By on November 29, 2013

550x403xbmwrabbit-550x403.jpg.pagespeed.ic.E4xoO7LgdX

Buried in an article about the East-West schism between wagons and BMW’s ungainly Gran Turismo series of pseudo-crossovers was a bit of news destined to horrify the BMW diehards that represent a slim but vocal minority of its customer base. Despite indications that it would not be appearing on our shores, BMW will in fact be launching a front-drive car in North America, as per Automotive News Europe

Next year, BMW will add a minivan-styled compact model targeted at young families, sports enthusiasts who need space for their equipment and older buyers who like cars that are easy to get in and out of and have a high seating position. The minivan will be based on the Active Tourer concept and is set to debut in production guise at the Geneva auto show in March. Most likely it will be called the 2-series Active Tourer. It will be underpinned by BMW’s new UKL front-wheel-drive architecture that debuted this week on the third-generation Mini.

The two readers who regularly follow my byline (hi, Mom and Dad) will recall that just months ago, I penned an editorial defending BMW’s move towards front-wheel drive platforms. I still stand by that opinion, and the choice to do front-wheel drive is a rational one for BMW.

Having spent untold sums (likely billions) developing the front-drive UKL architecture, BMW needs to amortize the costs somehow. And with profitability and scale requirements being what they are in a highly competitive, globalized marketplace, BMW cannot confine UKL to the MINI brand alone.

Transverse, front-drive layouts make a lot of sense in terms of packaging and interior space. A car like the 1-Series is a prime candidate for this layout – in Europe, where it’s offered as a hatchback as well as a coupe, the north-south engine layout and rear-drive running gear eats up passenger and trunk space. And with the small, sporty coupe now being sold as the 2-Series, there is room for the 1-Series to become a front-drive, entry-level BMW that can compete with everything from the Ford Focus to the Volkswagen Golf to the Mercedes-Benz CLA. Ford, in particular, must be running scared at the prospect of a C-Segment BMW that will have a higher end (and comparably more profitable) Focus Titanium or Vignale in its sights.

But being a car enthusiast is not about the rational, the sensible or the profit and loss statement. I spend far too much time in these virtual pages wearing that particular hat. If you’d be so kind as to indulge me for a second, I’m going to remove it as I step up on to the soapbox.

*Begin rant*

Reading the description of the ActiveTourer, instantly conjures up two of the most noxious words in our modern lexicon: “lifestyle” and “brand”. Lifestyle, because this is clearly a “lifestyle” vehicle, targeted at people who like “outdoor” activities, young families who prioritize car seats over sports seats and older buyers who are looking for an easy ingress/egress.

I don’t begrudge any of these types. I like to get some fresh air once in a while, I hope to be blessed with a family at some point in the near (but not too near) future, and inevitably, I will grow old. I have watched my parents migrate from sedans to crossovers as they have gotten older, and my grandmother finds it much easier to get in and out of the Fit in the local Honda dealer than her 2000 Civic.

I’m even willing to concede that front-wheel drive is hardly an impediment to driving purity or outright performance. Look at a Volkswagen GTI or a Fiesta ST if you need proof. But the ActiveTourer’s stated mission flies in the face of that. This vehicle seems to represent the denouement for BMW’s journey from The Ultimate Driving Machine to The Ultimate Lifestyle Brand That Once Made Interesting Vehicles.

YouTube Preview Image

*End rant*

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

47 Comments on “Editorial: The Ultimate Touring Machine...”


  • avatar
    -Nate

    Oh boy ~ let the gnashing of teeth and alligator tears begin flowing .

    I remember when BMW decided to begin making water cooled Motos (‘Flying Bricks ‘) and the wailing from the Faithful was deafening .

    I’m an AirHead BMW Rider but I survived , so with the GearHeads , wait and see .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Brian P

    There is room in their model range for something like this. Honestly, whatever benefits front engine rear drive has, are likely not useful for the vast majority of people who buy BMWs.

    To further the point Nate makes about the bikes, the S1000R was inspired by the previous-generation Suzuki GSXR1000 and has plenty of stuff “wrong” to traditional BMW flat-twin buyers. (Chain drive? Gasp! Telescopic front forks without a link arm? The horror!) But there is no way that bike is taking away R1200GS sales. Two completely different market segments. Good on BMW for doing it.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Sure, why not?

