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Hooniverse Asks- Does Front-Wheel Drive BMW Equate to End of the World?

Robert Emslie September 19, 2011 Hooniverse Asks 57 Comments

Many auto manufacturers are tied to a physical aspect of their products, and can encounter a rebuff from both devotees and buyers alike when they mess with that. Porsche had a hard time gaining acceptance of their front-engined wares from aficionados who like it in back. Ferrari held off for decades before applying the Prancing Horse badge to anything with less than a twelve under its road-going hood. And BMW only makes rear-wheel drive cars, right?

That last one requires a qualification as BMW does make all-wheel drive vehicles, however, they are all based on an architecture that is obviously rear-drive based. With so much legacy, and for years, so much advocacy for rear-wheel drive being the best for handling, what would it entail if BMW were to release a front-driver?

They already have, to a certain extent, the Mini, which is a brand wholly-owned by the German company, exhibits engineering from a still-born front driver BMW was contemplating a decade or more back. It’s winged Mini badge rather than a roundel makes its front driviness acceptable to the faithful, but now BMW is rumored to be prepping for another car – one that will be both a puller and a wearer of that propeler-emmulating badge. Double-You, Tee and  Eff!

Will it mean the last vestige of BMW-ness will be ripped whole-cloth from the brand, or will it mean a new page in the Ultimate Driving Machine bible?

Image source: [Carscoop]

  • tonyola

    BMW has become more a style accessory than a driving machine anyway. They've already embraced a range of SUVs and some three-ton fastback "crossovers" so a FWD car should neither be a surprise nor all that damaging anymore. FWD does offer some weight and packaging benefits for a small car and companies like Honda and Mazda have shown that it can be done right. Besides, would most new BMW buyers (or the legion of leasers) even notice?

    • P161911

      You are right, judging by the number of V-6 BMWs for sale on Craigslist, most buyers wouldn't notice.
      If BMW wanted to introduce say a 2 series FWD it wouldn't bother me and I really don't care about the X models. Just keep the 3, 5,7, and Z as RWD or RWD based AWD.

    • Paul_y

      I was going to say more or less the same thing: 99% of people who buy BMWs new will not care one way or the other, nor will they notice the difference.

      Nowadays, BMW is only the "ultimate driving machine" to those who shop them used. To their primary customers, they're the "ultimate badge-snobbery machine."

  • Alff

    We enthusiasts are a surly, inconsistent lot. How many times have you heard Porsche criticized for relying too heavily on the 911 formula, or Ford for not putting an IRS under the Mustang, or GM for sticking with the prehistoric pushrod? Then we cry in our beer when a vaunted marque breaks with its own tradition.

    I don't doubt that a FWD BMW will be a nice driver, as is the Mini, and will stack up well against class competitors. As far as diminishing the brand, I doubt it. It's not as if they haven't made missteps in the past and, yet, they seem to be doing quite well.

    • skitter

      I like rear engined Porsches.
      I like live-axle Mustangs.
      I like pushrod smallblocks.
      I like BMW inline-6s.

      I must be a paleo-enthusiast.
      I'd much rather see an awesome FWD Honda competing against an exquisite RWD BMW and a spectacular AWD Subaru than a BMW in every shape and size. To me, the most desirable cars are the ones that fully exploit their layout in order to be distinctive and interesting.

  • BMW is in the unenviable position of advertising itself as what amounts to a niche brand, but driving towards a goal of increasing sales. These are two seemingly contradictory actions. They can risk alienating the fanboys in pursuit of increasing sales, or they can appease their followers and not increase their business.

    I completely understand why they would do this. They are a business and a business exists solely to make money. As we all know, us enthusiasts are really good at saying, "That M3 is teh secks." But then not actually buy an M3. Hopefully BMW can strike a balance, similar to what Porsche seems to have done, and still offer products the enthusiasts want but expand their product lineup to capture more potential buyers.

