By on March 23, 2010

Debates over the relative values of front-, rear- and all-wheel-drive have raged for as long as automotive enthusiasm has existed, and after decades of argument, the only thing that anyone seems to agree on is that the the drive wheels matter. But do they? According to Automotive News Europe [sub]’s Luca Ciferri,

More proof that customers don’t care about the difference between rwd and fwd came last week when BMW revealed that 80 percent of its 1-series owners believe the car is fwd

Ciferri wrote this in the “blog” section of the Automotive News [sub] website, and didn’t link to any sources to back his claim up. Meanwhile, a search of German news sources has failed to pull up stories that link to a source other than Ciferri’s blog post. Though Ciferri is a respected auto journalist, and we hesitate to accuse him of making this stuff up, there’s a definite chance that this study isn’t all that it seems. After all, Ciferri cites BMW’s research at a time when the Bavarians are developing the first ever FWD car to carry the famed BMW roundel. Though we don’t doubt that many BMW 1-series buyers might not know which wheels drive their cars, the 80 percent number seems suspiciously high. Furthermore, Ciferri doesn’t indicate whether that statistic reflects global customers, European buyers, or the American market. Combined with BMW’s obvious incentives to de-stigmatize front wheel drive, these problems leave us little choice but to take Ciferri’s statistics with a hefty grain of salt.

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55 Comments on “Do 80 Percent of BMW 1 Series Drivers Really Think Their Cars Is FWD?...”

  • avatar

    It’s believable. The 1-series is a BMW for people who want to say they have a BMW.

  • avatar
    Facebook User

    blah blah blah a bunch of words….that video was awesome! BMW should attack the perception by releasing a commercial like that

  • avatar

    48.6% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    I can believe it. Most buyers don’t know or care.

    And for the BMW, anyone buying a 1 series is buying it because “its a BMW”, not for the performance, because lets face it, the 3 series is a far better car for only a scant amount more money: the 3 coupe is a fair bit bigger, no slower, no different fuel economy, and less than 100 lbs heavier.

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      I have an 1-series because it combines hatchback versatility with RWD driving dynamics. Not because “It’s a BMW”.
      If I wanted a 3-series, I’d have one. I like the E81 better, and as you already said it’s almost the same money for almost the same car, because what the 1-series really is is a short wheelbase 3-series with different styling.

    • 0 avatar

      …and equally equipped about $10k more expensive. A $40k 1-series = a $50k 3-series. A $32k 1-series = a $42k 3-series.

      But you can unequally configure them to seem like they are comparably priced.

  • avatar

    This hatch looks sooooo much better than the coupe that they decided to sell us here in NA.

    If they had imported this version, it might have had a reason to exist alongside the 3 series.

  • avatar

    Think the cameraman got a bit nervous at times?

  • avatar

    Maybe in Europe, where the 1 series offers some more sensible choices for families and such, but I doubt many people would spring for a 135i without specifically being interested in the performance. As others have said, its not much cheaper than a 3 series.

    The 135i is simply amazing, performance wise. I know the looks get a lot of flak from haters on the internet, but after driving both the 135i and the 335i back to back, the latter felt like navigating a barge around town. Its not a 2002, safety regs insure that there will never be another 2002, but it is the smallest, fastest, most exhileratingly fun car I’ve driven besides maybe the 20k more expensive Cayman. IIRC, though, the 135i beat the Cayman around the track.

    • 0 avatar

      I second this opinion. I went to a BMW event about a year ago where I got to drive a 135, an M3, an Alpina B7, and a Z4. My own car is an E36 M3 and I’ve spent a good bit of time in my brother-in-law’s M5. I’ll tell you that the 135 is my favorite to drive of all of the above, by far. Unfortunately, I think it’s one of the ugliest cars on the road and I’ll never own one with the current design for that sole reaons.

