• Mar 24th 2010 at 10:03AM
  • 25
It's not at all unusual for customers to not have any real understanding of what they are buying. After all, so many modern products have such a plethora of features that most of them never get used. Then there are cars. Even many engineers don't know how everything on a new car works, so it's not surprising that car buyers don't. For example, take which wheels are being driven. The reality is that even the tamest of modern cars have handling limits well beyond what most drivers ever utilize.

During BMW's recent annual meeting, CEO Norbert Reithofer acknowledged that front wheel drive models would be added to the future lineup in a bid to help reduce fuel consumption and emissions. BMW has generally tried to protect its image of building cars for enthusiast drivers, so the thought of a front-drive BMW seems anathema. However a survey of BMW 1 Series owners apparently convinced Reithofer that as long as the company still told customers that it built the "Ultimate Driving Machine," all would be okay. What brought them to this conclusion? Eighty percent of 1 Series drivers thought the car already had front-wheel drive. For the record, neither the 1 Series nor any other BMW-badged car has ever had front-wheel drive.

No wonder consumers are so shocked when they have a hard time hitting the EPA mileage ratings.

[Source: Automotive News – Sub. Req'd]


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 25 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      What's the big advantage of RWD for most people? Unless you're racing does it really make a difference? If so, then why are the vast majority of cars FWD? And why is the Nissan Leaf going to be FWD too, despite the ease of making it either way due to the electric drivetrain?
        • 8 Months Ago
        FWD's main advantage is packaging during assembly line construction and having MUCH better traction in snow than RWD. Apart from that there is no serious advantage.

        In fact, any significant fuel efficiency between a FWD and RWD car often lay in the fact that early FWD cars were much lighter, and had smaller engines, than the rear drivers they replaced. But today? Pfft... Just go on www.fueleconomy.org and compare the near identical FWD Dodge Intrepid to the RWD Dodge Charger to see the difference in mileage between having the wheels pull up front or push in the back when both cars have the same engine. (I'll save you the trouble of looking and answer: None)

        Personally, I have nothing against FWD (In fact, I own a front driver) but it's not more fuel efficient. That survey sounds like something BMW cooked up to justify producting a front driver to cut manufacturing costs.
      • 5 Years Ago
      As I helped my friend push his neighbors bimmer into his driveway last winter because it wouldn't go, front wheel drive seems to make sense.

      (Covers head to avoid thrown objects.) ; )
        • 8 Months Ago
        (Thrown object) ;-)
        Sounds like your friend needs to invest in some snow tires.

        But seriously, I think that RWD in snow and ice gets a very bad rap. My first car back in high school was an old Volvo 240 (RWD) and it was fantastic in the snow; I am from Nebraska, so yes, we have plenty of snow and ice. As is my father's 325i. Yes, getting initial traction takes some skill, but this is a small price to pay for not having the horrendous understeer you get in FWD.
          fred schumacher
          • 8 Months Ago
          That old Volvo had narrow tires and a 50/50 weight distribution, making for better winter traction than most RWD cars. The best two-wheel drive cars for winter traction that I've owned are early 4-cyl, 5-speed Mopar minivans. Never got stuck in hundreds of thousands of winter driving miles in northern Minnesota and North Dakota on unplowed rural roads. I've been able to keep going with snow up to the bumper.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Advantage of FWD to the consumer: Cheaper to purchase, marginally better snow traction during acceleration, smaller center tunnel for rear passenger room, bigger trunk.

      Advantage of FWD to the manufacturer: Far easier to package, cheaper to build.

      Advantage of RWD to the consumer: Handling, steering inputs at both ends of the car, improved weight distribution.

      Advantage of RWD to the manufacturer: Being able to have any kind of performance credibility?...


      To respond to a few comments above, a car builder would have to seriously screw up a RWD chassis for it to have a disadvantage over even the most well-sorted FWD setup on an equivalent platform. Yes, it is true that there are many FWD cars over the years that handle/have handled quite well. Every single one mentioned are very small/light/low/short-wheelbase and some feature very nice double wishbone suspension setups. I still say plumb the power to the rear wheels of ANY of those cars and you've just improved its handling. The ability to steer both with the front wheels AND the accelerator is an advantage that can't be overlooked.

