BMW has abandoned its illustrious tradition of longitudinally mounted engines and rear-wheel drive with its Concept Active Tourer, a forerunner to the long-mooted range of front-drive entry-level BMWs.
A BMW insider has confirmed that the concept tourer would reach production imminently, with looks extremely close to that of the concept.
The five-door hatchback, on display at the New York motor show, is a plug-in hybrid with four-wheel drive. A transversely mounted engine drives the front wheels – an acknowledgment that entry-level BMWs from the new small car line-up will come with front-wheel drive – and the rear wheels are powered by an electric motor.
The platform is known as UKL1 and will be used in two wheelbase lengths both for the next-generation Mini line-up and the new range of entry-level BMWs to join the 1-series line-up from late 2013.
The Concept Active Tourer showcases BMW’s new 1.5-litre three-cylinder direct injection petrol engine that will be a staple of the small BMW and Mini line-ups. Codenamed B38, it will also be used in the i8 sports car where it is installed longitudinally.
The twin-scroll turbocharged engine is from a new modular family that will eventually support three, four and six-cylinder petrol and diesel powerplants boasting up to 60 per cent component commonality for more flexible production than today’s engines.
In the concept, the engine is supported by an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the floor and drive is channeled to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Combined power is put at 188bhp. In all-electric mode, the concept is rear-drive.
BMW claims 0-62mph in “less than 8.0sec”, a top speed “around 120mph” along with combined economy of “more than 113mpg”, a CO2 rating of “under 60g/km” and electric only range of up to 18 miles. No weight figures have been announced.
The UKL1 platform is engineered for both front- and all-wheel drive layouts. UKL1 is derived from the German words ‘unter klasse’, meaning sub class or entry level.
The switch to front-wheel drive is an about turn for BMW, which has always said longitudinal engine layouts provide better weight distribution and a more dynamic drive. It also makes a mockery of some previous BMW advertising campaigns, but the about turn is driven by the need to reduce production costs and provide competitive packaging for a new generation of small cars.
The underpinnings make the handsome Concept Active Tourer an uncharacteristically proportioned BMW. It has a short bonnet, high roof line and angle tailgate, but dressed in a contemporary skin that insiders hint won’t change too much for production. Concept car features include 20in alloys, but 16in wheels are tipped to be offered as standard.
Although likely be badged as the 1-series GT in production trim, the new car owes little to the look of the latest 1-series hatchback. Instead, the Concept Active Tourer uses details that align it more with the 5-series GT – a signal that BMW is attempting to provide its new GT models with a family look in a move similar to its more rugged X models.
The concept's principle designer, Michael de Bono, says the design aims to combine the agility of a small hatchback with the practicality of the 3-series Touring. He also says the new layout redefines the perception of BMW sportiness, creating a "new agility."