  • avatar

    The 1 series is the red headed stepchild of the BMW family. An answer to a question that no one asked. I find the 80% figure a bit out of line though. As Maxwell Smart said : “would you believe 30%?”
    I have found that there are 2 kinds of BMW drivers: Those that know cars inside and out, and are respectful though fast drivers, and the real A$$wipes that just care about the Roundel and could not care less about other drivers. Sadly, the second group is getting larger. If BMW goes FWD then they have sold out. New slogan: The ultimate Mommy machine?

  • avatar

    I can certainly believe it. Face it, car enthusiasts are a small minority of the overall market. Most don’t care about the technical aspects of their cars.

    I remember my sister talking to me about buying a 3-series convertible “because they look nice.” When I mentioned that they are rear-wheel drive, she was shocked. She even questioned why they would do such a thing, since “front wheel drive is so much better.”

    I told her she didn’t deserve to drive a BMW.

    • 0 avatar

      LOL, it made me think of the time when I was about 15 and my sister was 12. She called me a name that is the same as a popular marital aid. I asked her if she knew what that meant. When she told me “No.” I made her look it up, she was quite shocked.

  • avatar

    While it’s easy to dismiss the 1 series as a BMW for people who don’t have the money for a real 3 series – in reality its not. For starters – its about the same money as a 3 series. The bare bones price looks good value but is stripped of all features including a sunroof – even a 128 coupe will set you back around $36K by the time you add some essential options. That said, the 1 series is a fun car even in in 128 guise and appeals to drivers who think they 3 series has grown too much.

    As for the 80% claim? I doubt it – those people have all bought Audi A3s.

  • avatar

    The 1-series drivers that I’ve seen look like they’d answer thus:

    “I, like, think my car is, like, front-wheel drive? Like, the steering wheel is in the front or whatever.”

  • avatar

    I’m surprised that 20% of the buyers actually cared. They’re probably the 20% that bought the 130i and 135i.

    It doesn’t really matter how nicely the 1-series handles… most people who buy them won’t care… just like most people who buy a Mini will never track them and most people who buy a Mustang won’t light up the rear tires at the stoplights.

    Nice driving… wonder if the guy bought the LSD package? (Because that’s the only way he’ll get to do that in the dry…) Too bad the lower-rung models don’t get a mechanical LSD… I’m particularly fond of the 2 liter diesel drivetrain.

    P.S.: I didn’t think I’d ever hear anyone bemoaning not getting the hatch… the rear seat room is terrible and the looks aren’t much better… the coupe is the only halfway pretty 1-series, and that’s because you have that nice roofline to distract you from the bulldog schnoz.

    P.S.2: 1-series an option because the 3-series too big: Would work if the 1-series wasn’t merely 90 pounds less than a 3-series of the same spec… which has a less flinty ride (which is part of the reason why the 1-series handles better), much more liveable rear seats, and actual, useable trunk space. Which is another reason why the coupe is a good idea… the hatchback just doesn’t make any sense as a five-door… not enough practicality for the weight. As a coupe, it loses that pretense and becomes more focused as a driver’s car.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    15 or so years ago, my next door neighbor bought a MB 300SE coming off lease, a very sweet car, one of the very few S-class cars, that I would be willing to drive. We were standing in the drive, talking about it, and I enthused about the straight 6, I am a huge straight 6 fan. He told me that it was a V8. So I said, pop the hood, which he did. I showed him the engine and made him count the spark plug wires.

    I convinced him he was better off with the 6 and he was happy.

    Moral of the story. 80% of everybody has no idea how their car works or what is in it.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    You can rely on BMW to bend the truth when they want to prove a marketing-derived point. There’s no way that 80% of 1-series owners would not know they’re RWD.

    In selected markets like the all-important European company car segment you might have a large majority of who-cares, but as soon as you’re talking about people who actually make an active decision to purchase their car, you’ll be way below that percentage.

    Anyway, what are they trying to say? That opinion leaders don’t count anymore? That BMW doesn’t need the approval of enthusiasts? That all you require is car clinics and other elements of market research? Oh, I understand.

    • 0 avatar

      If this statistic is real, it’s definitely from the European market. The 1 is an enthusiast’s choice in the US, but more of an upscale family car in Europe.

