That BMW is prepping a front-drive small sedan to rival the Mercedes-Benz CLA and Audi A3 sedan is no great secret, but indications are that the 1 Series sedan won't land in showrooms until as late as 2017.
Camouflaged prototypes have been spotted undergoing testing on both road and track, with the frequency of sightings increasing this year.
However, while it appears the vehicle is rapidly nearing production-ready status, the company won't be bringing it to market until the current generation F20 1 Series hatch comes to the end of its life in late 2017.
Speaking to TMR at last week's local launch of the 2 Series Active Tourer, BMW Australia's product planning chief Shawn Ticehurst said that the 1 Series sedan is definitely not slated for a 2015 reveal, and that it's unlikely to launch before the current 1 Series hatch reaches the end of its six-year lifespan.
"This current car was only launched in 2011 so it’s still got good life left in it, it’s still a fresh car," Ticehurst said to TMR.
"But as we replace models within that segment, starting with X1, you will start to begin seeing front-wheel drive on more cars."
Like the X1, the next-generation 1 Series hatch will make the transition from being longitudinally-engined and rear-wheel drive to a transverse-engine front-wheel drive model, as BMW seeks to give its UKL platform greater economies of scale.
“We’ve got the 2 Series Coupe, which if you look at Merc and Audi neither of them have a coupe to compete against our car. And that’s a car that seems to have hit a sweet spot in the Australian market," he said.
"We’ve got the [2 Series] convertible coming next year and while Audi has the A3 convertible, our car is a different kind of offering, being rear-wheel drive."
But a glance at sales figures shows there's no denying the addition of a sedan would give a significant sales boost to the 1 Series, which has year-to-date sales of 2052 cars - well behind the A3 sedan/hatch, which has sold 3702 units so far this year.
Mercedes has fared even better, with year-to-date A-Class sales of 3956 putting it ahead of the A3 and 1 Series. Add the CLA's 1963 sales, and Mercedes is clearly the dominant force in this space.
That's not lost on BMW, but for the Bavarian manufacturer - which has for so long traded heavily on its reputation as a maker of fine-handling RWD products - its transition into the world of FWD will be a gradual one.
Fans of the brand will also be happy to hear that it will largely be confined to smaller vehicles, with the 3 Series expected to remain RWD.
For C-segment cars like the 1 Series though, the greater packaging efficiencies of transverse engine mean FWD will soon be the norm.
"This [UKL] platform will roll out over many more models," Ticehurst said.
"When we’re talking about small cars, people want the space, the practicality and all of that, and we’ve just got to build cars that meet what the market wants."
"Our challenge is to engineer FWD cars that are appreciated for their driving experience."
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