BMW has awarded Magna the largest transmission order in the powertrain manufacturer’s history. While BMW (and many, many other automakers) rely on ZF eight-speed automatics for rear- and all-wheel drive models, the Magna units will be used specifically in front-drive vehicles, potentially future versions of the 1 Series, 2 Series, X1, and X2, and perhaps a few MINIs as well. The chosen design is a dual-clutch setup, which can also accommodate an integrated high-rpm 48-volt electric motor for mild hybridization. Hybrid versions fill the same dimensional footprint as the conventional design, ensuring flexible manufacturing, something that BMW prides itself on.
Magna bills the scalable dual-clutch transmissions as yielding benefits in the form of enhanced drivability and optimized levels of efficiency, and also says the underlying transmission technology will be used in more than 170 different vehicle applications. The gearboxes will be built in Magna facilities in Neuenstein, Germany, and Kechnec, Slovakia. The announcement of the deal follows a similar agreement earlier this year between BMW and ZF, which was also described as the largest in the component supplier’s history. The ZF transmissions will be built in Gray Court, South Carolina, however, yielding strong cost savings given the proximity to the automaker’s largest manufacturing facility roughly 30 miles away in Spartanburg.
The dual-clutch front-drive transmissions Magna is building for BMW are likely to find their way into vehicles underpinned by the UKL and UKL2 modular platforms. The chassis platform arrived for the market in 2014 in the form of the 2 Series Active Tourer and MINI Hatch, but has since spread much further into the lineup, and UKL2 underpins the X1, X2, 1 Series and 2 Series Gran Coupé. The next-generation FAAR platform is also derived from the UKL design.
Although the M235i xDrive Gran Coupé and M135i xDrive, the latter of which isn’t available here, come with eight-speed sport automatic transmissions standard, other 1 series variants come with differing transmission choices. Somewhat buried in the third-generation 1 Series press release were details relating to the 116d, 118d, and 118i being available with a six-speed manual, and other models coming with a seven-speed Steptronic dual-clutch—most likely the Magna unit.
Here’s where things get very interesting; Magna also manufactures a hybrid six-speed manual unit. There have been hybrid vehicles with manual transmissions before, like the Honda Insight and versions of the Civic, but it remains an incredibly rare drivetrain combination. The prospect of a six-speed manual with hybrid capability remains compelling through, because it means that the electrified future many enthusiasts are dreading may not mean the end of rowing your own gears. According to Magna, the small hybrid six-speed manual, 6HMT215, uses the same standardized hybrid component kit as the seven-speed DCT unit, with an integrated high-rpm 48-volt electric motor.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG, Magna International, Inc.]