It’s hard to imagine that 30 years have passed since BMW first introduced all-wheel drive (AWD) technology for the masses – even more so when one considers that said marque is known for rear-wheel drive-related antics. According to the company, it now offers its xDrive all-wheel drive system in 12 different series models including the BMW i8 and BMW 225xe Active Tourer Plug-in Hybrid.

With that said, the current xDrive system can, to a certain extent, trace its roots all the way back to the introduction of the BMW 325i “Allrad” and its rear-biased, all-wheel drive system in 1985. As mentioned, BMW’s first all-wheel drive car for the public was unveiled at the 1985 Frankfurt Motor Show and soon became a hit amongst members of the media.

“The new BMW is the new champion when it comes to handling,” claimed German publication, Auto Zeitung, shortly after sampling the BMW 325i “Allrad”. The car employed an AWD system that sent a total of 63% of the power to the rear wheels with the remaining 37% diverted to the front. Down the line, the “Allrad” adopted a new model designation – the BMW 325iX.


In the early 90s, BMW decided to equip its 5 Series with all-wheel drive, as well. The move led to the birth of the BMW 525iX – a model which built upon the system in the “Allrad” by having its power split electronically-controlled this time round. The new AWD system utilised multi-plate clutches to adapt the car’s default 36:64 front-to-rear power split according to varying conditions.

At the end of the 90s, BMW made what was, arguably, its biggest move in the AWD arena by introducing the BMW X5 – the marque’s first-ever Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV). A planetary gear system with a power split of 38:62 between the front and rear wheels, augmented by the addition of DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), ADB-X (Automatic Differential Brake) and Hill Descent Control, helped strengthen the X5’s reputation.

In 2003, BMW continued its strong form in the AWD field with the debut of the BMW X3. Also, BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system made its debut in the same year in the former as well as the 2003 model year BMW X5. The xDrive system employed a “fast-acting” electronic multi-plate clutch in the transfer case, along with DSC, to continuously adapt the power split according to current condition.


Additionally, the system takes into account steering angle, accelerator position and lateral acceleration and adapts the power split as such – effectively making BMW’s xDrive system the first (and only) truly “intelligent” AWD system. More recently, the xDrive system has seen service in the 6 Series lineup as well as the X5 xDrive40e – the latter seen as another step as it is featured on the first non-BMW i plug-in hybrid model.

With the debut of the G11-generation BMW 7 Series, the xDrive AWD system will form an integral part of the new lineup as it allows the 7 Series to be the first production sedan to mate an intelligent AWD system with Integral Active Steering – the latter allows for four-wheel steering capabilities.