The X5 M and X6 M are the only two models built by the M Division that feature all-wheel drive, but – as is the trend at Mercedes-Benz – that number seems set to increase for BMW…
XDrive and 4Matic nomenclatures, which Bimmer and Benz use to denote models with all-wheel drive systems, are ubiquitous in Northern Hemisphere countries where exceedingly slippery winter driving conditions necessitate optimal traction. In South Africa, however, where we’re blessed with moderate climate, xDrive is associated with BMW’s off-roaders and 4Matic with A-Class derivatives that sport all-wheel drive, such as the A45, CLA250 and 45, GLA220 CDI and GLA45 AMG.
The Sindelfingen- and Munich-based marques’ rival from Ingolstadt, which positions Quattro technology at the core of its business, offers all-wheel-drive models in every range (even the A1, courtesy of the recent introduction of the S1 model), but BMW and Mercedes-Benz have developed all-wheel-drive models for left-hand drive markets only, which explains why the tri-turbocharged BMW M550d xDrive and E63 AMG/S 4Matic aren’t available here.
Benz rolling out 4Matic AMGs
But that trend is evidently changing, at least in the case of Mercedes-Benz. It’s new(ish) S63 AMG sedan and Coupé is not available with 4Matic in RHD yet, but the company has suggested later versions will be. The new C450 AMG model, which will be powered by a 3,0-litre V6 twin-turbo that produces 270 kW and 517 N.m torque, will arrive in South Africa soon replete with an AWD transmission. What’s more, its big brother, the C63/S AMG (with a 4,0-litre V8 twin turbo that produces 350kW/650 N.m and 375 kW/700 N.m), which will be launched in the local market with RHD, should sport 4Matic technology in due course.
Rumours about M5, upcoming M2
Suggestions that BMW might be considering the introduction of xDrive for models other than its SUVs and non-M sedans (and their derivatives) are based on recent reports by Autoblog and Autocar.
The former published spy photographs of a current-generation M5 undergoing extreme weather testing and reported the “shooters grew suspicious when they saw this seemingly normal-looking M5 appearing to turn all four wheels during ice testing. They checked it out and (took pictures of the car’s suspension) showing power routed to the front axle.”
Meanwhile, Autocar’s Greg Kable reported that “BMW’s M division was planning to make xDrive available for the (upcoming, near 300 kW) M2 Coupé in selected markets” a while after the newcomer made its Frankfurt Show debut “as part of a broader strategy that will see (the technology) offered as an option on all future series-production M models”.
A business case for xDrive in M cars
The likelihood of xDrive technology being made widely available for BMW M models destined for RHD markets (which constitute a small percentage of the global sales market, therefore weakening the case for developing models especially for the UK, Japan, South Africa and Australia) remains remote, but not if the Munich-brand and its rival from Stuttgart view the technology as something that will form an integral part of its global product line-ups.
In past reports, more than one Mercedes-Benz official suggested that “in markets where customers can choose between rear-wheel drive and 4Matic AMG sedans (not counting the range of performance SUVs) the take-up rate of AWD was more than 80%”.
When traction is at a premium
Enthusiasts will undoubtedly prefer the famed handling characteristics of rear-wheel-drive performance cars and revel in the thrill of piloting such vehicles at their limits (and beyond). Furthermore, they’ll be concerned about the supposed weight penalty of AWD configurations.
However, when CAR has tested and compared super saloons (usually of the German variety and producing outputs comfortably above 300 kW – sometimes deep into the 400s), we’ve experienced difficulties in our attempts to achieve representative acceleration times with the RWD contenders. And, when driving conditions offer less than ideal grip levels, we’ve found those cars’ acceleration blunted by stability systems overwhelmed by excessive wheelspin.
When the next-generation BMW M5, which Autoblog believes will be lighter than the current car and produce at least 450 kW in standard trim, makes its arrival in 2017, a four-wheel drivetrain should surely at least be an option.
Otherwise, those brave mortals who procure these outrageous machines designed with the sole purpose of settling the Teutonic battle for supremacy may find themselves at the sheer mercy of vulcanised rubber and macadam.