Sat 2 Jun 2007
It has taken more than three years of drawn-out internal discussions and a change of chairmanship in the process, but BMW’s long-rumored 3 Series-based crossover/utility vehicle finally has been granted production approval.
The versatile new BMW, expected to be badged F3 when it reaches showrooms, has been under consideration since 2004, according to internal documentation recently shared with AutoWeek.
But with the German carmaker’s engineering resources already stretched to the limit readying a flood of new models in the interim, it wasn’t until BMW’s new chairman, Norbert Reithofer, arrived on the scene in late 2006 that the new five-seater was reviewed. After some additional deliberation, Reithofer gave the F3 a definite thumbs up.
Driving BMW’s decision to push ahead with the new model is a clear upswing in crossover sales in both Europe and the United States in recent years.
“We’ve looked carefully at prevailing market trends, and there appears to be a clear shift away from old-style [multi]purpose vehicles. By combining the high seating position of a sport/utility vehicle with the space afforded by a traditional station wagon, crossovers appear to be providing an clear alternative to buyers,” a BMW insider told AutoWeek. “Our goal is to bring a CUV to market offering the best possible dynamics.”
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the new CUV, though. With current development patterns, we’ll be well into 2010 before the F3 is launched in North America at a starting price that is likely to pitch it into a crowded segment and into direct competition with the likes of the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4, among others.
The computer-generated renderings seen here reveal the shape the F3 is likely to take, although, with BMW still finalizing the design, details remain highly speculative.
What is certain is that BMW’s crossover will sit on a modified version of the existing 3 Series platform. Plans call for adopting various components from the next-generation X3, due out in 2009, together with the new FlexRay system, which is aimed at providing the new car with a stable network for a raft of advanced electronic driver aids and safety features.
In addition to standard rear-wheel drive, moves are afoot to offer the F3 with the option of BMW’s xDrive four-wheel-drive system in combination with certain engines. Power for BMW’s entry-level CUV is likely to come from a range of four- and six-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines in a lineup similar to that in the existing X3, with top models receiving an updated version of the gutsy 3.0-liter, 300-hp, twin-turbocharged six that was unveiled in the 335i Coupe in late 2006.
BMW’s decision to push ahead with a compact CUV comes on the back of growing concerns over an earlier decision to build a larger seven-seat model. That car, known internally as the RFK (for raumfunktionales Konzept or “space-functional concept”) but set to be badged F5, would rival the Mercedes-Benz R-Class. However, slow sales of the R-Class, most notably in the North American market for which it was expressly conceived and where it is assembled, apparently have left BMW’s top brass wondering if they might have set their sights a little too high.
Secrecy surrounds BMW’s production plans for the F3, although the key may lie in the company’s recent announcement that it will shift production of the second-gen X3 to its Spartanburg, South Carolina, plant in 2009. That move would free space for the F3 at the Magna plant in Steyr, Austria, where the X3 is now assembled.
With the F3, BMW hopes to muscle in on Europe’s burgeoning C-segment MPV ranks, currently dominated by the likes of the Ford C-Max, the Volkswagen Touran and the Renault Scenic. Although it’s still early, the F3 is expected to line up against Mercedes-Benz’s popular B-Class, which, despite a relatively high price, has proved extremely popular in certain markets—not least of all in Germany, where more than 68,000 were sold last year.
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