    I’m throwing my hands up at the whole notion of brand equity, but I couldn’t care less right now — it’s the norm. Around 12 years ago, I was fresh out of grad school with a concentration in marketing (because it’s what I enjoyed). A year into working for an ad agency, I walked away and circuitously into finance, which is hardly exciting but it pays the bills. Branding was almost always a sham, and it’s far too easy to just give up in chasing the almighty dollar. And there’s nothing wrong with that — it’s about how quickly you want to get paid!

    A decade ago, Subway restaurants had 2 kinds of bread and a choice of about 15 cold sandwiches. And they were doing great. Now they have 6+ kinds of bread, probably 30 sandwiches, plus salads and pizzas and probably a bunch of other stuff I don’t even recognize. Instead of getting better at what they already did, they chase competitors like Quiznos and Schlotsky’s in an effort to become everything to everyone. Both of those competitors have been flirting with bankruptcy and closing stores left and right. But nobody in management could have predicted that because the pressure from the board is “how is this quarter going to look?” I walked into a normally-crowded Subway about a week ago and it was dead at lunchtime. The staff mentioned the broken oven, and how hot sandwiches are 90% of their sales. Customers have been weaned onto this trend to the degree that they won’t even consider the Subway from 10 years ago.

    Fast forward to today when the local food and slow food movements are starting to solidify, a “simply Subway” that had followed the real trends would be far more successful AND have more streamlined inventory management, demand planning, and all the related stuff.

    I’m always interested in new minivans, honestly — there is no better use of a vehicle’s footprint for interior space and flexibility. I’m curious to see what they’ll do with this, but I’ll never, ever, ever consider this “a real BMW” any more than the Macan is “a real Porsche.” But Caterham and Lotus aren’t making minivans yet.

    • 0 avatar

      Saturn did the same damn thing as Subway, going from one basic model that was really cool to 4-5, and selling fewer units with lots of models than they had sold with one.

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/the-truth-about-saturn/

  • avatar

    Great article, Derek. I agree on all counts.

    FWD just makes too much sense, especially, but not only, for small cars. As has been proven over and over and over again, a FWD car can be a very sporty car while giving superior packaging options. As is, RWD is almost an affectation.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      For cars that can do the quarter mile in under 14 seconds, RWD (or AWD) starts making a lot of sense.

      FWD with that much power just leads to torque steer.

      This is why the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro are still RWD.

  • avatar
    carguy

    There is no direct correlation between FWD and RWD layouts and driving enjoyment. The FWD MIni is already more fun to drive than a RWD 5 series so why not leverage the FWD packaging advantages for smaller car aimed at a demographic that isn’t interested in power slides?

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I agree with you, but BMW built their brand on the image above. Derek is more irriated by the “Active Lifestyle” marketing. The GTI, MazdaSpeed 3, Focus ST, and Cooper S are all fun to drive FWD cars. If BMW ends up with a BMW version of the Mini, I’m sure they will sell a bunch.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      For a car with a short wheelbase with decent balance, sure.

      But as a lifelong FWDriver in the southern half of the country, the grass seems a lot greener to me on the RWD side of the fence. Less crowded engine/tranny, inherently better balance, no f*cking CV boots and joints to worry about replacing, more predictable tire wear, better traction from a stop, etc. These are all things I’ve watched RWD-owning family members and friends not have to think much about. You give up a little bit of interior space and fuel economy, but I’m not too concerned — Mercedes can easily give us 28+ mpg from a big, heavy, RWD 300hp E-Class with a V6 that’s very nearly mounted in the middle. It’s an impressive feat, IMO.

      • 0 avatar
        joeveto3

        As someone living in the Midwest, subject to here-and-there snowstorms, the grass is a lot greener on the RWD side of the fence.

        The points you made are more than valid. Now add to it a set of snow tires and amazing winter handling (i.e. fun and predictable) and the argument becomes that much stronger.

        And let us not forget steering feel and feedback something hard to obtain with Front-wheel-drive.

        I don’t spend nights hoping all cars move to RWD. I just want an automaker or two to preserve this for those of us who appreciate the benefits of the layout (and manual transmissions).

        Historically, BMW has done this best, rear wheel drive, balanced chassis, amazing steering responses. The thought of them moving away from what made them great for so many decades saddens me. In the past few years, every test I’ve read of BMW indicates they care much, much less about the fundamentals that made them great.

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          With everyone moving to electric-assist steering, I’m not sure how much RWD can help there anymore.

          Even BMW’s latest RWD cars with EPS are criticized for lack of steering feel. I have no idea if it is that bad, or just relative to the company’s previously high bar for steering feel.

