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'Ultimate' MPVs ready for 2007?

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BMW chief Helmut Panke doesn't like the idea of a BMW people mover. “We won't do a boring van,” he says bluntly. But that doesn't mean BMW isn't looking at building roomy, estate-type vehicles capable of carrying five or seven passengers. Just don't call them people movers...

BMW research and development boss Burkhard Goeschel prefers the term multi-functional high roof vehicle. “This is a segment we are monitoring with great interest,” he says. “But we will only consider such a product if it meets our requirements in terms of variability, modularity and, most importantly, vehicle dynamics.” In other words, he wants a people mover that is still 'The Ultimate Driving Machine'.

Goeschel's engineers are working on two MPV-type vehicles, dubbed internally RFK, shorthand for the German raum-funktionales Konzept. The RFK strategy is based on existing component sets from the 5-series, and the forthcoming 1-series and 2005 3-series. Two basic variants are under study – the five seat RFK1, based on 1-series or 3-series hardware, and the seven-seat RFK2, based on 5-series parts. Seat height is halfway between a regular BMW estate and the X3 and X5 SUVs.

The smaller RFK1 is more like an estate car than RFK2, say insiders. The four-wheel drive version will eschew faux off-roader cosmetics – taller wheels and tyres, raised ride height, and macho body kit – to preserve BMW's trademark ride, handling and refinement.

RFK2 is said to combine the roominess of a large wagon with the prestige of a large luxury car, the traction of an SUV, and the driving dynamics of a sports saloon. Two new transmissions under development at BMW are also earmarked for the RFKs – one is a quick-action automatic for diesel engines, the other an automated manual similar in concept to VW/Audi's DSG unit.

Both RFK proposals have yet to be approved for production by the BMW board. But with Mercedes pushing ahead with three similar concepts (the E-class based GST, the C-class based MST and the A-class based CST) it's likely you'll see people movers in BMW showrooms by 2007.

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