By on September 27, 2012

I’m not one who identifies as a “wrong-wheel drive” Nazi like most people with zero performance driving experience online car enthusiasts are, but to me, this is not a BMW. I’m sure it will be a great car, with a very cool three-cylinder powertrain and a nice interior. It would probably make a lot of sense for someone like myself, given that it’s a plug-in car. But to me, this is BMW. Not a hybrid city car.

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59 Comments on ““Boy, I Really Want A Front-Drive BMW”, Said Nobody: Paris 2012 Live Shots...”


  • avatar
    Oren Weizman

    Wow Derek, your latest articles have been one sourfest after the other. Whassa going on !!!

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    So, this roughly matches the new Ford C-Max hybrid, probably with inferior fuel economy and, of course at 50% more money to buy. Edmunds tested the C-Max at a tick over 8 seconds to 60 mph, about what BMW claims for this one. And, being based on the excellent Focus platform, reportedly the C-Max inherited most of that car’s driving manners.

    Since BMW makes the Mini Cooper, it seems like they should stick with that as their city car/ fuel-sipper entry. The Countryman, while pug-ugly in my opinion, appears to be about the same size as this vehicle. Let the BMW brand stand for the front-engine/rear drive performance car . . . and BMW already has the 1-series, which really tests the limit of how small a backseat can be and still be worthy of the name.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      I thought that the point of purchasing MINI was to have a brand for small FWD cars, but it appears that even BMW cannot maintain brand stratification and avoid cross-brand cannibalization.

      If this does not share a large amount of its platform with the Countryman then BMW is just being wasteful.

      • 0 avatar
        tatracitroensaab

        MINI is not as premium as BMW, so therefore there wont be much cannibalization. People buy BMWs now as a status symbol of their wealth, while MINIs are more for yuppie hipster types who want to be stylish. Two completely different segments.

        I mean seriously, people who complain about the direction that BMW is going should just get over it. For most people, BMW is just the slightly more sporty elite status symbol. It is in the same segment that Mercedes and Cadillac historically have been in. If you want a sporty car with an image that says “I’m an enthusiast and not too mainstream” then buy a Mazda.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        From an enthusiast perspective I do not care about BMW. Cars like the Genesis Coupe and FR-S offer higher quality, less expensive RWD alternatives.

        But from a branding perspective this seems to be dangerously close to a Cimarron.

        “People buy BMWs now as a status symbol of their wealth” – A three-cylinder compact car is now a wealth status symbol?

        “MINIs are more for yuppie hipster types who want to be stylish” – Now these are the kind of people I can see wanting a three-cylinder compact car.

      • 0 avatar
        ranwhenparked

        Actually, that was the rationale behind BMW’s purchase of Rover in 1994. Rover was a somewhat upscale FWD brand that could get away with selling the sorts of mainstream cars BMW couldn’t. Unfortunately, BMW screwed things up by approving the overtly retro 75, cancelling all performance models, cutting the model range down to 3 cars (2 of which were awkward retro facelifts), and raising retail prices precipitously. When Rover sales tanked, and the company that was fairly healthy in the mid ’90s started hemorrhaging cash by the late ’90s, BMW got cold feet and bailed.

        Now, more than a decade later, they find themselves in need of more mainstream, front-drive products, and have no downmarket brand to sell them under (MINI being too niche), so they have no option but to cheapen BMW.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        @ranwhereparked

        I hear Opel might be for sale…

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        BMW didn’t purchase the MINI brand. They bought Rover who made a car called the Mini (and had rights to the car name Mini). The brand MINI however is totally BMW’s creation.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        @ranwhenparked

        Couldn’t agree more. BMW really dropped the ball with Rover. Rover was in great shape before BMW gazumped Honda and bought it.

      • 0 avatar
        tatracitroensaab

        Rich people are okay with buying three cylinder cars. you forget that normal nonenthusiasts dont care about power and will choose something with good MPG numbers. So long as it feels luxurious there wont be a problem. That was the Cimarron’s problem — it was too easy to tell that it was an overpriced Cavalier. Providing BMW keeps appearances up, there should be no problem here.

        In any case, there is no way a three cylinder car is coming to the US anyway

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      DC Bruce…

      You are spot on. Those were my thoughts exactly:
      FWD MINI (when adapted a bit) for small city car;
      RWD 1-series for return of 2002tii sporting;
      RWD with AWD option for all the rest, including X-series.

      Unfortunately, Norbert Reithofer’s (CEO, BMW) survey found that 80% of BMW drivers in Germany (Germany!), could not tell which wheels did the driving…and that’s what started all this FWD stuff.

