BMW confirms front-wheel drive for Oz

BMW WILL RELEASE its first ever mass-market front-wheel drive model in Australia at the end of next year. Based on the Concept Active Tourer (CAT) show car unveiled at the 2012 Paris Motor Show, the five-seater MPV/wagon crossover will have the established Mercedes-Benz B-Class in its crosshairs.

Expected to be priced between $40,000 and $50,000, the production version will most likely surface internationally at the Geneva Motor Show in March.

"Next year will be a very busy year for BMW small cars," BMW Australia’s general manager for marketing, Toni Andreevski, revealed to Wheels at this week’s X5 launch in New Zealand.

"We will have plenty of new cars like the 2 Series and the production vehicle based on the Concept Active Tourer in Australia [that will be launched] in the last quarter of the year.

“So we will be better placed to be competitive in a popular segment."

While BMW is remaining tight-lipped on what the production version of the CAT will be called, our money is on ‘1 Series Gran Tourer’ (or GT), though others believe the Bavarians may create a completely new acronym for its front-drive people mover.

Internally, the CAT is known as the F45 series, and will be one of around a dozen BMWs to use the transverse, front-wheel-drive UKL1 platform developed for a veritable cornucopia of third-generation Mini hatch models, starting with the all-new F56 to be unveiled in Oxford (England) on Monday.

Along with the sideways-facing powerplant, the newcomer is also expected to offer the company’s fresh family of three-cylinder turbocharged engines, to supplement the four-cylinder petrol and diesel units that may also feature on the F45 drivetrain menu.

So why is BMW so keen to muscle in on B-Class territory in Australia?

Currently, the boxy Benz actually leads the VFACTS $40K-plus premium small-car market, edging ahead of its second-placed A-Class fraternal twin, with a 20 percent share of the segment.

In contrast, BMW’s two-year old F20 1 Series hatch is sitting back in third place with just 13 percent of the pie.

The upcoming BMW i3 plug-in electric/hybrid due here around August is also front-wheel drive, but at roughly $70,000 a pop, the BMW green machine will hardly be a mainstream proposition.

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