In the late 1990s it became clear that BMW had to bring to market something smaller than the soon to be launch E46 3 Series. The answer came in 2004 with the E87 five door hatchback that was based on the forthcoming E90 3 Series architecture. The idea was rather simple. Base the car and other iterations on the E90 platform while de-contenting the interior and the technology offered. And of course that meant rear wheel drive.

It was the same formula that BMW employed for the 2nd generation F20 1 Series as well. However during the development of the car it became more obvious to BMW that it would have to take a different path for two reasons; increased fuel consumption requirements and the MINI.

Why the MINI? BMW already had an answer to the fuel consumption problem with a lighter sophisticated front wheel drive platform. But for the health of that platform MINI couldn ‘t continue to go it alone. Either there would have to be a partnership with another automaker or the 1 Series would have to become front wheel drive and based on the next generation MINI. BMW chose the latter.

All well and good but BMW was already a few years into the development of the second generation F20 rear wheel drive 1 Series. So what to do? Scrap the project entirely? What of the coupe, convertible and even the rumored roadster iterations?

The answer was to simply carry-on with F20 development and, for one generation of 1 Series, have two distinctively different products marketed under the same name.That is with one exception. To protect the upmarket coupe and convertible models from any marketplace confusion BMW will christen them 2 Series models.

It ‘s an interesting move and one that harkens back almost ten years. As Car Magazine points out BMW had the same idea 10 years ago when it almost changed the 3 Series Coupe to the 4 Series.

The first 1er out the door will be the F20 five door and F21 three door hatch in late 2011 and late 2012 respectively.

Then BMW will move onto the F22 Coupe and F23 Convertible in early 2013 and 2014.

However the most anticipated (at least by the press) will be BMW ‘s first foray into a front wheel drive car wearing the roundel. Marketed as a 1 Series BMW ‘s first front wheel driver will be based on the UKL1 platform that underpins the generation (F56) MINI. The chassis will be very close and interior hard points will be literally the same. In fact BMW has gone on record by saying the two cars will be differentiated only by two things; design and software.

Look for the front wheel drive 1 Series to be available as a three and five door and perhaps even with MINI ‘s new all wheel drive system. With no transmission tunnel to worry about the front wheel drive 1 Series will be smaller yet have the same if not more interior space. It will be marketed heavily in urban environments and will focus on efficiency and style when it comes to market in late 2013.

BMW is also keen to expand the model range of the MINI and new FWD 1 Series. The MINI ‘MAT ‘ (MINI Activity Tourer) is currently under consideration along with the BMW FAST (Family Activity Sports Tourer). Both would come to market around 2016 and be marketed for families in Europe

And then things get really interesting. Reportedly BMW intends to stretch the UKL to underpin the next generation BMW X1 and Countryman around the 2016 and 2017 model year respectively. Yes the X1 will go front wheel drive in standard form.

2017 could also see the production version of the MINI Rocketman based on a modified version of the UKL1 platform. According to several sources (including last month’s Automobile Magazine) MINI may even go slightly smaller with the Rocketman getting very close to the original Mini’s length of 120 inches. At this time there are no plans for a BMW city car of similar stature.

Reportedly on the drawing boards but unconfirmed by our sources are a BMW and MINI ‘sports activity tourer’ that will offer the most space and versatility on the platform. What they will ultimately look like we haven’t the foggiest.

By 2018 BMW intends on rounding out the decade with the next generation MINI Coupe and Roadster based on the UKL. And alongside the much rumored BMW Z1 front wheel drive roadster. The Z1 will finally bring an affordable roadster to the BMW range but in fwd form. Although how it will market it alongside the MINI Convertible and MINI Roadster is yet to be determined.

Finally there are several rumors (and at least one of our own sources) that are pointing to the UKL serving as the basis of all of the next front wheel drive 1 Series models. Yes that would mean the F20 would be the last rear wheel drive 1 Series before the car moves over to what many BMW enthusiasts would consider the dark-side. However for those who doubt BMW’s prowess and building successful and sporty front wheel drive cars, just look at the last ten years of the MINI brand.

There are other rumors but things frankly get a little too murky for our tastes to report yet. However suffice to say BMW intends on leveraging everything it can to combat VW, Audi and Mercedes over the next decade. And with lighter, more efficient (yet power engines) combined with a flexible and very high-tech platform, they stand a fighting chance.

One thing we can say with some certainty; we don ‘t expect any front wheel drive BMW to enter the US market in the next 10 years.

First image courtesy of Car Magazine