Editorial: The Return of FWD BMW Z2 Speculation

Rumors | August 26th, 2013 by 3
2015 BMW Z2 Roadster

A brief survey of the intertubes show that speculation on a FWD BMW Z2 sports car is cycling back into view. It seems to wax and wane in a six month cycle and since BMW is getting into the A & B class markets with FWD offerings, the latest cycles of Z2 speculation have assumed that it too would be FWD also.

Speculation regarding the appearance of a Z2 model has been around since at least 2006 – before BMW’s adaptation of the Strategy ONE. And while the Z4 languishes in showrooms worldwide, speculation on the appearance of a BMW roadster alternative continues unabated.

So what’s wrong with the Z4 that it is not selling well? It has a decently short length and close coupled wheelbase, a choice of turbo 4 or 6 cylinder engines and decent gearboxes. What exactly is the issue? The weight. At 3263 pounds unleaded (US specs) it’s the proverbial porker, too heavy.

2015 BMW Z2 Roadster

And then there’s the notion that it wandered off the sports car reservation with a wealth of pricey features including a folding hard roof (that seriously impinges on cargo capacity when folded). But that was the trajectory of premium two seaters when the current Z4 was developed.

The problem is two seats sports cars have traditionally been elemental and appeal primarily to drivers wanting as unfiltered an experience from the act of driving as possible. Another huge problem, from a manufacturer’s standpoint, has been the fact that the number of drivers wanting such a visceral experience from a car is small (and quite possibly declining). In other words, a true two seats sports car is at best a niche and at worst a money losing proposition.

But if you want to guarantee failure all you need to do is misunderstand what drives sales of sports cars. It isn’t the badge on the hood, or tons of power, or technology, but faithfulness to the purpose of a connected driving experience. Mazda has sold almost one million MX-5 Miatas and you can’t argue that they’re overly sophisticated, powerful, or boasting a premium heritage.

And that brings us to the speculation of a FWD Z2. The talk is centered around what some are speculating is BMW’s FWD specific chassis, oft described as UKL (Unter Klasse – a German description of the compact, A & B, car segment) and a BMW specific moniker UKL1. BMW is building a shared FWD offering that will underpin MINI’s offerings and the next gen 1 series.

But what internet experts are forgetting is that the UKL ‘platform’ is derived from the same matrix of components that the current 1, 3, 4, and soon to be 2 series cars are built on. That means that BMW has found a way to engineer RWD, FWD, and AWD cars from a common set of basic building blocks. (Yes, transverse gearboxes will not be shared between the FWD and RWD offerings.)

The following link is to a presentation given by Dr. Herbert Diess, Member of the BMW Board of management, in which he explains BMW’s use of common architectures. The idea is to use modular systems to build multiple models. As is stated in the presentation, “BMW Group architectures allow maximum differentiation between models in terms of design and dimensions and account for about 70% of all production cost.”

And further, in an interview BMWblog conducted with Holger Jeebe, of BMW’s Antriebstrategie (Strategical Aspects Drive Train), at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show (https://www.bmwblog.com/2012/02/23/bmwblog-exclusive-interview-of-holger-jeebe-drivetrain-strategy/) the notion of a BMW badged FWD car was broached. And this was Mr. Jeebe’s answer, “FWD is a good solution for small cars. It offers less weight and especially if you combine it with modest performance (not high performance) you can deliver a good total vehicle driving experience. It offers more room for a given space and by keeping weight down fuel consumption is better. So it started with Mini and we are looking at FWD. It has advantages especially for small cars. On bigger cars it’s a different story, for instance the 3 series is an icon. Sporting cars in the smaller segment will retain standard drive.” And that seems to say that if they do create a Z2 expect it to be RWD.

Knowing that you can build a new sports car, with a specific type of buyer in mind, using components from a common architecture and it can as easily be built in a RWD configuration as well as a FWD configuration why in the name of everything holy would you even consider FWD? Time will tell, but I’m betting on a RWD Z2 if we see any Z2 at all. Stay tuned.