Editorial: The Ultimate Touring Machine

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
editorial the ultimate touring machine

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 platform s. 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.

*End rant*

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  • NMGOM NMGOM on Dec 01, 2013

    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"... ----------------------------

    • Sam P Sam P on Dec 01, 2013

      "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.

  • Burgersandbeer Burgersandbeer on Dec 01, 2013

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

  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)