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BMW flush with new product

Urban chic: The BMW X5 is due in Australia next year, powered by a V8 engine and priced over $100,000.

A family of four-wheel drive on-roaders, including an M version, could be on sale by 2005

23 Jun 1999

BMW's year 2000 assault on the lifestyle 4WD wagon market with the X5 could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Deep in BMW's secret FITZ research centre in Munich, designers are laying the foundations for a family of four-wheel drive wagons, to match each of its sedan families.

The X5 is understood to be just the first generation of 4WD wagons with the next generation, due around 2005, producing an X3 and X7 version as well as a new X5. The wagons would all be built at the South Carolina plant in the US that now builds the Z3 roadster.

Before then, BMW is also thinking about a high performance version of the current X5, possibly using the M5 engine, with which to battle the future Porsche 4WD off-roader now under development with Volkswagen.

A company insider agreed there was no reason why a version of the X5 could not wear the coveted M badge, especially as the 300kW M5 sedan goes on sale in the US next year.

This will be the first "full bottle" M car sold in the US.

Previous versions have used detuned engines to get past strict emissions regulations.

The Z8 due to be launched late this year (and star in the next James Bond film) will use the same M5 engine. The Z8 will be a convertible, aimed at grabbing a slice of the Hollywood jet-set market.

Meanwhile, a range of four-cylinder engines under development in Munich to be built at a new factory in the UK is expected by about 2001. The motors will be fitted to the new Compact model (2001) and could also slot into the just released E46 3 Series coupe, at present only available with a six-cylinder engine.

The new Compact is expected to have a more individual identity than the current car which is simply a cut-down 3 Series sedan. A sporty model is promised which could be the spiritual successor to the 318iS coupe.

An M version could be possible, regaining the sharp, hard-edged performance of the original four-cylinder M3 based on the E30 generation cars.

The next M3 coupe is expected to revealed at the Frankfurt motor show in September as a concept car, but is understood to use a 3.4-litre straight six producing about 250kW, while an M3 convertible is possible as a regular stock item for the Australian market.

BMW recently imported 70 M3 convertibles as part of the M3 coupe run-out series. BMW Australia will be without the M3 coupe for about a year since production has just ceased and new generation cars are not expected before mid-2001.

The E46 generation 3 Series range is set to expand if BMW Australia gives the go-ahead to the 3 series touring, a boutique five-door wagon. The most likely engine configuration would be as a 2.5-litre 323 specification car for about $70,000, since the 328i specification would make is almost as expensive as the niche market 528i touring presently on sale.

Convertible fans will have to wait until early 2001 for the new 3 series rag top, which is expected to return only as a 328 model, although BMW is considering a cheaper version. However, it is satisfied Z3 models fill the demand lower down the price scale for such open-top vehicles.

All new 3 series sedans now sold in Australia have leather upholstery and a CD player as part of the switch in production from Germany to South Africa.

An upgraded plant outside Pretoria, which used to supply previous generation cars, is now building E46 sedans in right-hand drive for most markets as well as some cars for the US.

BMW AG cancelled the traditional industrial shut-down last year because E46 demand was running so hot and reports indicate the same scenario is planned for the European summer this year.

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