      But we are also taking about brand management. That is no doubt something Porsche had to wrestle with when the Cayenne was conceived and debated. Yet no one today really thinks that Porsche has lost its “mo-jo” in the production fine sporty cars: they somehow have let the 911 / Boxster/ Cayman light shine so brightly that nobody sees that Panamera and Cayman are generating the cash to support them.

      Maybe BMW feels the same way about a small FWD 1-series equivalent: a simple cash generator. The trick will be not letting that lower-level brand image dominate so that it detracts from BMW’s RWD performance heritage in 3-series, and its performance/luxury heritage in the 5, 6 and 7-series…

      ————-

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    You do not need performance driving experience to appreciate RWD. Everyday drivers can tell the difference in day to day driving IMHO. Mostly because they sit more between the wheels, the cars turning radius is usually smaller, and additional throttle around turns does not make the car seem to ‘fight’ the driver.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      In spite of all that, my FWD Focus SVT is far more entertaining to drive than my RWD ’87 BMW 3 series was.

    • 0 avatar

      And yet, Eirich Heischulle came 8th overall in One Lap of America in a Neon. Just saying…

    • 0 avatar
      david42

      Agree with CelticPete. If I got on a racetrack I would probably kill myself. But even a slow driver like me can have a lot more fun in a rwd, stick-shift 3-series than in a more-powerful, fwd, DSG Audi A3.

    • 0 avatar
      david42

      And I will take this opportunity to recount a depressing experience I had at a BMW dealership last weekend.

      Me: “We’re looking for a 3-series with a manual transmission.”
      Salesman: “We don’t carry those anymore. You’ll have to special-order it.”

      I was helping out my friends who are the ones buying the car. They found the F30 steering much duller than my E90, which I let them take for a spin. If they can’t find an F30 with a stick shift, they’re going to buy a Volvo S80 T6 awd. After all, why bother with a BMW if it’s just going to float down the road?

      • 0 avatar
        joeveto3

        I just bought an E92 335 with the sport package and, gasp, a stick. I really wasn’t in the market for a new car, but the way I saw it, if I was ever going to have a “real” BMW, I had better act now.

        If it’s true BMW is re-casting itself as a purveyor of electric cars and hybrids, the thing out in my garage I quietly but affectionately call “sweetness” will stand as my first and last foray into all that is BMW.

        Listen, I “get” that most of the driving we do (even we enthusiasts) calls for little more than 30hp routed through a wheel. And non-enthusiasts couldn’t pull a single point of significance out of the preceding statement. They don’t know what horsepower is, they can’t describe steering feel, they don’t understand the difference between, nor grasp the significance of front-wheel drive and rear wheel drive. More than anything, THEY DON’T CARE.

        So if you’re BMW and you seek growth over ideology, brand integrity, whatever, you stop caring as well. When the majority of the folks handing over the cash…I mean signing the lease… have never driven a stick, think you have to have, at minimum, front wheel drive if you’ve EVER SEEN SNOW, and only care about air bag count and smart phone compatibility… well…the product horizon is limitless.

        And so is my nausea.

      • 0 avatar
        nikita

        I have seen snow, drive on it every year. My e36 BMW handled it just fine on all season tires.

        Pete De Lorenzo “rants” every week about branding. It is more important to a car company in the long run than volume. It took a long time for BMW build a premium brand image. A few of us remember the Isetta.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        So order one! Get it equipped exactly how you want it. Completely painless, and if you are spending $40-60K on a car, what’s the rush?

        Why do typical Americans need the car RIGHT NOW!? I ordered my 3-series, with manual transmission of course, in February for an end of July European Delivery, but they could have gotten it to me in six weeks for a regular US delivery. Sold the Saab it replaced in April, and bought a $1200 beater Volvo to get me through the summer.

        I do agree with you on the steering, it is a bit too light and feel-free on the F-cars. I have to hope that BMW sorts this out, because I LOVE the look of the F31, and it is usefully larger than my e91.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        “They found the F30 steering much duller than my E90…”

        Just wondering why you don’t steer them in the direction of a CPO E90?

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      Turning radius is not entirely reliant on which wheels are driven. While some large-engined FWD cars have ridiculous turning radii, some rear-wheel drive cars do, too.

