BMW sticks to its guns for future gearboxes

Future BMWs won’t chase efficiency with nine or more gears, but will get three-cylinder power, according to tech chief

BMW is convinced its current transmission policy of eight-speed automatics, seven-speed dual-clutches and six-speed manuals is the perfect combination, according to its small and midsize cars boss, Klaus Frolich.

Speaking to Auto Express at the launch of the new X4 and 4 Series Gran Coupe – both of which offer an eight-speed ‘Sport Auto’ paddleshifter option – Frolich expressed scepticism at the gearbox policies of rivals Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes and Cadillac, all of whom are working on transmissions offering nine or more forward speeds.

“We ran some tests” explained Frolich. “The [efficiency] difference between an automatic with six speeds and eight speeds is seven or eight per cent, which is a good result. But the benefit for nine speeds [instead of eight] is almost zero per cent. Plus, it adds weight, complexity and cost, and with turbocharged engines you have a good spread of torque, so [drivers] do not want to have the gearbox constantly changing its mind.”

Quizzed over the policy to equip BMW’s M Division cars with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (known as M-DCT), Frolich said: “Seven gears is not optimum, it is a compromise. As in a manual gearbox, in a twin-clutch you must arrange all the gears in a line, so for weight and packaging reasons we are limited to seven speeds. But our new turbo M cars have so much torque this is no problem. DCT remains right for M cars because we can’t make a torque-convertor that would be durable up to 8000rpm.”

Frolich also confirmed that for the foreseeable future, the manual transmission is safe at BMW, both in M Division cars and regular non-performance models. “Of course, with a manual you are slower, but it is more emotional; it now says ‘I am a serious driver, I am a connoisseur’. So, we will continue [to offer a manual] even if only ten per cent of customers want it. That is why we offer a manual M5 sedan in North America. It is stupid – the development costs are huge – but we will keep doing it as long as the customer wants it.”

BMW unconvinced by Audi prediction 

Asked about the possibility of three-cylinder engines in larger cars like the 3 Series and 5 Series, Frolich was unconvinced by Audi CEO Rupert Stadler’s prediction that this will become the norm within ten years. That’s despite four-cylinder turbo engines having beginning to usurp thirsty six-cylinders in the large executive saloon and estate class, in Europe at least.

Frolich forecasted: “[small engines in the larger cars] will happen, but only when the buyers are ready. Many buyers don’t care how many cylinders are in their BMW, and the new MINI shows the potential for three-cylinder. But honestly, it is much easier for us to make three-cylinder engines work with front-wheel drive than rear-wheel drive.”

Recommended

BMW M440i xDrive: long term test review
BMW 4 Series long termer
BMW 4 Series

BMW M440i xDrive: long term test review

Final report: While the styling still divides opinion, our man can’t fault the BMW M440i's all-round ability
31 Aug 2021
BMW 4 Series review
BMW 4 Series
BMW 4 Series

BMW 4 Series review

The flamboyant new 4 Series Coupe pushes the envelope for driving dynamics and style
20 Aug 2021
BMW 4 Series vs Audi A5 vs Lexus RC
Car group tests

BMW 4 Series vs Audi A5 vs Lexus RC

We find out if the new BMW 4 Series can beat the Lexus RC and Audi A5
21 Nov 2020
New BMW 4 Series 2020 review
BMW 4 Series

New BMW 4 Series 2020 review

Is the most basic 420i model the sweet spot in new BMW 4 Series range?
29 Oct 2020

Most Popular

'The death of cheap cars will be a travesty for personal mobility'
Opinion cheap cars
Opinion

'The death of cheap cars will be a travesty for personal mobility'

Our appetite for small, cheap cars is as strong as ever - although Mike Rutherford warns they may no longer be profitable
12 Sep 2021
What is Skoda vRS? History and best cars driven
Skoda vRS range
Skoda

What is Skoda vRS? History and best cars driven

To mark 20 years of Skoda’s vRS badge, we rounded up some of the performance cars from the past two decades that have worn the subtle green badge
17 Sep 2021
E10 petrol explained: UK prices, checker tool and is it OK for your car?
Petrol pump
News

E10 petrol explained: UK prices, checker tool and is it OK for your car?

E10 petrol is up to 10 per cent ethanol and is available at UK fuel stations now as part of the bid to cut CO2 emissions
1 Sep 2021