Exclusive: BMW and Mini Talk Hybrids, EVs, Diesels, and That Front-Wheel-Drive 2 Series

By Jacob Brown | February 11, 2014
Times are changing at BMW and Mini, with a front-wheel-drive BMW 2 Series Active Tourer coming to the U.S. sooner than not. "If you've seen it on the roads, chances are it's going to be sold in the U.S," says one of our sources. And, fancy that, we have seen the little front-drive BMW hatchback testing in Southern California, covered in camouflage. The new 2 Series Active Tourer is based on BMW's new UKL chassis--short for unterklasse or sub-class. It's the same architecture that underpins the 2014 Mini Cooper that we recently drove in Puerto Rico. The source we spoke with says that the 2 Series Active Tourer is more Euro-market-focused than other BMWs, competing most directly with the Mercedes-Benz B-Class. In Europe, it's common for white-collar employees to have company cars like BMW 3 Series. But when it comes time to retire, they often get into something smaller and more practical, which is a niche the 2 Series Active Tourer will fill.
Says our source of the car, "It's front-wheel drive, but it's still a BMW. We're going to do our best to make it handle like a proper BMW." Other points that came from our Puerto Rican drive of the new 2014 Mini Cooper: The UKL, unlike the old chassis, is designed to take plug-in hybrid, electric, and diesel powertrains for the U.S. from the get-go. It's just a matter of if or when BMW will integrate new technology into its cars. The outgoing Mini had a brief run with an all-electric model called the Mini E, which was lease-only and used the same electric motor found in the 2014 BMW i3. The current Mini is designed to house a urea tank for deconstructing diesel particulates--necessary for the U.S. Older models didn't receive such a feature, and now it's possible to bring over the diesel variant should Mini deem there's a market. We were told that the new 134-horsepower, turbocharged three-cylinder found in the 2014 Mini Cooper will find its way into each new model that comes out and will not be retrofitted to existing cars until they are fully redesigned. In an interview with Autocar, BMW board member Peter Schwartzenbauer said that Mini may reduce the size of its lineup but may increase the size of its vehicles, potentially putting an SUV into the lineup that's more than a foot longer than the current Mini Countryman.
That would make sense, given how expensive it is to produce Minis in the U.K. But, interestingly enough, we were told that Mini is still working on a sub-Cooper model based on the design of the Rocketman concept. The problem is that Mini doesn't have a chassis smaller than the UKL. The potential model below it is codenamed UKL0 and, while Mini is still very adamantly denying its existence, it would take a partner brand to push through. For our part, we could see Mini partnering with Mazda and Toyota--two brands already buddying up for the next-gen Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris.
But as much as Mini is pushing for the Rocketman's existence, to quote Elton John, we think it's going to be a long, long time before we see it reach production. Source: additional information from Autocar