Will Front-Wheel Drive BMWs kill the brand?

1-series, Interesting | November 30th, 2015 by 20
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We’ve recently witnessed the very first production BMW to power the front wheels in the history of the Bavarian brand. The 2 Series Active and …

We’ve recently witnessed the very first production BMW to power the front wheels in the history of the Bavarian brand. The 2 Series Active and Grand Tourers, based on BMW’s UKL Platform, were the first BMWs to be built on a front-wheel drive architecture. They were then followed by the brand new BMW X1 which will soon be followed by some sort of 1 Series sedan. It’s no secret any longer, BMW is looking toward front-wheel drive for its compact and affordable cars for the foreseeable future.

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This push toward front-wheel drive in BMW’s less expensive and more compact vehicles, like the X1 and upcoming 1 Series, has the majority of BMW enthusiasts very upset. BMW has always been a brand that prided itself on the use of rear-wheel drive. If you wanted front-wheel drive, you bought an Audi. That’s just how it’s always been. And BMW fans took great pride in that fact, the fact that BMW was sticking to its performance guns regardless of what anyone else thought.

But growing demand for compact cars and the tightening of economy restrictions has caused BMW to do what it said it would never do — make front-wheel drive cars. But does this new shift in philosophy for BMW’s entry-level cars kill the brand?

The easy answer would be to say maybe and give an argument for both sides. However, the realistic answer is no.

BMW Concept Compact Sedan images 5 750x500

It’s easy to sit from our arm chairs and point at BMW execs, calling them brainless fools for making a front-wheel drive car which will hurt the brand’s sales figures. We can protest and claim to never buy a BMW again because BMW has ruined its heritage. However, people claiming that are wrong on both accounts. Believe me, I don’t like front-wheel drive any more than the next guy, but there’s nothing wrong with BMW making a front-wheel drive car and it most certainly will not kill the brand and claiming the contrary is slightly misguided.

Firstly, BMW will be selling the majority of its front-wheel drive models in Europe and China, markets that primarily buy small diesel engined cars. And if your BMW has a tiny diesel engine, are you really going to be using enough of the chassis to notice rear-wheel or front-wheel drive? No, there’s no need for RWD with a small diesel engine. Plus, most of the people that buy those entry-level BMWs will never know the difference anyway.

Secondly, a BMW isn’t a BMW because of rear-wheel drive. The driven axle is not the defining attribute of a BMW. What makes a BMW a BMW is the sensation of fun and precision. It’s the feeling that the car and the driver are one. And that can be had in a front-wheel drive car, whether anyone wants to believe that or not. If you’re one of the latter, look no further than the MkVII Volkswagen GTI or Ford Fiesta ST. Both of those cars provide some of the most fun you’ll ever have on four wheels and they’re both front-wheel drive. If a BMW can provide the same sort of sensation, who the hell cars which axle is the driven one?  Plus, having driven the new X1 (admittedly, an xDrive model), we can say first hand that front-wheel drive-based BMWs are not bad to drive by any means. If fact, they can be quite fun.


Lastly, BMW doesn’t really care if you think it’s killing itself with front-wheel drive. BMW knows what it is, and what it is is an automotive giant that’s been producing fun and enjoyable cars for the past fifty years. With that kind of reputation, BMW is confident that it knows what it’s doing. BMW uses the best available technology to create the best car possible. If that means using front-wheel drive in its smaller cars, then so be it. And regardless of how fun it will be or how much enthusiasts will dislike it, a low-priced front-wheel drive BMW would absolutely dominate sales sheets. BMW knows this and knows that it will make a boatload of dough, which will in turn help BMW fund more exciting projects.

BMW’s new front-wheel drive car won’t kill the brand financially and it also shouldn’t kill the brand’s reputation . If your favorite sports team got rid of a certain player and then brought in a new one from a different team for less money but performed the same, would you still like the team? Of course you would, and then you’d applaud the GM for making such a good move. BMW is still going to make fun to drive cars and will always be the excellent automaker that it always has been, it just might have another drivetrain player on its roster.

[Source: Road & Track]

20 responses to “Will Front-Wheel Drive BMWs kill the brand?”

  1. John D says:

    You’re absolutely RIGHT ! Get your FWD BMW and have fun. As long as I can still drive my RWD one ^^

  2. raleedy says:

    Great. Another hit piece on FWD cars from BMW. Why? I don’t want one (although I would not mind having a MINI, which is a genuinely fun car to drive), but it seems completely nonsensical and ridiculous to me to suggest that such a car would damage the BMW brand. For a good many years now, BMW has made 1-series cars with cramped interior space because of RWD. That makes less sense than a rational design for a subcompact. American readers who hold this RWD prejudice so tightly are not worthy of this much press.

  3. Senne says:

    Very good article. I can understand why BMW makes small FWD cars. There are a few problems though: the M135i is so special because it’s the only RWD hot hatch in years, and what about the M235i and future M2?? A coupe anyway should absolutely NOT be FWD!!! That would definitely ruin the experience. So I hope everything from the 2 Series on will stay RWD. X1, 1 Series, 2 Series Active/ Gran Tourer. That’s it. These are compact cars where the most important thing to most people is: SPACE. Thanks to its FWD, the X1 is the spaciest of its segment, but still the most fun to drive and very capable off-road. MPV’s should be FWD, because their only purpose is to be spacious. And because it’s a BMW, it’s still more fun than any other mini van. So I have not much against small FWD BMW’s, as long as it doesn’t affect the cars that are meant do be fun or luxurious. Because RWD is more exclusive than FWD. It’s also more expensive and better at a lot of things. :)

  4. hosen says:

    We Love You BMW. Go Ahead …

  5. John says:

    It won’t kill the brand. People don’t even know what their car is (FWD/4WD/AWD/RWD). People buy BMWs for the brand (unless it’s an M car). BMW should just go ahead and stick their logo on anything that sells. Mugs, t-shirts, bicycles. etc…..