      What IS overlooked, by seemingly everyone, on a regular basis is tires. When the poster above was helping to push his friend's BMW out of the snowy driveway, did he happen to look down and notice the Michelin PS2 (or whatever other summer performance tire) rubber on the wheels? Or the fact that those tires are nearly twice as wide as those on a Civic or similar car? People blaming RWD for a car's poor wet or snow traction are making a very apples to oranges comparison. Bottom line: take a Mazda Speed3 or something similar out in the snow and, in spite of its FWD configuration, you're going to find it to be not very fun either. (The marginal snow traction gains come from the same weight imbalance that hinders handling on dry roads: the heavy engine over the drive wheels help initial traction in the snow. Since this weight balance has a negative impact in all aspects other than initial traction, is it worth it?) On the other hand, I encourage everyone to try out this little experiment: Throw some Blizzaks or Alpin PA3s on a 3-Series and take it out for a drive through the snow. It's how I get to work and back 70 miles every time it snows. And I laugh my head off at the big 4WD vehicles spun out in the ditch while I blast by at 70mph! Proper tires + a good traction control program have WAY more to do with snow handling than drive wheel configuration. Seriously, try it. Saying a car with wide summer performance tires on drives terribly in the snow because its RWD is just ignorant. My '03 325i is a year-round vehicle. I put about 20K miles on it per year. I'm smart enough to own two sets of tires for it and change them depending on the season. Even during the snowpocalypse of '08/'09 (northwest Washington), I was buzzing through the carnage without a problem.

      Moving on to putting small 4-cylinder engines in BMWs, why would ANYONE want this!? Why would you replace an inherently balanced, perfectly-manifolded engine with a rattletrap? Inline 6es are UNDERused, if you ask me (inherently less NVH = less weight in sound/vibration damping). And scaling the engine down won't help a bit in a 4000lb. BMW. If you want to improve fuel economy in a BMW, go for the low hanging fruit with the biggest payoff: decrease weight. This model lineup needs a diet more than that of any other maker, if you ask me. The 6-cylinder engines are already incredibly efficient for what you get in return. Mine averages between 28 and 29mpg from a seven year old car driven with a lead foot. On trips between Seattle and Portland I've done as well as 33mpg! But the car is ridiculously heavy for its size. Shed 500 lb. and you're over 30mpg in a combined cycle right there. If you insist on a smaller engine, keep the six and scale it down. Personally, my car is so fuel efficient for the fun/quiet/and comfort it returns, that I've decided there is no reason to get rid of it until I can replace it with something that can be plugged into the wall, and I've made that my rule going forward.

      I also agree that this poll seems kind of fishy, as everyone I know also is aware that BMWs are RWD--especially anyone that would consider buying one. On the flip side, I don't know too many people with more money than brains, so maybe that's the demographic BMW polled: people buying a badge.

      So the question becomes, why would anyone buy a FWD BMW? Why pay all that money for the same thing you can get from 40 other small cars for much less money? Yes, I agree that for daily driving you really don't NEED the advantages that a RWD car offers you, but BMW is an enthusiast car company. By extension, you don't NEED a BMW! So the careful math that the executives at BMW need to consider is this: How much money is there to be gained from introducing models in a non-enthusiast segment? A
      • 5 Years Ago
      This entire article is based on an unconfirmed statement by BMW’s CEO Norbert Reithofer, released right as BMW made the decision to go with FWD on a sub-1 series model. No one's seen the actual survey. I'll believe it when I see it.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Given how many classified ads I've seen for BMWs with a "V6" I'm inclined to believe this!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I told you many times that car engineers don't worth nothing. Thinking to go front wheels drive in 2010 to go green, LOL. volkwagen did it in the early 70's.

      I said to think, conceive and put on the market a green car near where i live sold for cash.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Not surprised.
      On the Carfanatics forum, a so called powertrain engineer for Ford said he was not shedding any tears over Volvo dropping their RWD station wagons from their lineup.

      LOL at Wingsnut.
      • 5 Years Ago
      BMWs, Porsches, and MBs are frequently bought by people who have no idea what they have. They are the designer labels of cars for many. Unfortunately, the base cars, except for maybe the Porsche, are so built to a price and are not enthusiast cars where even the good suspension is optional. No doubt BMW will be able to make a fine FWD car that will perform as well as their RWD strippers.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "Eighty percent of 1 Series drivers thought the car already had front-wheel drive."

      As I said in AB, bullshit. Every single BMW owner I know is very much aware that their vehicle is RWD. As much as I love to rip on BMW owners, they're not as stupid as this suvey suggests.

      92% of all surveys are severely flawed. Show me who you (really) asked, when you asked, and what you asked. BMW wants a push for FWD cars. I don't doubt for a second they designed this survey to produce matching results.

