Speaking to Autocar, M division CEO Frank van Meel said four-wheel drive was likely to feature on models such as the M5 as power outputs increased, but he suggested rear-wheel drive would always remain the default specification.
Van Meel explained that M cars are already reaching the point where growing power outputs will oblige something to be done, but that they're still wedded to rear-wheel drive for philosophical reasons. He added that it’s already getting hard to sell rear-driven M cars with 600bhp-plus in markets such as Canada and Switzerland.
BMW engineers have been working hard to improve traction, stability control and torque vectoring systems, but Van Meel hinted that optional four-wheel drive was inevitable in the long run.
The system wouldn’t be labelled as xDrive on M cars, however. BMW believes the all-wheel-drive performance models deserve their own branding.
Van Meel suggested a name like 2+2WD or something similar was possible, in order to emphasise the car’s rear-biased set-up.
It seems the integration of i-brand electric powertrain parts into M cars is still a long way off, because the technology is still too heavy, according to van Meel. He explained that adding 150kg of equipment to M cars was too much of a compromise to handling.
The technology could trickle across into M models in the future, though. BMW’s head of sales and marketing, Ian Robertson, said at the New York motor show last month: “Consumers want more performance and less CO2, so there’s a strong case for introducing this technology into future performance models.”
The next-generation 5 Series looks set to inherit the autonomous systems of the latest 7 Series and the contemporary 48-volt electrical architecture that’ll enable it to feature hands-off operation up to a pre-determined speed, a sophisticated anti-collision system and fully autonomous braking, among other features.
It would make sense for the M5 to gain these features, but van Meel said the performance model would get only a small selection.
Given this, it seems likely the next-generation M5 — which is expected to arrive next year — will be rear-wheel drive only, with a limited amount of autonomous technology. But the following generation could be drastically different.