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BMW M keeps faith in rear-wheel drive

Driving it home: BMW M’s recently appointed chief Markus Flasch said demand remained strong for rear-drive versions of its smaller model lines, including the M3. (M340i pictured)

Count on rear-drive, manual for next BMW M3 as M chief talks up CS and CSL specials

13 May 2019

BMW’S M division remains committed to offering purely rear-wheel-drive variants of select high-performance passenger cars, despite a shift to all-wheel drive on various model lines including the latest M5 super-sedan and the forthcoming all-new M3.


In an interview with Australian journalists last week, BMW M GmbH chairman of the board of management Markus Flasch also confirmed that a broader range of pure CS variants – and potentially the long-awaited return of CSL – were part of the performance brand’s future.


Mr Flasch stopped short of officially confirming that the forthcoming M3 due to be revealed in 2020 would offer both purely rear-drive and all-wheel-drive versions, but made it clear that customers of its smaller models, including M2, M3 and M4, were still asking for rear-wheel drive – as well as a manual gearshift.


“With M3, we were able to take over the entire drivetrain concept that we offer in the M5, and we were able to do a rear-wheel-drive version as well plus manual transmission,” he said.


“I won’t disclose today how we configure those opportunities, but we can do whatever the markets globally demand.


“I can’t confirm it, but I’ve driven the cars!”


Mercedes-AMG chief Tobias Moers was recently quoted as saying that a clear AMG customer preference for all-wheel drive will see the three-pointed star brand’s performance arm shift towards this drivetrain configuration across its range.


Asked by GoAuto if he could see the day when BMW M no longer offered rear-drive variants, Mr Flasch said: “No, I don’t see the point why this would happen.”


In terms of customer preference for all-wheel over rear-wheel drive, the M chief said there was a clear differentiation between buyers of larger and smaller models.


“In the larger segments, SUV and also sedan, our customers typically drive the cars long distances, they drive them all year, they drive them on dirt roads – for instance, an M5 driver or also the X5 M driver, they clearly go for all-wheel drive,” he said.


“We also know that on the M5, the current model, with the switchable all-wheel drive, people hardly ever switch off AWD because it’s just such a great drive with it.


“On smaller segments, more let’s call it iconic M2, M3, M4 cars, they are typically either ‘entrance’ cars to certain customers or they are second or third cars, and rear-wheel drive makes the most sense for these cars because they are taken out in good weather, for special occasions.


“This is not black and white, but in general there is a differentiation between the bigger cars – longer wheelbase, V8 – smaller cars, straight-six (engine), more like ‘the good weather car’, are still asking for rear-wheel drive and manual stick shift.”


Mr Flasch said the M division would also continue to cater for different customer tastes through the sportier Competition spec and more versions of the CS – and potentially CSL – racetrack-oriented variants.


“We will see more limited editions, especially models like the CS and, I can imagine, the CSL,” he said.


“We won’t do this for every car but I would go as far as to say that we also don’t have to stick to coupes only. I can imagine CS and other special versions also will turn up.


“We won’t see the GTS sub-brand in future. There will be CS and maybe CSL. There won’t be a GTS in parallel with CSL.”


Asked to describe what the CSL badge meant to him, Mr Flasch said: “CSL stands for light weight, CSL stands for racetrack ability, and for the purest M character that you can achieve on a car that has still got licence plates on it.”


In terms of other future models,Mr Flasch said he was confident there would be a successor for the M2, but that there were no plans to create a full-blown M version of the forthcoming X2 or new-generation 1 Series, with the M Performance variants in the pipeline deemed to have enough power and performance cred.


He also said there were no plans to build a Z4 M, citing difficulties in putting a bigger engine into the new-generation roadster.


Asked about his overall vision for the M brand, Mr Flasch – who has been in the job since last October – said he would continue the work of his predecessor, Frank van Meel, whose decision to bring AWD to M5 was controversial, but soon critically acclaimed.


Mr van Meel is now in charge of BMW Group’s ‘total vehicle development’ unit.


“(My vision) doesn’t differ from Frank van Meel’s vision,” Mr Flasch said, pointing to the fact that the M division has “overachieved” in terms of meeting its sales volume and growth targets.


“We currently have a huge reputation and credibility within the company, so whatever we plan to do strategically we have large freedom to do so.


“I will continue what Frank has started. Frank stood for all-wheel drive. But in my coming years we will bring M towards new propulsion systems, and we will have electrified cars, so in this respect I’m doing different things.”

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