      In non-performance driving, there’s very little on offer from RWD except the lack of torque steer. Most road-going Bimmers are tuned to understeer just as badly as their FWD and AWD competitors, which means that there’s very little in the way of differentiation between them and Audis or Volvos in terms of driving dynamics below the limit.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      CelticPete…

      Most casual drivers can’t tell FWD from RWD. Please note my quote of Reithofer’s survey results above. And Vicki Butler-Henderson has concluded much the same for “tootling” around town:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdiF-BxPSH0 **

      Otherwise, I agree with you. I certainly can tell a FWD vs RWD car almost immediately, but it does often require a bit of “spirited” driving to confirm it: there are differences in vehicle weight balance; steering “cleanliness” (even aside from torque-steer); traction behavior; cornering ability; stopping distances; and so on.

      I must confess that I may be one of the RWD fanatics: I own 4 vehicles, and all have RWD with manual transmissions — it’s all just too ingrained from childhood. Can’t live without it, even when going shopping! (^_^)… (No, I don’t do “donuts” in the parking lot!)

      **BTW: For those who have not seen it, this video does provide, in addition to the “tootling” comment, a good road-test comparison of RWD vs FWD vs AWD, done by some very simple experiments.

      ———–

      • 0 avatar
        CelticPete

        I agree that people will likely guess wrong if you don’t teach em what to look for. But the RWD cars will be a more satisfying experience even for non-enthusiasts. The argument is that because of the balanced platform and the mechanical advantages the RWD is more likely to give the driver a more ‘sensual’ experience. In short a RWD car will feel BETTER.

        I feel this way because much to my SURPRISE I felt that RWD cars are better to drive.. I am not track experienced driver unless you count video games..

        I think its just like how a IPS monitor will LOOK better then a TN monitor. I doubt that anyone can tell them apart very easily without knowing what to look for. But I’d bet the satifisfaction of IPS monitor users is generally higher.

        Basically if more people drove RWD cars (especially with manual transmissions) on less crowded roads – they would like driving a whole lot more..

        The fact that a modern CVT accord can be made to handle much better then an older RWD car isn’t that important. BMW made RWD cars because they made the experience of driving more enjoyable.

        Its very clear to me at least that the easiest car to drive at extra legal speeds is actually an AWD car. It’s not particularly fun though..

        I don’t really think BWM should get in the business of making unfun cars. I don’t really see the point for them. And yes an X5 is kinda fun..heavy or not.

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        How fun a car is to drive is entirely up to the manufacturer. Rear wheel drive gives you the potential for fun, but if the manufacturer doesn’t give two hoots about driving fun, then it’s wasted.

        I would much rather drive a front-wheel drive Mazda6 than a rear-wheel drive Genesis sedan any day of the week. And before the facelift, I felt that Mazda had gotten the steering more right on the Mazda6 than the NC MX-5. Yes… that’s right, the front-driver had better steering… even though the balance wasn’t.

        But balance is also something that can be tuned as the manufacturer sees fit. For the life of me, I cannot see why one would buy a non-turbo 1-series over a MINI. The MINI steers just as well, is just as much fun on a winding road, and is just as chuckable. Both are tuned to understeer rather than over, and both can be made to oversteer, if you so desire. About the only time you’ll feel any benefit out of purchasing the 1 over the MINI is when bombing through a tight sweeper balanced on the throttle. At anything below 10/10ths, there’s little difference.

        Again, absent of a performance model with more torque than tires, there’s no real reason or need for rear-wheel drive in a modern car that will never see the backside of a racetrack.

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    This is disturbing. After all those years of Mazda trying to do BMW it seems the tables have turned. This looks like the next gen Mazda 3 with that stupid grin wiped off of its face. Hope it handles as well as the 3.

  • avatar
    Ibizaguy

    Is it me or this car looks like the Mercedes Benz B-class??? (save the grille)

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I’ll wait for the GranCoupe version of this crossover in the hopes it will eliminate rear headroom and allow me to spend more money.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Make it a conventional 4-cyl FWD sedan with a CVT and I’m in.

  • avatar
    jglucker

    I wouldn’t be shocked if the average (new) BMW owner even cared which wheels drove the car.

  • avatar
    Freddy M

    Well you go where the money is – or where the winds of popularity are blowing. In this case BMW is trying to tap into a market they’ve never been before and with a small city car, RWD doesn’t make a whole lot of sense I suppose.

    I think we’ve heard countless times before “this new approach is not an ‘X’ brand car.” Time will tell if the BMW RWD Vanguard will be able to one day look at this as a failure, or if indeed this does herald the new direction for BMW of the future.

