car looks good and well designed .

  7. PHZ says:

    Very good explanation. As long as they offer the product I like, it’s ok. You have a choice.

  8. Chris Parente says:

    Interesting piece. What sometimes bothers me about BMW is that what they say and what they do don’t match up. Everything here (US) is ultimate driving machine, not practicality or economy.
    What you say in this piece makes a lot of sense — has BMW ever said this publicly?

  9. really why should it matter what the American market thinks, there is a whole world out there, not everything has to revolve around the US, besides the BMW range in the US is pretty poor compared to Europe, I would think US based customers would be happy with an expanded range.

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