For years the BMW 1 Series has stood distinct from its rivals as a rear-drive car in a front-drive dominated category. Now BMW has bowed to the inevitable, accepting that for a small car front-wheel drive offers space and packaging advantages that traditional rear-wheel drive platforms cannot match. As rivals like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Audi A3 and VW Golf prove, front-drive hatchbacks can also be rewarding to drive. Naturally BMW will be out to prove that its 1 Series is the ‘ultimate’ driving machine in its class.
Some design cues, like the ‘Hofmeister kink’ on the rear
window line remain to remind us that the new 1 Series is a BMW through and
through. At the same time, the design reveals the shift to front-drive, with a
low, raked bonnet line leading to a large BMW kidney grille flanked by sharply
angled headlights and deep under-grille air intake. The impression is of a more
compact design, yet the new 1 Series is actually larger than the model it
replaces, with a longer wheelbase too. Inside, rear passenger space features an
extra 33mm of kneeroom and 19mm of headroom while access to the rear seats is
by 80mm longer rear doors. The boot is bigger as well, at 380 litres, while the
width of the load bay’s opening has grown by 67mm.
The new 1 Series will be available with two petrol engines and one diesel. The petrol engine of the 118i is based on the 1.5 litre three-cylinder engine from its stablemate the MINI Cooper. It produces 138bhp and 220Nm of torque, covering the 0-62mph sprint in 8.5 seconds and returning up to 56.5mpg, with CO2 emissions as low as 114g/km depending on wheel size. The petrol flagship model is the M135i xDrive. This is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine developing 302bhp for 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds.
Diesel options start with the 114bhp 116d. Its 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine achieves up to 74.3mpg with a 0-62mph time of 10.1 seconds and CO2 emissions as low as 100 g/km. Both the 118d and 120d xDrive are powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine but in different states of tune. The 118d achieves 68.9mpg, and the all-wheel drive 120d xDrive manages 62.8mpg along with 0-62mph acceleration in 7.0 seconds.
Every 1 Series features LED headlamps, cruise control,
parking sensors, air-con and alloy wheels as standard. Inside, all models come
with traditional dials either side of a 5.1-inch display, while the optional BMW
Live Cockpit Professional package adds a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster
and a same-sized central touchscreen. The latter can be fitted with gesture
control. On cars with sat nav and adaptive cruise control, the car can preview
the road ahead and adapt its gearchanges accordingly as well as decide when to
shut the engine down. Wireless phone charging, the ability to use your phone as
a key, a Harman Kardon stereo, connected navigation and BMW’s ‘Intelligent
Personal Assistant’ are all further options.
The new 1 Series will come with a full range of safety and driver assistance systems. Collision/pedestrian warnings and auto emergency braking are standard, as is lane-departure warning with active lane return. The optional Driving Assistant package includes lane-keeping assistance, rear collision warning and cross-traffic monitoring.
Verdict: The MINI proves that BMW can make exhilarating, thrilling cars that also make sound sense. So even die-hard traditionalists need have no fears about BMW’s move to front-drive for its smallest model line. It’s good looking, sporty and well-equipped and should offer families some welcome extra space in the rear.