Future BMW M cars will be offered with all-wheel-drive systems and increasing amounts of autonomous technology, but not to the detriment of driving engagement, according to the boss of BMW M division.
Speaking to our sister publication Autocar UK, 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 suggested that rear-wheel drive would always remain the default specification.
“They [M cars] are reaching the point where growing power outputs will oblige them to do something,” he said. “They’re still wedded to rear-wheel drive for philosophical reasons, but it’s already getting hard to sell them at 610hp-plus in markets such as Canada and Switzerland.”
He said engineers have been working hard to improve traction, stability control and torque vectoring systems, but hinted that optional four-wheel drive was inevitable in the long run.
“It wouldn’t be branded as xDrive,” he said. “We have to be sensitive about equity built up with rear-wheel drive.”
Van Meel suggested a name like 2+2WD or something similar was possible, in order to emphasise the car’s rear-biased setup.
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 him. "You can’t add 150kg of equipment to our cars without feeling it in the handling."
The technology, however, could trickle across into M models in the future. 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 BMW 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.
It would make sense for the M5 to gain these features, but van Meel said the performance model would get only a small selection. “I can imagine the day that M cars could drive you home from the track,” he said, “but M cars won’t get it [the technology] first”.
Given this, it seems likely the next-generation M5 – expected to arrive in international markets next year – will be rear-wheel drive only, with a limited amount of autonomous technology. But the following generation could be drastically different.