Sad news for the BMW faithful; the M division is going to be offering optional all-wheel-drive on its new models. For devotees of the most ultimate of ultimate driving machines, this might be the equivalent of Dylan going electric. But while this might be disappoint for Bimmer rear-wheel drive faithfuls, it’s ultimately even worse for Audi and Mercedes AMG. And strangely, it may just be good news for most of the rest of us.
In the recent past, BMW’s M division stated that it was planning to avoid all-wheel-drive – at least in its cars – in favor of its preferred rear-wheel drive setup. After the success of all-wheel drive AMG models, BMW is changing its tune.
The head of the M division, Friedrich Nitschke, told Car Sales that in response to Mercedes, “we are thinking of all wheel drive.” This shouldn’t be surprising because BMW is at heart conformist and the only member of the German ‘big three’ not to offer an all-wheel drive performance car.
As a practical matter, we won’t be seeing an AWD M5 or M6 until at least 2017. And, for now at least, the M3 and M4 will remain rear-drive only. Though, I don’t think that is going to last if consumers continue to expect faster, more powerful cars in each generation.
So why should we care? Well, for starters car bores – like yours truly – love rear-drive. It communicates to the driver about the feel of the road and it allows truly skilled drivers – unlike yours truly – to have more control by using the throttle to break traction and slide the car. Unfortunately, it also means that all your power is meeting the road through two contact patches that, on most cars, would both fit on a single sheet of printer paper. This means you are having an awesome time right until you slide backwards into a tree at 70 miles an hour.
All-wheel drive is safer, easier, and allows for quicker acceleration because of increased traction. For BMW this may just be key. If each generation of M car is to have more power and more torque than the previous one, it rapidly becomes more difficult to make them drivable. All-wheel drive gives the M Division’s humorless, fun-hating engineers the leeway to cram a nuclear submarine’s worth of power under the hood without installing the rear tires from a dragster.
Audi has made a name for itself based on its quattro all-wheel drive system, precisely because its cars are fast, fun to drive, and won’t kill you at the drop of a throttle.
With this announcement, BMW is basically saying that it wants back the customers that Audi lured away with its all-wheel capabilities. And that’s why you should care.