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”.