          • 0 avatar
            tjh8402

            @ burgersandbeer it is that bad. Having driven all 3, I’d say a new Ford Fusion has better steering feel than the F10 and probably F30 (I only went for a spin around the block in that vs spending a good amount of time in the Fusion and the F10).

        • 0 avatar
          Sam P

          As a BMW owner, the American muscle cars seem to preserve most of the virtues that BMWs were once known for.

          As a bonus, they actually handle now; unlike in the past.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Brand is everything I guess. Even if something like the Lincoln MkC is better than the BMW 2series ActiveTouring M Hybrid Xi, it won’t matter. They’ll sell as many as they can ship over. Then they’ll make them in Mexico like Audi and Mercedes.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    To me ,a ” Mini Van ” will always be my old 1954 VW Typ II wheezing & clattering it’s way across American time after time .

    I had a ’71 (IIRC) Peugeot 504 FWD wagon , it plowed terribly in the canyons and nearly went off the road a few times when I pressed it to go as fast as any old VW Beetle , this soured me on FWD’s until I bought an ’82 VW Rabbit Convertible , it’s was a rebuilt wreck and an open car so it didn’t handle really well but it went round the canyons just fine .

    I know the new Beemers are find and dandy , be they water cooled , oil heads or even Rotax powered but I’ll keep my vintage air cooled /5′s thankyouverymuch =8-) .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Whenever I see an old VW van it reminds me of the desert southwest or Libyan terrorists from Back to the Future. We I lived out west, I couldn’t believe how many old VWs were running around Sourthern Arizona.

    • 0 avatar
      92golf

      I’ve always thought the Peugeot 504 was a rear-wheel drive vehicle. That part of your comment jumped out at me.

      • 0 avatar
        993cc

        The 504 was rear wheel drive, with a solid live worm gear axle suspended by two springs per side on the wagon. That being said, they were front heavy, and none too powerful, so may have plowed severely anyway, but I don’t know, having never driven one that wasn’t beaten to beyond beater status, or a pickup, or both.

        The 304 of the same era was front wheel drive but very rare in North America, the wagon even more so.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          EEP ;

          Let me pull my feet out of my mouth here…..

          I should know better , I barely registered the car as it was a gift from my Step Mother after it got rear ended and the Peugeot Dealer said no tailgates were available for repairs .

          I had it a week or two , it plowed *so* badly in the tight bits I nearly wrecked it and gave it away as it had _zero_ resale value .

          I actually worked in an indie Peugeot Garage for a while , those were all older , 304′s & so on .

          I plead stupidity ! .

          I really enjoy the wide variety of comments here , I have decades of training and experience but I learn more here than anywhere else .

          -Nate

  • avatar
    mypoint02

    I don’t have a problem with the Active Tourer or whatever it’s going to be called. There’s probably room in their lineup for this and it’d probably do well if they gave it the 1 series moniker. It’s the rest of the lineup that has me frustrated. Driving an E46 or an E39 makes me long for the days when they were still available new. Those were the last true driver oriented sport sedans that they made. The F30 and F10 are soft luxury cars for the housewife and poser set. There’s nothing special about them anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Cadillac has an ATS for you.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      “Driving an E46 or an E39 makes me long for the days when they were still available new.”

      Ditto on the “still available new” (or almost new) part. The E46s and especially the E39s are mostly all falling apart now. The monthly payment on my GLI is lower than the average monthly cost of keeping my former 540i running and not spewing fluids onto my garage floor.

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        @segfault – I can’t speak for the e39s, but the e46s are definitely not falling apart now. Mine has almost 130k miles on it, is my daily driver, and in 2 years of ownership, I definitely would’ve spent more on payments on the new Mazda 3s or Ford Focus’s I was looking at then I’ve spent on repairs on my car. has it required repairs? yes absolutely, but mostly small quirks like power window regulators, clutch safety switch, and the DISA valve.* All of these have been annoyances more than anything, with the clutch safety switch being the only thing that threatened to leave me stranded, and nothing that would cause the car to start resembling my old Infiniti I30 exxon valdez edition. Everything inside and out is good and tight too.

        *I’m excluding two issues that were my fault – the car overheated due to a thermostat I knew was bad but had not gotten around to replacing, and I had to replace the, um, engine…grabbed the wrong gear on a downshift and overreved it…while on track at Sebring International Raceway…yeah, that one hurt.

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          I think segfault is right that at the very least, it is difficult to find E46s and especially E39s in good shape. E46 is doable, but considering the newest E39 is now 11 model years old, you have your work cut out for you if you want a manual/sport package (as I suspect anybody on TTAC still talking about those models would, or at least the sport package).