    But that future looks more and more like a Mercedes tap into all markets model. First the M-badge everything approach like AMG, and now this A-Class competitor.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s like what they said about Panamera, too.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Freddy M, stuki, Beerboy12, skotastic, Dan, and oldyak…

      Yup. I agree. See my comments to D C Bruce above, along the same lines of thought. If BMW can do the “Porsche trick” of preserving brand image WHILE using MB’s “tap-into-all-markets” strategy, then so much the better for BMW RWD enthusiasts. In other words, I don’t care if they have to sell windmills to make money, as long as I can still get BMW / RWD / Manual transmission / sports suspension / ICE purity. And frankly, RunFlat tires** have improved a lot: my Continental’s are no problem at all on the 325i, and the Bridgestone Potenza’s on my Z4 are a delight.

      ** We all had better get used to RF’s: they will be the future of all tires eventually, for better or worse.

      ———–

      • 0 avatar
        Freddy M

        Nail on the head. Let’s hope that BMW follows along Porsche’s lead about maintaining the purity of the core product despite the extra curricular stuff (although that has come in question with the electric steering in the new 911)

        About your comments way above about not letting these cash cows overshadow the brand image, here in Canada Acura has always been struggling, much more so than in the states. So even though we had all the offerings the US did, they felt they needed a cash generator and econo offering to get people in the showrooms.

        People deride the ILX but I feel it’s a handsome and nice car compared to Canada’s CSX and EL which were LITERALLY Civics with a bit of lipstick. I don’t know how much damage it has done to the Acura brand here to see two Civics at a stoplight, one with a Honda badge and one Acura. Well I for once certainly noticed but I’m an enthusiast.

  • avatar
    stuki

    What is a BMW has expanded greatly over the years. In my formative years, BMW were well handling, well riding, good visibility I6 cars with RWD. A bit smaller, a bit sportier, a bit lighter, a bit less luxurious, a bit less expensive than MBs.

    Now, they’re much more heterogenous. Still nice cars in may ways (NOT the runflats), but hardly as distinctive anymore.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    What surprises me is how long it took BMW to do this. The have to be THE only main stream manufacturer that does not have a FWD model.
    This has to be a better idea than the 1 series anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      They are not mainstream, and that’s the point. VW, GM, etc have multiple brands to cover the spectrum of price points in all markets. BMW is a small independent by contrast. What good has chasing volume done for GM profitability lately? It worked in the last century, now, not so much.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        nikita…

        Please see my brand image and cash-cow comments above.

        The only benefit I can think of, for smaller makers like Porsche and BMW that strive to expand product-line offerings, is cash generation that allows them to do what they really want to do. In a goofy way, it reminds me of Enzo Ferraris’ comment decades ago that he did not really care about retail sales, except that it supported his racing program, which is what he really wanted to do!.

        ——-

  • avatar
    skotastic

    As Stuki says above, BMW made its mark in the USA with the 2002 – quick, great fun to drive, practical, and reliable. Saving rust, a well maintained 2002 was capable of giving many years of loyal service. Word of mouth spread that BMWs were actually good cars.

    The model continued into the late 1980s. The 90s continued this trend of well built but sporting premium car, but the pendulum began to swing increasingly towards luxury and electronics.

    BMW of today, and othe last decade, have little to do with this model of sporting 3/5/7 series saloons, nor are they cars you could own for 20+ years. Yes you can still buy sporting saloons, but that’s just one piece of the pie.

    My point is that the BMW of the 60s-80s is a closed book. BMW of today is a completely different entity. I’ve probably owned more BMWs than anyone posting and still own a Bavaria, and I no longer share a sense of brand loyalty.

    Judge this new BMW on its own merits, not on the merits of what we think a BMW is supposed to be c.1987.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      No car exists in a vacuum, the badge means something.

      The rondel hasn’t meant E39s much less 2002s lately. But it doesn’t – or didn’t until now – mean Focus looking eco hatchbacks either.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    Why all the BMW bashing?
    I drive 2 BMW`s and though they are older cars(2000M roadster,1997 740iL) I still find them to be well put together and very entertaining to drive.
    If BMW has elected to make this vehicle front wheel drive i`m sure there is a good reason for it!
    Love em or hate em they really do make great cars and I feel lucky to be able to own one of them and the buyer of this car will feel the same.

  • avatar
    AKM

    This car caters to the 80% (got that from a french car mag) of BMW drivers who don’t know whether the front weel or rear wheels propel the car. I have actual examples of people who don’t know: guys who thought the an 328xi was FWD, and who thought that was the way, uh, forward.

    So, yes, it IS a BMW: Buy Moronic Wheels.

