A sleekly styled roadster is set to spearhead BMW’s keenly awaited entry into the front-wheel drive ranks in 2015. The model, named Z2 internally, will give BMW an image-building model upon which to establish an extensive range of new entry-level front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive offerings.
The compact two-seat Z2 could sell for as little as £15,000. A low entry price is made possible by economies of scale because the Z2 is one of up to 23 BMW and Mini models that will be based on the firm’s new UKL1 platform from 2014 onwards.
“We are considering a car in the spirit of the original Z3,” an official with knowledge of BMW’s new model programme revealed. “It is of similar size to the E36/7 [the codename for the Z3 produced between 1996 and 2002] but is planned to use the front-wheel drive platform to keep costs down and achieve a margin level that ensures it is sustainable at comparatively low production volumes.”
Set to occupy a market niche beneath the existing Z4 roadster, the new BMW is planned to provide buyers with an alternative to the upcoming fourth-generation Mazda MX-5, with a limited range of petrol engines. While it’s still early days, the Z2 is expected to be twinned with a successor to today’s Mini Coupé/Roadster pairing, due out in 2017.
In top-of-the-line form, the new BMW roadster could benefit from a new aluminium-block 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with as much as 300bhp. This model would be sold under BMW’s M Performance line and is likely to get all-wheel drive.
The reference to the Z3 suggests that BMW’s new roadster will be little more than 4000mm in length, 1700mm in width and about 1250mm in height. Unlike the larger Z4, it is also expected to come with a simple fabric hood with standard manual operation in a move that promises to keep weight in check.
The long-mooted move to front-wheel drive is a revolution for BMW. The company has forged its widely envied reputation for producing some of the world’s most sought-after driver’s cars around traditional rear-wheel drive platforms, often going to great lengths in marketing campaigns to extol the dynamic benefits associated with such a layout.
But with its line of modern-day Mini models having successfully proven that front-wheel drive is no barrier to driving enjoyment, officials believe that the radical change in engineering philosophy will be crucial in attracting younger customers to the BMW brand in coming years.
“We are moving with the times to diversify our customer base,” said an engineering source. “There is no reason why a front-wheel-drive car can’t offer a similar dynamic experience to a rear-wheel-drive car. The advancement of various driving aids, with features such as electronic differentials, virtually eliminates the influence of drive forces on the steered wheels when done properly.”
BMW’s board members are considering a total of 23 new front-drive models proposed for introduction by the end of the decade. Twelve of them could eventually use the BMW name and 11 are conceived to carry the Mini badge.
As well as using front-wheel drive, each new model can offer optional four-wheel drive should the market and the model in question demand it. As with today’s Mini Countryman, the four-wheel drive capability comes by way of a Haldex-style multi-plate clutch.
The first in BMW’s bold new front-drive model push will be the 1-series GT, the production version of the Concept Active Tourer unveiled at the 2012 Paris show. It is tentatively planned to be revealed at the Geneva motor show in 2014.
But while the 1-series GT is highly anticipated, it is the secret new two-seat roadster that officials are banking on to provide an image boost to its future line-up of front-wheel-drive models.
BMW’s decision to forge ahead with a range of price-leading front-wheel-drive models stems directly from internal marketing studies that reveal the majority of customers at the lower end of its line-up are, in the words of one insider, “not particularly concerned whether their next car uses a transverse-mounted engine and front-wheel drive or a longitudinally mounted engine and rear-wheel drive”.