Until now, UK buyers wanting a BMW with four-wheel drive have been restricted to crossover and SUV models, like the X1, X3, X5 and X6. This year, BMW is launching new versions of its small hatchback and compact executive aimed at drivers looking for a more secure drive in slippery conditions.
The 320i xDrive Saloon is already on sale. It will soon be joined by four-wheel-drive versions of the Touring model, along with 320d and 330d xDrive models in Saloon and Touring bodystyles. If you don’t need the space that the 3 Series offers, there’s also a 12od xDrive 5dr on the way. All of these new models go into production in March, with the first UK customer deliveries soon after.
With the weather as wintery as it is at the moment, a 4×4 probably appeals. But don’t think that sending power to all four wheels is only a benefit in snow and ice. Four-wheel drive makes for a more secure, confident and predictable drive on wet Tarmac or muddy country roads all-year round.
Of course, sending power to the rear wheels is one of the traits which marks out a BMW as different from many competitors, and contributes to the class-leading handling balance of the 1 Series and 3 Series. This hasn’t been compromised by the xDrive models, which can send 100% of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels if the car’s sensors detect a loss of grip at the front tyres. What’s more, the cars’ low weight, which contributes to their agility and poise, is hardly changed. The 3 Series is just 80kg heavier while the 1 Series xDrive gains just 70kg.
Perhaps you’re thinking that four-wheel drive will push up running costs. True, there is a slight penalty in fuel economy and emissions, but it’s less than you’d think. A BMW 12od xDrive emits just 7g/km of additional carbon dioxide compared with the front-wheel-drive car. The most obvious rival, the Audi A3 Quattro, emits 22g/km more than the front-wheel-drive model.
The price for this extra traction and security is just £1500 over the rear-wheel-drive equivalent. That’s not a lot to pay for the most technically advanced 4×4 system on the market, and the peace of mind it brings.