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More front-drive BMWs on the way

Front up: The Mini Cooper Hatch and 5-door (left) are built on the same UKL1 platform as the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, and there are more variants on the way.

Front-wheel-drive BMWs will appeal to Euro style-conscious but practical motorists

18 Nov 2014

BMW’s first front-wheel-drive vehicle in its history will pave the way for more variations on the theme, with a range of front-drive models to follow the new tall-boy 2 Series Active Tourer launched in Australia this week.

As many as 12 offshoots of the German luxury marque’s front-drive platform – dubbed UKL1 and shared with its Mini brand – are expected to emerge before long, and the company predicts the move to more versatile and spacious passenger cars will steer buyers away from Australia’s growing SUV addiction.

BMW says that with its distinctly European styling, the all-new 2 Series Active Tourer will appeal to customers aspiring to a more continental lifestyle, drawing them in with a vehicle that has as much practicality as an SUV but in a more on-road-focused package.

Speaking at the national media launch of the 2 Series Active Tourer in Tasmania, BMW Group Australia head of product and market planning Shawn Ticehurst told GoAuto the appeal of SUV practicality combined with car-like dynamics would herald the arrival of more front-drive BMWs.

“Most of our target market, whether they are in their 20s or their 50s, travel a lot to Europe and see European cities in operation, come back here and question their own lifestyle,” he said.

“Cars are one of the things they question. They’ll have seen a car like this that offers them all the space with a good premium badge and good resale.

“A majority of the people we are going to attract are younger couples still travelling, and then (people in their) 50s or 60s who are travelling post-kids and are seeing a European lifestyle and thinking that makes sense.”

With only one obvious competitor in the form of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, BMW says conquest sales of up to 75 per cent will come from other segments including SUVs of all sizes, with some customers likely to decide that off-road ability is not necessary.

“We do competitor analysis (and) people buying small four-wheel drives from competitor brands are spending mid-$40,000 to $50,000 because they want something that stands out from the crowd,” Mr Ticehurst said.

“We offer them a pretty good alternative.

“There are more and more people out there who are asking exactly that question.

Predominantly they are going to be classic inner-city Australians that have a small parking spot and see everyone driving SUVs but question it.

“They want the practicality but they aren’t going to drive it to Uluru.”

By confining the engine and transmission to one end of the vehicle, the 2 Series Active Tourer frees up more passenger and luggage capacity without expanding outside dimensions.

The space-boosting principle will be applied to more propeller-badged vehicles, though Mr Ticehurst acknowledged that breaking the longstanding tradition was an enormous challenge not taken lightly by the company.

“Yes, it is a big acknowledgement for BMW to go front-wheel drive,” he said.

“We learnt a lot about front-wheel drive through Mini and I think it can extend to BMW. Can we do it in a way that suits BMW differently to Mini? I think we have.

“That’s what I think the engineers in Munich have asked themselves. There would have been some hard discussions.

“It’s about understanding a new principle, arguing about it in a respectful way and then sticking to an agreement, and that’s something we do. I bet this is probably the biggest argument they had.

“The pro-front-wheel-drive engineers would have said, ‘Right, we have to prove these anti-front-wheel-drivers wrong. We can build a car that says to them it’s a BMW.&rsquo.”

Mr Ticehurst added that while the adoption of front-wheel drive was a major shake-up for the company, its principles stand strong.

“You’ve got to question your brand fundamentals and is rear-wheel drive really a fundamental or is it the pleasure of driving?” he said.

“Front-wheel drive can work, we will make sure it drives well and if you look at a segment like this, people want space, they want room, something that’s compact, small dimensions and something that’s easy to park but can fit five people in.

“And the fact is that front-wheel drive is the best way to do that.”

The arrival of more front-drive BMWs could be accompanied by the first M-badged performance model too, but the car-maker is remaining tight-lipped until public perception has been closely scrutinised.

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