  • SSurfer321
    • IronBallsMcG

      Hell, that's the one FWD that may very well be the shizz.

    • crinklesmith

      I beg to differ.

      [youtube XkEdcR0D1E4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkEdcR0D1E4 youtube]

      • vwminispeedster

        Weak sauce. Coasting front wheel?!??! I likes my big wheels with legs a flailin' and lockin' it up to get a slide goin. None of this mamby pamby coasting nonsense and hand operated brakes. Get off my lawn!!

        • Alff

          Rubber tires FTL as well.

          • vwminispeedster

            totally. my dad had to replace the front on mine at least once because I wore through it hooning in the back yard.

          • Gotta disagree, homeboy. Even as a kid, when I saw how many big wheels had big splits down the center seam of the crappy blow-molded wheel's tread, I thought "Really? Some adult engineer designed this? Even I know this is a stupid design, and I'm a kid."

            • Alff

              In my neighborhood, accelerated MTTF of the front wheel was worn as a badge of honor. The most dedicated of my playmates could wear through one in about a week.

        • SSurfer321

          hipsters love their fixies!

          /tripsoverwhitepicketfencerunningofflawn

    • Paul_y

      Big wheels do not suck. Ever.

      My brother and our cousins and I had a lot of bruised shins due to ill-advised driveway demo derbies on them.

  • TurboBrick

    Does it really matter, anymore? At least BMW USA is all about producing hip fashion accessories for dentists and their wives, so it really doesn't seem to make any difference which end it pulls from.

    • My dentist drives an M3. Coincidence?

      • FuzzyPlushroom

        Mine had an F-250 last I knew. I believe I go to the right dentist?

      • and mine drives a mx5!

  • Feds_II

    O.k, I am about to expose myself as a philistine, Antichrist, or ignoramus, or perhaps all 3 at once:

    I like front wheel drive cars .

    It's probably because I don't hit the track, so my driving fun mostly involves going into corners too hot, dropping the throttle, and sliding my way around. I like bombing along snow covered roads and rotating the car with the handbrake, then letting the drive wheels pull me out of the slide.

    I like the increased interior room. I like the decreased fuel consumption. I like working on transverse 4-cylinders (I detest transverse V-engines).

    So, now that I have that off my chest: No, I don't think FWD will mean the end of BMW-ness. Hells, I'll bet 90% of statistics are made up on the spot of BMW owners won't care enough to know the difference, so long as the lease payment barely allows them to pay rent and eat once in a while.

    In the mean time, I'll be out on the back roads dragging behind my transverse 4-cylinders, trying to get the rear wheel off the ground.

    • tonyola

      I like FWD too. I've had immense fun with the Hondas that I've owned. Platform bigotry is boring and not worthy of this place.

      • Boring and not worthy? Okay, fine, but I'm not retracting my earlier half-hearted slight of the current fate of the Austin Montego platform. I meant every tepid word of it.

        • Devin

          To be fair though, the Montego platform has been sold into prostitution. It almost needs one of those sponsorship deals, I can see the PSA now.

          "This car was the Austin Montego. Now, it's forced to dress up as a Subaru and sell itself on the street corner in China. For pennies a day, you can save this platform and ensure nobody forces it to dress up as something it's not ever again. Just phone 1-800-WTFCHINA and you can save the Montego from this terrible fate."

    • Philistine, Antichrist, and ignoramus!

      Just kidding. FWD has its place. If all you're doing is commuting to and from work and occasionally enjoying a spirited drive on a back road, FWD is just fine.

      The big problem in enthusiasts mind with FWD is that is is much more limited in performance than RWD. It's a simple reality. Your tires can only do so much work. On a RWD car, the front tires only have to steer and brake. On a FWD car, you are asking the tires to drive the car, too. This is why FWD cars are notorious for understeer. Due to the front end geometry on a FWD car, they are very susceptible to torque steer, too. This is why for a long time automakers wouldn't often put an engine over 200hp on FWD cars. Now with trick suspension setups this limit is being pushed, but only with a decrease — not a total elimination — of the torque steer.

