BMW is fully embracing its latest front-wheel drive architecture – internally known as ULK – as a way to keep pace with Mercedes-Benz and Audi. BMW famously poked fun at its front-wheel drive rivals with a 2006 ad campaign that depicted a rabbit with huge front paws and tiny rear legs, but the automaker will lean on the layout for 12 different models within a decade.
Although purists scoff at the idea of a front-wheel drive BMW, the Munich-based company says it need to transition to FWD vehicles in order to capitalize on the booming compact premium segment. BMW maintains it will not loose its performance identity during the transition.
"In the 90s we broke with tradition when we began selling SUVs along with our sedans," Frank Niederlaender, the company's product manager for front-wheel drive, told Automotive New Europe. "Customers realized they could get the driving dynamics BMW is renowned for from an SUV. We will see the same transition happening with front-wheel drive.”
Front-wheel drive is key to BMW's small car plans as it allows for better interior packaging. BMW's current small car – the rear-wheel drive 1-Series – has been criticized for its cramped interior.
BMW's front-wheel drive ULK platform is expected to underpin 12 BMW-badged vehicles and several MINI products by 2022, accounting for 40 percent of BMW Group's overall sales. Although most of that volume will be account for by Europe, BMW will sell some FWD vehicles in North America.
BMW's first front-wheel drive product will likely be a five-door MPV like the Concept Active Tourer displayed at the 2012 Paris Motor Show.