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Sneak Preview: BMW’s Front-Wheel-Drive Future

Almost two years before the first front-wheel-drive BMWs arrive, we’ve dug up enough information to put together a detailed idea of what the model range will look like. BMW will develop its front-wheel-drive portfolio simultaneously with the next-generation Mini lineup on the UKL1 architecure. The collaboration will result in three BMW-Mini pairings with each set distinguished by a unique door arrangement. The vehicles, which will arrive at the beginning of the 2013 model year, are:

BMW Joy and Mini Clubman: Joy is simply the internal name for a 1-series Gran Turismo, featuring a similar body shape to the current 5-series Gran Turismo. Even with its slant-back shape, this is the most traditional of the three vehicle lines and will target the Audi A3 Sportback and the Mercedes-Benz B-Class. To set the two models apart, the Clubman will get two full-length, rear-hinged aft doors and retain the split barn doors for the tailgate.

BMW Compact Activity Tourer and Mini Countryman: These vehicles feature four conventional doors and large single-piece tailgates, but the higher roofs to lend them a more utilitarian look that’s more crossover than car.

BMW Family Activity Sporster and Mini Traveller: The official name is still up in the air, but the Traveller is the long-rumored MiniVan. Both the BMW and Mini models are to be family- and leisure-oriented, boasting sliding rear doors, longer rear overhangs, and super-flexible interiors.

The ability to offer both front- and all-wheel drive on the ULK1 architecture is critical to challenging the Audi A3 and the next Mercedes-Benz A- and B-class. To keep up with the higher performance Audi S3/RS3 and Mercedes-Benz B22 AMG, Mini will continue to develop the Cooper S and John Cooper Works portfolios. BMW, on the other hand, is still pondering whether to downsize the M model range or to opt for a more unique ti/tii approach.

To differentiate the vehicle pairings, Mini will put a strong emphasis on three-cylinder engines. However, it’s unclear if the new three-cylinder lineup can cover the entire range including the Cooper S and even the John Cooper Works cars. Engineering has reportedly developed a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder producing 272 hp, but we’re still waiting to hear more details about running characteristics and durability. The volume-model gas and diesel three-cylinders would be good for up to 184 hp and 122 hp, respectively. BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer notes that selling three-cylinder Minis may present a challenge: “Although the three is definitely an up-and-coming thing, some markets like North America may be skeptical in how far down you can go. For our rear-wheel cars, fours and sixes have therefore a clear mid-term priority.”

And rear-wheel drive will continue to play a role at BMW, even in small cars. Sporty variants of the 1-series, such as the coupe, the convertible, and the soon-to-arrive M coupe, will still send power back to the rear axle. For the BMW front-wheel-drive products, though, insiders are predicting an emphasis on new four-cylinder units. Expect two different gas engine families: a 1.6-liter (N13) covering the 122 hp to 177 hp bracket and a 2.0-liter version (N20) spanning from 184 hp to 252 hp.

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