  6. Lucky13 says:

    Consumer Reports just listed the 7 cars with the lowest % for owners that would repurchase the same car and the Mercedes CLA was in the top 5. Owners are not happy with it and most say it has hurt their perception of Mercedes because the car is so bad. On the other had the Audi A3 is a decent car and I would expect the BMW would be as well.

  7. Max says:

    BMW you are a traitor.

  8. Kaisuke971 says:

    The reality is most people, and i don’t want to quote a precise number but you know that’s a huge pourcentage, don’t even understand what the heck is going on. In fact, we might even stop talking about this because then lots of people, once they learn it, even if they don’t understand, they’ll think it’s a bad thing. It’s not even about noticing, because to notice something you have to know your subject right ? People don’t even know this rear wheel drive front wheel drive thing. I even bet some people buy quattro Audis because it sounds fancy and have no clue what it gives them (maybe dealer says stability and they go with it idk).

    And also, as far as i know Mercedes’ history has never been that good, and the A is out for quite a long time. It was one shitty ass car, my family has it for years, probably the worst merc ever (moving from a “high” spec blue leathered 190E to this… uh. Not even leather this car doesn’t deserve a 3 pointed Star, the only thing it dominates in is braking down), but enthusiast still got their AMG beasts and are ok with that.

    If it’s 1, Tourers, X1, X2 and even maybe 2 series Gran Coupe (come on the car will be small af and for its price a used 3 will be better), and i’m pretty sure it will be like that, it’s kinda ok. Also as they have shown on the X1, they can still manage to take the best out of this FF architecture by using the xDrive tech, so it’s good.

    I think we’re making a big deal out of this, because they choosed to hang on to it and not just put it on the 1 from the go, AND they made a big deal out of it. Now backing off seems a bit stuppid, and while Merc created new cars with FWD, bimmer now has to turn RWD cars into FWD, and it’s a problem. Also making the first B-Class-ish (i forgot the name of that category) BMW (which is kinda wrong) AND the first FWD as well… That was kinda not well played. I’m still thinking to this date if they gave us: X1, hen M2, then Tourers, things would be different, but whatever.

    As long as they leave the 2 Coupe, 3 and above RWD, that’s ok. And i think that’s the way they’ll be going. 2 Gran Coupe idk…

  9. jason bourne says:

    BMW can go ahead and make ’em with FWD, but I’d never buy one.

  10. Clara Clem says:

    A BMW car is already a prize, but a small and even more agile BMW car is a dream come true, at least in my case. I am currently selling my old car on repokar com and I decided that the next car I’ll buy will be a BMW for sure! The article is really worth reading!

  11. Raymond West says:

    not a big fan!!

  12. Cybo says:

    Sorry, but the author doesn’t seem to be very well informed, and seems to be writing just from his head and not from real experience.
    I’m European, and I own a diesel E46 3 Series with “just” 150 HP. Has this guy ever heard about torque? Come on, try to use the whole torque of my “small diesel engine” on a wet road. Or face a twisty mountain road using short gears after each turn and you WILL feel where the powers comes from.
    Please, don’t fall again and again in the same error. Do no pretend that the USA is the centre of the universe nor that you can judge the rest of the world without REALLY trying first, specially if you’re writing in the media.

    • We all know the benefits of a fun lighteight rear-wheel drive car with a small diesel. But I’d bet money that 90 percent of BMW buyers do not and having spoken to BMW engineers about it, they seem to agree with that. No one is saying that fwd is better than rwd at all, but that it simply won’t ruin BMW.

      • Cybo says:

        And I totally agree with you on that point. I just strongly disagree with this:
        “And if your BMW has a tiny diesel engine, are you really going to be
        using enough of the chassis to notice rear-wheel or front-wheel drive?
        No, there’s no need for RWD with a small diesel engine.”
        Sorry but, in my opinion, that specific declaration is just wrong.

  13. Alper says:

    I get a feeling from the FWD models of BMW, that they are thinking of powering the rear wheels with electric motors (like 225xe model). This combination of petrol on the front wheels and electric on the rear wheels might be a lot of fun.

  14. george.. says:

    dont do this bmw …. only RWD is real BMW

  15. Mazen Kassab says:

    they truly damaged the company image. they are only thinking about economic engines and FWD , why to buy a low performance 3 cylinders front wheel driver from BMW ? in such case it is better to go for a Toyota or a Honda in will be for half the price

  16. Stephen says:

    For me FWD has never been as fun or as engaging to drive as RWD. The Ultimate Driving Machine deserves the ultimate driving configuration. Anything else is less than “ultimate” … and I believe will hurt the brand perception in the longterm.

  17. eu! says:

    but what about the new xdrive on X1? with the angular box instead of transfer case? in this case, the new xdrive system will not be able to have 100% torque on front or rear axle independently. so it the big xdrive will be a genuine HALDEX…at least this is what I understood from BMW officially docs.

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