      I'm not stupid enough to fall for this, neither are your customers.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I completely believe it. 'Round these parts (greater Seattle area) I would be money that you could sell blinker fluid to most of the BMW drivers.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Totally agree. You buy a BMW because you want more than a box-on-wheels. I find it hard to believe that most buyers wouldn't know this.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I dunno, i've known a lot of pretty stupid BMW drivers.
        All of the shops i've been to try to rip me off and sell me a new blinker fluid actuator & get weird when they can't. It's like they're used to dealing with ignorant people with a lot of money.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Kevin,

        Let me clarify.
        1. I pulled the 92% out of my ass, as a joke.
        2. The survey is contrary to common sense.
        3. Surveys are notoriously rigged.
        4. I never said BMW was stupid. I think the opposite.
        5. BMW is suggesting their customers are stupid.

        Common sense says that this survey is likely rigged to benefit the intended desires of BMW. It's not stupid. It's deceptive.
        • 8 Months Ago
        You are talking about an anecdotal enthusiast crowd. Using the same standard, most BMW drivers I see are businessmen (I live near a financial district) and they will just as likely to buy an Audi (FWD). The only thing they really care about is the badge. There is a reason for the "yuppie" BMW stereotype.

        I agree with others that FWD, when designed well, can be as good as RWD esp in small cars. The closest to a BMW FWD is the MINI and it is one of the best in FWD handling. You also have FWD cars with amazing handling like the Integra Type R, Prelude SH, Focus SVT (or RS in the UK), Mazdaspeed Protege, etc. Sure, the best RWD will easily beat the best FWD, but for its intended purpose (mostly commuting with above average handling), it shouldn't be that big of an issue.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Noah, the 'under warranty' experience and the 'out of warranty' experience are absolutely two different worlds.

        I've never had shops try to lie / upsell / screw me until i got a BMW.

        FWD is not that bad these days, so it is more difficult to tell what's FWD and what isn't.. Hondas do it great ( my '99 Civic handled awesomely ), the MINI does it great, and some others.

        Frankly, the 1 series does look like a budget car so the assumption that it's FWD is not totally out of line.

        Anyway i'd love to see 4cyl FWD vehicles from BMW. All those RWD bits are a pain in the ass to maintain & i'd love to own a 3 series that got 30+mpg with regularity.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Even without being explicitly told the car was RWD, you'd pretty quickly figure it out after entering a freeway, etc. without the steering pulling to the left or right under hard acceleration. The other aspect is the way the car handles potholes under acceleration, normally that will jerk the hell out of your steering but with the BMW it doesn't. And let's not forget about the inherent oversteer problems associated with FWD cars under acceleration.
        • 8 Months Ago
        @ neptronix
        I've had nothing but really good experiences dealing with the BMW dealerships in Northern California. I've taken our 335 in twice now for warranty work. First instance was to have them replace the soft-touch trim piece on the steering wheel that was pealing, the second was a blown fuse that made the door locks stop working. Both times the problems were fixed in an hour and I experienced no shady sales tactics.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Okay smart guy so you're questioning the survey. So it's safe to believe that this survey is less representative of BMW owners than "every single BMW owner" you know. You're right, you probably know more BMW owners than BMW itself. Good work. Somebody hire this guy for 92% of all future analysis of anything
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is seriously the worst article i have ever read on this site. Front drive cars are fantastic. i know that today i commuted through 6 inches of snow (on the street) and my jeep couldn't do it without putting it in 4 wheel drive. If i had a small front drive car though, it wouldn't have been any issue at all. As for bmw all we have are the "xi" cars, which are actually very popular here in colorado, but there is no doubt that they would consume more fuel than a front drive bmw.

      Your oppinionated commentary makes it obvious that you have no idea what some people go through on a day to day basis.
        • 8 Months Ago
        @neptronix

        Subaru tends to do well making AWD systems that often don't need maintenance. That's why they are so popular where i live (and people tend to make Coloradan jokes about them all the time). I'm not sure how BMW AWD systems hold up though...
        • 8 Months Ago
        Front drive can be done well, but it rarely is. It's got a bad rap for a reason.

        IMO, moving from California to Oregon has changed my RWD car from an endless source of enjoyment, to a liability in the rain. In inclement weather you actually want that weight on the front wheels..

        Yeah, AWD, RWD, FWD all have their place.
        I'd never buy an AWD car though just for mpg and maintenance reasons.

        An electric AWD though... sign me up :)
      • 5 Years Ago
      If they want to save fuel so bad, maybe they should just give us the 116i and the 320i instead of these I6s...
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