    • 0 avatar

      How the heck does the 1-Series get qualified as a family car? Assuming you’re a family of people with legs. The Yaris looks like a stretch limo by comparison.

      If you children are young enough to fit in the 1er’s rear seat, they will require a car seat, which barely fits in said seat (and will not fit at all if it’s rear-facing). After they grow past carseat age even they will whine about space.

      BMW is not stupid: they know they’re a small fish and they need to grow or be eaten. The market for people who appreciate the dynamics (and forgive the cost, space and fuel economy penalties) of RWD are thin on the ground. They will need to expand or die.

      Hey, maybe they could merge with Honda?

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      According to this BMW ad, rear wheel drive is kind of important.

  • avatar

    I once went to a caddy dealer with someone who was buying a new last gen CT-S.

    He thought it was FWD up until delivery.

    Not unusual.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Presume the car on Youtube is stolen. Behaving like a yahoo in a stolen car is a popular pastime in Europe.
    Can’t believe you only get the 6-cylinder 1-Series , I’ve only seen them in photos.For the first year or two after it was on sale , the only ones I saw were 116i rentals , but these days the 2-litre diesel is the one that sells.

  • avatar

    3 stories:

    Five years ago I drove on an icy incline (U.S. highway 50 from Carson to Tahoe) past a wildly skidding Mazda 626. Someone – either the driver or the roadside installer – installed the chains to front wheels. Until then I had no idea that 626 was an RWD and assumed that was just an equivalent of Camry.

    About two years ago I was shocked to discover that the big Caddy is actually an FWD. I mean… it’s big… really big… and it has a Northstar. How is it even possible?

    A week ago I was driving a rental Hyndai Sonata on Saddle Road in Hawaii and the rear stepped out. My first thought was that I made a major mistake assuming that Sonata was FWD, so I cooled it off for the reminder of the trip. At the time I forgot to look under the car. Now, Hyundai’s website is the worst abortion ever and I am unable to make sure, but most likely the 2010 Sonata is an FWD and Hyundai just cannot make cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Only the very first gen 626 (78-81) had RWD; all of them since are FWD. The odds of seeing a 626 that old are very low, but possible; I haven;t seen any in some time.

  • avatar

    I hate sunroofs. HATE HATE HATE HATE


    I love them. I bought a GTI rather than a WRX because I wanted a 6=speed, leather and a sunroof and subaru wouldn’t sell me a WRX the way I wanted it.

    • 0 avatar

      Two reasons:
      * One, he might be tall. I avoid sunroof-equipped vehicles because the mechanism steals previous headroom (1-2″). Once you pass 6’4″, every inch counts
      * Two, sunroofs are noisier.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem is, if seat more upright, I cannot fit. In the blasted Lexus, I need another 5 cm! It’s crazy. If I lean back, I have to lean back A LOT. So in most cars I cannot reach the wheel. If I can (e.g. in Infi G37), the neck soon starts aching real bad. Cannot move the seat forward either, because the knees hit the dash. You small guys just have no idea how much height sunroofs eat and what a disaster it is. Sunroofs lock me out of all sorts of good cars and I do not want to spend my life confined to an F-150.

    • 0 avatar

      Amen on the headroom loss. And why is telescopic steering not standard on every car? My hands ache after a while.

    • 0 avatar

      How tall are you? I’m 6’2″ and have never noticed a problem.

    • 0 avatar

      @ Pete Zaitcev:
      Sunroofs lock me out of all sorts of good cars and I do not want to spend my life confined to an F-150.

      + HATE^3.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree! A sunroof is the minimum I will accept in a vehicle, and I prefer roadsters… with a manual, RWD, and as many horses as they can stuff behind the seats.

  • avatar

    I’m with Martin Schwoerer. You will love the 1-series or hate it. Besides its handling merits this car is too ugly and too uncomfortable to appeal to mainstream buyers. Given the competition and the price tags of the 1-series it simply is unbelievable that 80% of the buyers shall not know or don’t care if the car has FWD or RWD. Such a car is bought for a reason, and this is certainly not “having a BMW”.
    BTW: Similar to the ugly BMW Z3 Coupe I like the certain awkwardness of the exterior design of the 1-series.. The ugliness is in the eye of the beholder, not in the eye of the driver.