          • 0 avatar
            tjh8402

            @burgersandbeer – I’d agree with them being difficult to find. I had a hard time finding any manual sport package e46s in any condition and after several months of searching, ended up having to drive 250 miles to Miami to find a stock manual transmission zhp performance package in good shape with good maintenance history. I also didn’t get a deal…I paid the asking price which was it’s NADA value. That being said, they are out there.

          • 0 avatar
            Sam P

            I have a manual 330i with the sport package in good shape.

            Needless to say, I’m not getting rid of it any time soon.

            The only thing that might tempt me would be an AWD 2009+ E90 328i with the 6-speed manual & sport package. There’s one at the Carmax in Salt Lake City if anyone is interested, fwiw.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            @ Sam P

            “I have a manual 330i with the sport package in good shape.

            Needless to say, I’m not getting rid of it any time soon.”

            And that is exactly the problem with finding a nice example. Very few people that have done the work to keep one of these cars in good shape turn around and sell them.

            Sometimes it happens with the E46 since growing families would require a larger car, but it is rare. Even rarer with the E39.

          • 0 avatar
            Sam P

            BMWCCA classifieds are probably the best place to look.

            https://www.bmwcca.org/classifieds/listings.php

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            Clean cars on the BMWCCA pages, but most are hilariously overpriced.

            There is something to be said for buying in better condition, but you can repair a lot for the premiums they ask.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Amongst other vehicles, we have a Toyota Sienna AWD minivan. It is the only vehicle that is not a ginormous SUV that works on the numerous winter ski trips we take every year.

    I would buy an identically sized BMW version tomorrow, but likely not a small, 2-sized version.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    So much fail in that statement by BMW. Reminds me of Jacks article about Porsche whoring itself out.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Hasn’t anyone here gotten stuck behind a BMW in a turn, recently? The people driving the cars these days cant’t drive worth a Deutch mark anymore. Their driving chops seem to limited to 20mph to 40mph squishes at the throttle and rolling STOP signs. Just brand whores. At least they’re easy to spot, even in the near ubiquitous grey. Awesome

    Bring on the deluge. I’m done now

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I don’t tend to have issues with BMW drivers—or Prius drivers, for that matter. But I get all sorts of hell from muscle-car and pickup-truck drivers, who love tailgate me for not going 60 MPH in a 45, and who bully their way into occupied lanes.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    Well, it was inevitable so no tears on my part. But if I was in the market for a front wheel drive mini-minivan (I am), I wouldn’t be considering a BMW in the first place. I could get a much better example of this type of car from somewhere “downmarket” that was better equipped and better to run for much less. And then I can save up for a used Miata/BRZ/FR-S/IDX (whenever that arrives).

    There is virtue in sticking to one’s branding and niche, in that the gross may be smaller, but the market segment stays more loyal. There’s only so many full-line competitors who can survive…

  • avatar
    stingray65

    BMW engineers can do FWD very well as the Mini and Rover 75 prove, but the danger of front-drive BMW branded cars is that it will create temptations in the future. Pretty soon market research will show that most 3/4 series buyers cannot tell the difference between FWD and RWD, and the finance staff will say that sharing the FWD 1 series platform with the 3/4 series will save boatloads of money, so a future generation 3/4 will become FWD with highly touted advantages in space efficiency. Of course with the high volume 1,3,4 series using FWD, the finance people will question the wisdom of keeping inline 6 cylinder engines in the lineup, and the announcement will be made that turbo inline 3 and 4 cylinders are replacing the inline 6 to achieve better fuel economy. And on it will go…

  • avatar
    smartascii

    It doesn’t matter which end drives the car. It matters whether the end result is satisfying. I’ve probably commented to this effect elsewhere on this site, but last month, I went out in search of a new car, and the 3-series was high on my list. I considered cheaper options, too, and looked at the GTI, Fiesta ST, 500 Abarth, etc. The 2013/14 3-series has absolutely no redeeming qualities that justify its 5-figure premium over, say, the GTI. The fit/finish and material/build quality are not noticeably better. The driving experience is fine, but not outstanding. The 2-liter turbo is clearly a 4-cylinder, with the attendant courseness at high revs, and the 3-liter is more power that I can enjoyably use without going to jail. The steering changes directions, but doesn’t tell you what’s going on when it does. What WAS better, and ultimately got my money, was the 2011 3-series. So sure. Build a minivan. BMW has obviously stopped trying to build what made their reputation to begin with.

