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BMW’s first front-drive model here in 2014

CAT amongst the pigeons: BMW's first front-wheel drive, the Compact Active Tourer, will go head-to-head with the B-Class from Mercedes in 2014.

BMW confirms CAT-based wagon will sit above 1 Series when it lands in Oz next year

12 Nov 2013

BMW has confirmed its long-awaited first front-wheel-drive model – the production version of the Compact Active Tourer (CAT) concept – will be released in Australia in the final quarter of next year.

Set for a global premiere at the Geneva motor show next March, the still-to-be-named five-seater MPV/wagon will rival the Mercedes-Benz B-Class and will be the first-ever BMW-badged mass-market vehicle with a transverse-mounted engine and front-wheel drive.

Just as the B-Class is positioned slightly above the smaller A-Class in the Mercedes stable, BMW’s newcomer will supplement the rear-wheel-drive 1 Series hatch range, which is due for a mid-cycle facelift in 2014 after three years on the market.

Understood to be developed under the codename ‘F44’ and set to reach production two years after the CAT debuted at the 2012 Paris motor show, the radical new model will use the German luxury car manufacturer’s new ‘UKL1’ vehicle architecture that also underpins the third-generation Mini to be unveiled later this month.

BMW Australia’s general manager for marketing, Toni Andreevski, told GoAuto in New Zealand this week that 2014 was shaping up as “a very busy year for BMW small cars”.

“We will have plenty of new cars like the 2 Series and the production vehicle based on the Compact Active Tourer in Australia in the last quarter of the year,” he said.

“So we will be better placed to be competitive in a popular segment.” Along with the newly announced 2 Series Coupe and its upcoming Convertible sibling, the CAT will help BMW redouble its efforts in the booming $40,000-plus luxury small car class, which has grown a massive 65 per cent so far in 2013.

Year-to-date sales to October show that while 1 Series sales at 1811 units are up over seven per cent compared to the same period in 2012, its market share is down by the same amount to 13 per cent of the segment.

This is due to the success of the A-Class and B-Class Benzes, which are both at about 20 per cent share apiece with 2713 and 2755 sales respectively, as well as a 75 per cent increase in the popularity of the all-new Audi A3, which is now close behind the 1 Series at 1673 units and at a 12 per cent segment share.

While Mr Andreevski declined to reveal sales projections, he believes the CAT has the potential to be an important player in its class.

“We don’t talk about volume expectations, and the B-Class has had that segment to itself for a very long time, but (the CAT) won’t be an insignificant contribution,” he said.

“It will appeal to both ends of the age spectrum – from young families who need a compact yet dynamic vehicle with a bit more space, to the ‘silver ages’ who want a commanding driving position, combined with elegance and high quality design.

“And the reaction from the 2012 Paris motor show CAT concept has been extremely positive – from the public and the press alike. People in this space want lots of practicality, lots of legroom, high quality, and lots of great design details.” Mr Andreevski added that the CAT and a host of other models to be built off the UKL1 platform will help BMW reach its two million-unit annual target within the next three years.

“Our goal of hitting two million vehicles by 2016 is coming with the help of these sort of cars,” he said.

“They may not be so popular in Australia than in other markets, but this type of vehicle will be very important for BMW.” Although the CAT and its future kin will be the first BMWs with front-wheel drive, Mr Andreevski believes buyers will still enjoy the same level of dynamic capabilities that the brand’s more traditional models provide, negating the need to justify the move away from rear-wheel drive.

“Yes, it is the first BMW-branded front-wheel-drive car we’ve ever made. But BMW has a great history of dynamic sportiness with the Mini,” he said.

“BMW’s research has found that close to 90 per cent of people in this (premium small car) segment don’t even know which wheels are doing the driving. And many of these people are 1 Series owners.

“Considering how well BMW’s engineers have applied sporty dynamics to the Mini, I am sure they can do it again with other front-wheel-drive BMWs. So it will be the sportiest car in its segment. Our engineers are extremely confident they can achieve that goal – but with the benefits of more efficient interior packaging.

“The CAT is a response to customer needs – but we’re still going to offer the sportiest interpretation (in that space) because this is what people expect from BMW.” Mr Andreevski did admit that there might be some sales cannibalisation between the 1 Series and CAT, but remained confident the new model would be a success.

“We expect some substitution,” he said. “But we still think there is an untapped market for this car. We’d have more to lose not doing it than by taking the risk and going there.” BMW is remaining tight-lipped about names, but overseas reports suggest that ‘1 Series Gran Turismo’ or ‘2 Series GT’ may make the cut. More recently, an ‘Outback’ version of the CAT known as the Outdoor was shown at July’s OutDoor Friedrichshafen fair in Germany, revealing dimensions of 4350mm for overall length, 1833mm width and 1576mm height, with a wheelbase of 2670mm.

It is thought that a new range of three-cylinder turbocharged engines will be used to power up to 12 different BMW body styles spun off the UKL1 platform, and a similar number wearing Mini outfits.

Meanwhile, the F20 1 Series facelift expected sometime later next year involves a more connected headlight and kidney grille design, different bumper, minor trim and material changes inside, and an upgrade in the level of media and safety technology on offer.

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