  • avatar

    A 1-series hatchback in Europe has 4 doors and is considered a family hatchback. There is no excess space at all if you actually pack your family in due to RWD and a small boot.

    Truth is that there is a very strong reaction (positive / negative) to certain brands (BMW, porsche, buick) by people who know nothing about you. I’ve driven BMWs and I am no more of a ‘bastard’ than when I drive a Toyota. Stop rushing to judgment and let people be.

    When we’re honest 90% of driving doesn’t involve finding the apex, need perfect weight distribution or a stout inline 6 engine. We’re sold a dream of being Schumacher / Clive Owen or climbing the rubicon in a jeep. The sad truth is most of us need a box that is reasonably safe to commute from home to the grocery store to Initech. That’s it.

    If people want to pay 10-20k more for the dream or marketing, let them.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Actually, there are plenty of reasons to like the stock 1. It feels immensely solid. Its steering is fantastic. All controls are suitably snickety-snack. It’s a quiet cruiser. It’s commendably reliable and robust, long-term.

    I really enjoyed it when I tested it for TTAC and I still do, even though it has a porcine belly and a poor ride over secondary undulations.

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      All the crap about the trunk being microscopic and the rear seat being unusable must come from people who have never actually been in an 1. The 1-series hatch is nearly a foot shorter than a Mazda3 hatch, and guess what car has 10% more trunk space?

      Sure, the rear seat is tighter than, say, a Golf’s. But it’s not completely hopeless, if the guy in the front seat isn’t very tall. So not a big deal if you only need it 1-2 times a month.

      And sure, they are cars with a more comfortable ride. I don’t care, because the suspension setup and the steering make it so much fun on my daily commute.

      The porcine belly… getting a black one helps, and the 3-door looks a lot better than the 5-door.

      All things considered, after 20 months and 61,000 km in an 1-series, I’d just get the exact same car again if I crashed it tomorrow.

  • avatar

    @ ajla,

    So what does that make the X3?

    Oh I don’t know…. The red headed twin? The X3 isn’t so bad though since they softened the suspension. I never understood BMW and Porsche getting into SUV’s but I guess they could not resist the profit.Saw the X5M in the showroom the other day, sure looks mean with those wide rear tires but it’s just a toy for a guy that has more money than me.LOL

  • avatar

    1 series had no rear legroom

    but who cares if you get the 130i with 265hp and the ability to powerslide at will

  • avatar

    We drove a rental 1 Series hatch through France three years ago for a couple weeks, and my wife, who did all the driving (’cause she can’t navigate worth beans) never realized that it was RWD. She liked the car a lot, and liked the way it drove, but she would never trade in her AWD WRX wagon for one, not with the snows we’ve been having in PA recently.

  • avatar

    Ignorance is overcome by *education* -! (not by using ignorance as a marketing strategy for FWD vehicles!!)

    I’ve not driven a 1-series, but I believe it to be a worthwhile car, especially in a sea of crap automobiles. I’d love to have a 135i as a second vehicle (my daily is a Porsche).

    What I mean is, I don’t think BMW is properly advertising their vehicles. I don’t think they are even bothering to tell the public what a 1-series is or does. I can’t remember ever seeing a 1-series commercial. In fact, all I’ve seen lately are generalized BMW spring sales drive spots.

    Also, I did lease a 335i Coupe when they first came out, and I liked it very much. I can’t say much for the sales staff that I experienced, though, they did not seem knowledgeable at all IMO, and what’s worse, tried to play major price shenanigans with me at delivery. I developed a dim view of the sales staff at that dealer.

    However, I would trade my Porsche service dept for the BMW service people in a blink of the eye. They were beyond excellent, I actually enjoyed going there. Porsche-? Well I’ve had root canals that were more pleasant than my service experiences there. Thankfully, they are extremely few and far between. (The service visits, I mean!)