    Nothing against bimmers per se, more something against people who buy them for the badge as opposed to the driving dynamics

  • avatar
    GiddyHitch

    If they make it drive like a Mini, all will be forgiven. If not, kill it with fire.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    It’s the MINI for folks who insist on a luxury badge and/or can’t stomach the MINI interior. As for real BMWs, they’ve been regulated and mass marketed out of existence. Since Infiniti reversed course on FWD offerings after a relatively short time, it can be taken for granted that BMW is feeling the pressure to offer FWD to survive in the long run. RWD is just not as efficient.

    • 0 avatar
      CelticPete

      This is the bean counter argument. Hey people can’t tell – we can make an extra buck selling cheaper shit for the same price.

      But there are two basic issues with it..

      1) I think most people CAN tell. They just think that BMW drives better they don’t know WHY it does.

      2) The people that can tell will tell other people. Hey Danica what do you think of my new car? Eh – that FWD thing – I guess its just as good as a Honda.

      So you run the risk of diluting your brand. That’s a big deal when your tagline is the ultimate driving machine. It’s not ‘hey this car feels slighly perkier then all the other appliances because of the stiffer shocks.’

      The ultimate driving machine is RWD or rear biased AWD (if it has alot of power). The ultimate driving machine cannot be FWD.

      Think about other industries – should Leica start making crap lenses because most people can’t tell them from a Tamron? Should B&W start selling cheap speakers at target because most people can’t tell the difference between proper bass and boomy crap?

      Hell no. Same goes for BMW..

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        CelticPete….

        All things considered, it certainly would not be my best desire to see FWD anywhere near the BMW image. But economics are as they are. And you have hit a key issue with their marketing slogan, “The Ultimate Driving Machine”. (Which I never liked – reeks of triumphalism: “Freud am Fahren” (Joy in Driving) in the original German was far more modest and flexible. Besides, of all small road cars, would not Porsche realistically be the “ultimate” driving machine?)

        But, given that BMW is going to stay with “ultimate”, can they parlay that into the Ultimate FWD Driving Machine, in the MINI sense? Can they advertise that concept as something applicable to FWD? After all, for the past several years, how can the BMW X3 and X5 be “ultimate” driving machines since they are SUV’s? ANS: those vehicles do surprisingly well in cornering and handling despite their bulk, and everyone seems to understand that within the paradigm of SUV-vehilces, they are “ultimate” by comparison, — except perhaps for the Porsche Cayenne!)

        So, maybe BMW can come up with something that is more than “just as good as a Honda”, and beats the VW GTI hot hatch as well…who knows? (BTW: as far as “ultimate ” goes, I think it’s commonly recognized that the GTI may be at or near the top of of the hot hatch pecking order: correct me if that is wrong, so beating the GTI would be a tall order. Or, sadly, maybe BMW is going to give up “ultimate” in reality, and not even try.)

        ———–

    • 0 avatar
      Strippo

      It’s not about bean counting. It’s about CAFE now and in the future. The purest way to reduce energy consumption is to tax it and to let the market decide what to do about it. That in itself would be a slight problem for BMW, but when governments decide to manipulate supply instead, it puts undiversified, performance-oriented automakers at risk. It is what it is.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Strippo…

        What is the difference between manipulating a reduction in fuel consumption by taxing fuels, or manipulating a reduction in fuel consumption by artificially restricting fuel supply?

        As long as “governments” have any control over economic factors, there is no “purity”. Let the markets decide, period. That is economic purity. If somebody wants a gas-guzzler car and can pay for it, that’s his business. If we as a planet have a billion cars that guzzle, and begin to run out of petroleum as a result, then the price will go up automatically, other fuel sources become viable, and civilization moves on.

        One day, when we are on the hydrogen economy 100-200 years from now (or whenever), we will look back on the carefree and quaint petroleum era with a sense of the nostalgic past, and wonder why we didn’t use more oil to produce polymers and pharmaceuticals. But that is the nature of free enterprise, among nations as well as individuals.

        ———

      • 0 avatar
        Strippo

        Not fuel supply. Automotive choice. You can buy any car you want as long as it gets 60 mpg. That’s where we’re headed. Because it’s not a tax. Taxes are bad. Taxes get you voted out of office. But promising 100 mpg cars is enlightened leadership.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    The ultimate commuter car for the Boston commute. My work wheels is a Transit Connect. I much prefer it to the previous E 150 Super Duty. It does like cruising the 2 lanes better than the inter states. As wimpy as it is it has a noticeable torque steer. Just a cube on wheels.

    I am an old fart, I have no trouble giving up a luxo barge, V 8, 4×4, but I’ll be driving RWD cars as long as I can find them. My old BMWs love the twisties. A throttle cable, worm and ball steering, 70 series tires. Road feel. An enthusiasts car.


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