BMW commits to AWD M cars

words - Michael Taylor
But all-paw high-performance models are years away yet
The decade will be almost over before BMW’s M GmbH finally delivers its first all-wheel-drive production car, its president has revealed.

Despite Audi and, more recently, Mercedes-Benz’s go-fast divisions posting dominating sales with all-wheel-drive performance cars, BMW has been left behind. Its M5, M6, M6 Cabriolet and M6 GranCoupe are all rear-drive only, and the same will apply for the M3 and M4 models it will launch at next January’s Detroit Motor Show.

“I’ve looked at the numbers and 70 to 80 percent of E63 AMGs are all-wheel drive in the US now,” Dr. Friedrich Nitschke admitted. 

“On our cars we are thinking of all-wheel drive, but it won’t come before we get the successor of the M5 and M6.

“That’s the timing and it’s not practical to react in the current life cycles. It would also be an additional option, not the only available model, because a lot of M buyers prefer rear-wheel drive.”

With the E39 5-Series running from 1995 to 2004 and the E60/61 running from 2003 to 2010, the most likely window for the next all-new 5-Series family will be between 2016 and 2017, with an M5 variant not spinning off for another year after that.

But it’s not just sales, because the Audi’s RS6 Avant and RS7, Porsche’s Panamera Turbo and the all-wheel drive version of Mercedes-Benz’s fastest E63 AMG variant all post 0-100km/h sprints of between 3.7 and 3.9 seconds, while the M5 and M6 are up to half a second slower. 

Even the faster, more powerful 423kW Competition Package variant of the M5 takes 4.2 seconds to hit 100km/h, yet M GmbH President Friedrich Nitschke denies the speed shortfall is a problem.

“If you look at our Competition Package for the M5, it’s lighter and more focused and they are the advantages we have, not a fraction of acceleration here or there,” the M President insisted.

“It’s not all as simple as it seems. If you look at Audi, they had no choice but to make a rear-wheel drive car so they might as well do all-wheel drive. AMG made a decision to go that way and it seems to work for them, but we are not all the same.”

While M has current all-wheel drive machines on its books, the X5 M and X6 M are both based on all-wheel drive architectures in standard M forms, while the low-riding M cars are based on rear-drive architectures, rather than BMW’s optional xDrive setups. BMW’s halfway hotshop, the M Performance Automobiles brand, offers the tri-turbo diesel M550d xDrive, but its all-wheel drive is only engineered for left-hand drive architectures.

While he admits to working up medium-term plans for all-wheel drive M5 and M6 models, Mr Nitschke insists the M3 and M4 will never turn to all-wheel drive.

“The M5 and M6, maybe in the next generation they could get AWD, but not with the M3 or M4. Never,” he said.

“To accelerate out of corners with this rear-end architecture concept is so fantastic that it [all-wheel drive] is not needed.”

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Published : Wednesday, 2 October 2013
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