  • avatar

    @herb: a lot of people do actually buy the 1-series “because it’s a BMW”. While you don’t have them over in the US, a lot of 1’s that fly out of the door are 116i or 118i buyers… (and if you’re buying a 116i, you’re not buying it for excitement), or, as previously noted, the 120d (which is an excellently hoony little car and can be chipped for over 200 hp and 245 km/h)… these are being bought as family cars… and, since the interior room is pretty bad compared to the competition… they’re being bought as family cars on the strength of the badge. These are the same people who used to buy 316is and kit them out with M-Sport kits and 18″ wheels. (I know a couple). They’ve never driven a mountain road in their life, and the treads on those rubber-thin gumballs always look as good as new.

    Sucks for those owners who buy BMWs because they’re actually nice to drive… but even Porsche owners have to put up with being associated with aspirational badge-buyers.

    RE:BOOT:Mazda3: Yeah, but actual adults can fit in the back seat of the 3. I’ve taken enough taxi rides in the back of the 1-series and the Mini to know that I’d rather drive myself than thumb a ride in either of the cars. (the Mini Clubman is just about borderline acceptable, though…)

    I do so love driving both, though… and if you spec either with non-runflats, the ride goes from being harsh to satisfyingly firm. Neither car is an option for people with kids, but then, the market for either car in the USA tends more towards individualists than family men.

  • avatar


    All I know is that a friend of a friend has a previous generation 3-Series and I asked him if he had a stick or an automatic. He told me he has both, because he slide the transmission lever over into this little gate with a plus and minus sign and shift that way.


  • avatar

    i own a late model Carrera and still feel comfortable calling BMW owners the biggest internet jockeys on the face of the planet. While a lot of them do show up at drivers ed events and such most just spout crap on the internet. I sold my s4 that i had owned forever this month with the intention of buying a new b8 s4. This car serves as my daily driver and I’ve always thought the s4 is the ultimate daily driver. I am offered a company car but get paid not to drive one if I choose. I went and test drove a new GTI based on its looks alone, I just love the way it looks. Well I ended up buying a 2010 jetta wolfsburg-my fiance prefers sedans. They don’t make the GLI anymore so they have added the GTI suspension, diff and brakes to the wolfsburg to make up for it. My justification was that i could pay $22,000 cash for the manual wolfsburg and own it or put 20k down on a 2010 s4 and still have a $400 and something dollar payment. Well I have had more fun in this little jetta in the past few weeks than someone should have in a car. Its not as good looking as the GTI but its fun, cheap to run and practical. the FWD doesn’t bother me or detract from the fun in anyway. the little thing rotates and my only compaint is the XDS which feels so artificial. Luckily, if i want to pretend that I actually need the best drivers car ever and every inch of performance(like a BMW guy) I still have my carrera S sitting in the garage waiting for me. Anyone ever notice that the 20 year old kid in the multicolor mazda mx6 or dodge neon at the track is having more fun than the guy who brought in his m3 or carrera with trailer full of tires?

    That was a little long winded, but the moral of the story is that a fun car is a fun car adn it doens’t matter which wheels are getting the power. i also can’t stand it when people who aren’t racing or driving for a living are picky about tires.

  • avatar

    If you can’t tell at the first hit of the throttle whether a car is RWD or FWD, then you ain’t much of a driver. And BTW, if you let your wife do ALL the driving in a BMW just because she’s a bad navigator, well YOU ain’t much of a driver either.

    • 0 avatar

      So I suppose you expect a 1.4 ton car with open differentials, a tiny four-pot engine and an automatic transmission to step out sideways when you mash the throttle from a stop?

      Your expectations are a bit unrealistic, don’cha think?

    • 0 avatar

      Come for a ride with me stateside in my TT some time and then say that! ;-)

      Now that we have GPS devices available, I will be able to share more of the driving while overseas, but honestly, she is directionally impaired, and it saves a lot of arguments if I navigate. I do take over the driving when in the tight mountain roads, which she is not fond of, while she does the boring hiway stuff. Sort of a win/win, actually.

  • avatar

    And to think BMW spent all that money on a test track, when they could have just hired this guy.

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