  • avatar
    z9

    I have become a fan of this car configuration. Sitting up high is relaxing, comfortable, and engaging. A few extra inches in height do not have to destroy all driving dynamics. I believe BMW can make an MPV or whatever they’re called a perfectly fun car, because other cars in this segment are already quite fun within the context in which they were intended to be driven. While I might go more miles on a highway, I feel as if I spend more of my life driving under 30 miles per hour in conditions where I appreciate a good view of my surroundings. The 3-series is a car for people who have to commute. Alone.

    I don’t commute and if I ever do end up commuting again, I will be taking public transportation. The non-commuter — the person whose main focus with their car is errands, recreation, taking kids to school etc. — maybe that’s a lifestyle in need of a brand. Or maybe it’s just a new market reality. I enjoyed my 3-series when driving it, but I wanted to strangle the person responsible for the ordeal of getting a car seat into and out of the back seat. It’s not that hard to design a car door that opens close to 90 degrees.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Well, as you can tell from my avatar, I am/was a BMW fan.

    I have a 2006 325i and a 2007 Z4 3.0si. But those are the end of the BMW line for me.
    Yes, perfect weight distribution, great cornering/handling, good design, reasonable quality.
    BUT: expensive to buy and own (maintenance costs are atrocious*), medium reliability, and rapid depreciation.

    And Norbert Reithofer’s survey of the German driving public showed that 80% of BMW owners couldn’t tell which wheels were doing the driving anyway…so, if THEY don’t know/care anymore, that could not bode well. Might as well make them all FWD, and compete with Lexus’s, Acura’s, Accord’s and Camry’s, and be done with it. (Maybe Mercedes is really onto something with their new CLA….)

    Frankly, the 2006 325i lacks good low-end torque for traffic use (a Civic can beat it to the next light); and neither car has really touchy/tactile steering any more. The 325i is just a nice sedan; the Z4 is more of GT touring car, and not a sports car. So, the decline really started somewhere in the early 2000′s, —perhaps the E46 versions (and their relatives) were the last “good” ones; and the E85′s, E90′s, and all F versions (and above) were/are the beginning of the end.

    Still in search of acoustical, tactile, sensory input, I finally found something lively and zippy: a 2007 Jeep Wrangler “X” (2 door): Great seating position; great visibility; go-anywhere 4WD (winter snows and mud become a non-issue); very low depreciation; inexpensive routine maintenance. Yes, it has a noisy, choppy ride, and driving it from Chicago to LA would NOT be my first choice!
    But, most of all, its FUN. And, even though I’ve had less than month, a guy pulled up next to me at a traffic light, and said, “I’ll give you $1000 more than you paid for that Jeep, right now!” Made my day.
    (No, I didn’t take him up on the offer….)

    Something that many folks do not know is that Enzo Ferrari, in his visit to America (late 70′s or early 80′s), stated that the Jeep was America’s only true sports car. (The Corvette was going through the doldrums era, as were most cars suffering with pollution controls.)

    So, if all BMW’s go FWD? I don’t care. They already threw in the towel years ago, so why should it matter?

    …….. _ ____
    …” /l ,,[____], ”
    …… l–L–olllllllo
    …… ()_) ()_)—)_)
    ========================

    * The electronic steering column on my 2006 just failed: a $950 replacement (ouch!). I am beginning to think that “BMW” stands for “Bring Massive Wallet”…

    —————————-

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      “The electronic steering column on my 2006 just failed: a $950 replacement (ouch!). I am beginning to think that “BMW” stands for “Bring Massive Wallet”…”

      That’s why I bought a 330i with old school hydraulic power steering.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    @ Sam P

    Because the power steering pump and hoses would never fail, right? :-)

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      Much less likely to fail than the electric system on the Z4. Links for your reading pleasure.

      There was even an NHTSA investigation into this issue; didn’t see anything like that for the power steering on the regular 3 series :)

      http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/showthread.php?t=466461

      http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/showthread.php?t=536884

      https://www.bmwcca.org/forum/index.php?threads/sticking-steering-unsolved-mystery.5921/

      http://www.zpost.com/forums/showthread.php?t=591475

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Yikes. I thought at least half the point of switching to electric was reducing complexity and hopefully improving reliability.

        It’s true that it isn’t a common trouble spot on the E46. I did have to replace the pump and most of the hoses on my 540 though. Leaking hoses were at least a common problem on those. An X5 3.0 that I babysit also had a leaking PS hose. They certainly don’t cost $900 though.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India