      But guess what. None of that really matters. If you like FWD, go for it! Embrace the transverse engine! Keep all your fancy "stability in the snow". And enjoy the hell out of it. In the end, that's all that really matters.

      • Devin

        I think it basically boils down to how much power is in that engine you have. Under 200, as mentioned, FWD works quite well and can be super fun – plus you get that space efficiency that's necessary in a smaller vehicle. Over 300, RWD is necessary. Between those numbers, depends on what you're trying to do.

        • tonyola

          You've never hooned a '67 Toronado with 400 hp, have you? Very entertaining though hard on the tires, and virtually no torque steer.

          • Devin

            Well, no, and I do find it weird that nobody has managed to pull off that trick since.

            • tonyola

              Having the way-overboosted power steering typical of US cars of the time helped a lot, but GM did do a very good job of engineering the Toronado drivetrain.

      • JayP

        I thought for years that AWD was the only way to go (3 of my 4 Audis were quattros). I started autox with FWD, then AWD and some RWD… is it any wonder I was pwned pretty much every autox?

        Each has limitations but each have their merits. All are fun.

        At a DE I was able to teach a student throttle-off oversteer to rotate his RSX. He never thought that was possible.

      • sport_wagon

        Eh, torque steer is fun! And understeer? That's what e-brakes are for!

      • FuzzyPlushroom

        When you're on the street, rather than the track, FWD is every bit as good. On the track, or in certain adverse conditions, RWD can have advantages – sure, it's easier to pull out of a skid with a FWD car, but it's a lot more fun with RWD!

        Also, I'll admit it – I enjoy torque-steer on occasion. Turning the wheel to half nine and goosing it, taking off in a straight line in a Mercury Sable, is fun in its own way. But I certainly don't mind not having to deal with it, either.

    • Paul_y

      Well put. A good FWD car can be immensely fun.

      I actually enjoy driving my slow-ass xB. It's easy to work on (though really reliable), light enough to be fun, and willing to take corners much faster than it's height would suggest. It's an entertaining challenge to row through the gears when driving up into the mountains, and yet I can manage 38mpg on the freeway while hauling a stack of pallets or an armchair.

  • Van Sarockin

    It would be nice if BMW was still the Ultimate Driving Machine, or trying to be. But they aren't any longer, so the concern is unfortunately misplaced. So is the concern about which wheels get driven. The crucial thing will always be performance and experience, however it might be delivered. Progress demands change and improvement – otherwise we'd still be dealing with side valve engines and total loss lubrication, with a 1,000 rpm redline. Please also recall that BMW used to build some rear engine cars – and I've never heard anyone trying to discuss how that diminished the company or civilization.

  • tiberiusẅisë

    Since every MPG eeked out by a front wheel drive BMW would enable additional horsepowers to its RWD siblings, I for one welcome our FWD BMW overlords.

  • BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ

    2012 is near, don´t think BMW will speed up the ending of our globe. Today there are some nice FWD cars out there, think of a Focus RS, which most of us here at Hooniverse think is a hoot and a drivers car, why would BMW not be able to come up with something like that?

  • PrawoJazdy

    Will it make me drive like less of an asshole? No? Then everything is fine in BMW's world.

  • It's business, not personal. As stated above, enthusiasts are fickle, but enthusiasts only make up a small fraction of the buying public. John Q will never know the difference when he picks up a FWD inline-4 BMW. He is getting a BMW.

    Now, a 911 with an inline-4 and FWD = end of the world.

  • Cherokee Owner

    I'm a Jeep fan. In the seven-going-on-eight years since I've been a licensed driver, I've own two Cherokees, a '99 I had for five years and a '00 for two years. Unlike most SUV owners, I've taken my two 4x4s on Jeep trails and make it a point to do four-wheel-drive donuts and handbrake turns in my driveway when the snow gets deeper than four inches. I'm a believer in solid axles, low-range gearboxes, and the 4.0L straight-six engine.

