Why BMW’s plan to release 20 new front-wheel drive models could be the beginning of the end


The headline sounds downright depressing doesn’t it? The End is Nigh! BMW – staunch exponent of right-wheel drive cars – has finally sold out and conceded that the idealogy of its Ingolstadt rival is in fact.. correct. Please wake me from this nightmare.

But upon closer investigation, we find the news isn’t quite as bad as first seems.

Twenty ‘new’ models includes eight MINI’s, which in turn represents next-gen versions of existing cars – such as a replacement for the current MINI hatchback. Twelve front-wheel drive BMW’s still sounds troubling – and it is – but at least one of those models is the production version of BMW’s Concept Active Tourer (due out in 2014 as the 1 Series Gran Turismo) with the remainder accounted for by variants of the next 1 Series due in 2018, which will share the platform and drivetrain of the next-generation MINI.

The writing has been on the wall for some time now. Back in 2010, BMW’s CEO Norbert Reithofer admitted that four out of five BMW 1 Series drivers already think their car is front-wheel drive. And the company believes such a perception is holding back the potential of BMW’s smallest car, as the dynamic benefits of a propshaft and rear axle fail to compensate for the space and packaging constraints such a configuration confers.

Mercedes’ acclaimed new A-Class made the move to front-wheel drive in its latest version, joining Audi’s A3, so at least for its smaller models, BMW will have to concede to its rivals. It seems a long while since BMW’s 1 Series ad campaign in 2006 which portrayed a rabbit with big, clumsy front paws and tiny hind feet and the tag line, “That’s why we don’t have front wheel drives.”

BMW are not giving up on rear-wheel drive though, not by a long shot. A spokesman confirmed that despite yesterday’s news “..there will always be plenty of rear-wheel drive cars offered” He also confirmed that BMW would continue to offer manual gearboxes in its most sporting models, and that heel-and-toe driving is “..an art that should not die” and will remain a choice BMW will continue to offer in its range.

That is of course as long as customers appreciate its virtues – but with younger drivers no longer being weaned on the subtleties of rear-wheel drive, could this be the beginning of the end?