Here’s to the baby Beemers
The Series 1 is just made for those aspiring to own a BMW, writes Graham Smith
IT WAS only a matter of time before BMW introduced a new small car below its long-serving and super-successful 3 Series.
The 3 Series was no longer the same relatively cheap and cheerful entry model that it was way back when it first hit the road, and as BMWs top-selling model it made a huge contribution to the bottom line.
When, over time, the 3 Series grew larger and better equipped and consequently less affordable for those wanting to buy into the brand, it left a gaping hole at the lower end of BMW’s model range, one that had to be filled by a smaller car like the 1 Series that arrived here in 2004.
WHEN it became known that BMW was going to introduce a new small car it was feared it would be a makeover of the Mini, but the German carmaker stuck true to its roots and the new 1 Series was rear-wheel drive. It also stuck to its own outthere styling path with sharply carved lines and chunky curves rather than following the Mini’s more loveable shape.
The result was that the 1 Series polarised opinion. Some thought it looked great, others awful.
Opinion at the time of its launch tended towards the latter, but that’s the same with most cars the Bavarian carmaker has launched in the past few years.
BMW’s approach with the 1 Series was similar to the one it had to the 3 Series before it.
With relatively affordable pricing, the new small car provided a new entry point for those aspiring to own a Beemer, but it wasn’t cheap and cheerful. It was well built, came packed with features and buyers had plenty of options to choose from.
Later there would be six-cylinder engines, a diesel, coupes and convertibles, but at the launch the range opened with the 118i and the 120i four-cylinder five-door hatches.
The engine in both was a double overhead camshaft 2.0-litre unit. In the case of the 118i it put out 95kW at 5500 revs and 200Nm at 3600 revs, but in the 120i it put out 110kW at 6200 revs and 175 Nm at 3750 revs.
Anyone looking for a spirited drive would have found the 118i wanting, but would have been delighted with the 120i, which was more fun to drive.
The transmission choices were a six-speed auto and five-speed manual in the 118i, and six-speed auto and sixspeed manual in the 120i.
Fully independent suspension front and rear helped make the car a sporty drive, and with anti-lock braking, traction and stability control it was also a safe one.
The ride was firm, thanks to the suspension settings and the run-flat tyres it used.
Inside, the 1 Series wasn’t particularly roomy, but it did have enough room for a couple of adults in the front and space for kids in the rear.
Both models had a lot of features, including airconditioning, power windows and mirrors, remote central