    I watched from afar as Jeep introduced a pair of Dodge Calibers dressed up as Jeeps, disgusted that these mediocre front-drivers infiltrated my brand. BMW fans, I understand your pain, but let me say this: It is NOT the end of the world.

    1) Any front-drive BMW is going to be based on Mini architecture. Mazda aside, Mini makes one of the best handling front-wheel-drive cars in the world. Reliability is questionable, but overall, there is no way this future front-drive BMW is going to be a pile of crap. Unlike the Compass.

    2) When Chrysler was in going through bankruptcy, the one consistent bright spot on their sales records was a Jeep. And it wasn't the cheaper-to-run & mediocre Compass/Patriot. It was the Wrangler. People still love the Wrangler, enough to live with its faults, because it is the cool car in Jeep lineup. It's the core car, the car the rest of the lineup is built around, the car people desire. As long as there is a Wrangler at the dealership, brand dilution from some questionably heretical products isn't in question. As long as you guys have the 3 series and 5 series, along with the M3 and M5, brand dilution is something you won't have to worry about.

    TL,DR: You still have cool cars people aspire to own, the future front-driver isn't going to kill BMW. Quit yer bitchin'.

    • sport_wagon

      Yeah, the MINI is kinda unreliable. Little things go wrong. But Mazda doesn't make a three-door hot hatch with a turbo/supercharger, so I'm going with MINI. Yeah, I know there's the Mazdaspeed 3. But it weighs 3,000 pounds. I want a sporty car, damnit!

      • Paul_y

        Shortened MS3 it is, then!

      • FuzzyPlushroom

        What you need is a Veloster, a rear-ended Sonata Turbo, and some Jack Daniels.

    • AlexiusG55

      The Jeep brand's been diluted with vehicles useless off-road since 1948.

      <img src=http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/42/Jeepster.jpg/800px-Jeepster.jpg width="500">

  • buzzboy7

    Yes

  • Well, lets face it, packaging a small car with a front engine and not making it FWD is just being contrary. In my book there hasn't been a RWD small hatchback since the Talbot / Chrysler Sunbeam, Toyota Starlet or Vauxhall Chevette (and, therefore Chevy Chevette, though I think this was a bit bigger). If FWD makes the most sense for a useable small car, then go for it.

    Just don't be fucking with my 3, 5, or 7 series. You hear?

    • Screech

      thing is no new "small" car is actually small like the sunbeam or the starlet.

      most new small cars dwarf mid size cars from 20 years ago.

      i nearly had a heart attack the first time i lost the e30 behind a nissan micra/march.

    • Van Sarockin

      So, you'd give the 6 up, just like that? N extry rasher uv rain fer ye, not such ye'd notice!

  • This by itself may not mark the end of the world. It's just one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

    The bad news is, another one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse is also on the loose: http://www.autoblog.com/2011/09/19/why-subaru-wen

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      Better than FWD. Ever notice how early-'90s Imprezas with FWD go for half of what their AWD siblings command? I'd hate to have to tiptoe around that while selling a FWD Subaru these days.

      • Devin

        To be fair though, Subaru has pushed AWD so hard that a FWD Subaru doesn't seem right at all, so that would explain the death of FWD Subaru resale. People develop the attitude of "if I'm buying a Subaru and it's not AWD, why am I buying a Subaru?" Other companies that push other things see their resale values based on other variables.

        • FuzzyPlushroom

          True, that's likely much of the cause. Subaru started out here with front-drive and eventually optional all/four-wheel-drive anyway, excluding ol' Malcolm's folly with the 360, but the all-wheel-drive was what eventually set them apart in New England and Colorado. Without it, they were just quirky Toyotas or Hondas.

  • Screech

    yes, yeas it is.