Tweaks put this hatch on front row of the grid for keen drivers
The revised 1 Series continues to fly the flag for BMW in the premium hatch market. Andy Enright takes a look.
BMW is never a predictable company. The styling of the latest 1 Series has proven controversial but if you value a quality drive over a pretty face, it’s the very first car you’d turn to. Now more efficient, more spacious and more luxurious, it looks set to continue its record of success.
There aren’t many companies that are more fun for a motoring journalist to report on than BMW. Where most of the big car companies are deeply conservative, BMW isn’t afraid of leading the market with bold designs, intriguing innovations and some projects that just have you wondering how they ever got the green light.
Even BMW usually follows a pattern insofar as its bigselling models, the 1, 3 and 5 series, are generally more soberly styled than its niche coupés and convertibles but every now and then the Munich company pitches us something that keeps us on our toes. It did so with the previous generation 5 Series and the latest 1 Series hatchback is another vehicle that has whipped up a storm of controversy.
The front end styling is certainly challenging and is tough to ignore, but let’s look beyond that for a moment and concentrate on the 1 Series’ other attributes, some of which are well worth investigating.
The 1 Series has always been distinguished by the quality of its driving dynamics and it’s good to see that BMW hasn’t been tempted to compromise on its principles. Although there has been rumour of four-wheel drive models for foreign markets, the UK selection is resolutely rear-wheel drive. The chassis balance remains as good as ever but a wider track than its predecessor (51mm at the front and 71mm at the rear) makes this car even more planted through corners.
The engines have been given a refresh with a choice of two innovative four-cylinder petrol engines and three redesigned four-cylinder diesel units. The turbocharged BMW 118i produces a maximum output of 170hp at 4,800rpm, punching from zero to 62mph in 7.4 seconds, going on to a maximum speed of 140mph. The 116i also features a twin-scroll turbo, making a more modest 136bhp but will still zip through the sprint to 62 in a spry 8.5 seconds.
One consequence of running a transmission tunnel through a compact hatch has inevitably been rather compromised accommodation. While this fundamental issue hasn’t gone away, BMW has loosened the 1 Series’ belt a little. It’s 83mm longer, 14mm wider and 30mm longer in the wheelbase than the car it replaces. This means that rear-seat passengers benefit from a further 20mm of legroom. In addition, there’s a good deal more storage space, with large front door pockets, two cup holders on the centre console and a roomy glove compartment. And there’s 30 litres more luggage space compared to its forerunner, taking the total to 360 litres.
Build quality seems to have improved as well, with more substantial plastics used throughout.
Fold the 60/40 split rear seats flat and this can be increased to a maximum of 1,200-litres.
Build quality seems to have improved as well, with more substantial plastics used throughout. BMW’S muchimproved idrive system features on all models from SE level and now features a higher definition 6.5 inch flat screen. The shark-nosed exterior styling takes a bit of getting used to, but most would agree that the profile now looks a lot cleaner, with the banana curve of the old car’s sills being straightened while the rear end looks a good deal more muscular with tidier detailing.
BMW’S entry-level trim specs have never been particularly generous but the latest 1 Series isn’t too bad in this regard. Expect to find satin silver interior trim and Move cloth seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, chrome exhaust and keyless start. Step up to SE specification and highlights include idrive, a Bluetooth hands-free facility with USB audio interface and a multifunction leather steering wheel with a speed limiter function.
The Sport trim level features sports seats, a leather sports steering wheel, high-gloss black interior trim with Coral Red or grey accents, 17-inch star-spoke alloy wheels, dark chrome exhaust pipe and high-gloss black kidney grille, a central air intake trim, side intake surrounds and rear bumper trim.
Another badge that might not be so familiar is Urban which relates to the model with Metro cloth/leather seats, leather sports steering wheel and an acrylic glass interior trim in black or white with Oxide Silver accents.
The exterior is finished with 17-inch V-spoke alloy wheels and a chrome kidney grille with white slat sides and trim bar for the central air intake.
No car manufacturer has made quite such impressive progress as BMW when it comes to improving efficiency. It will therefore come as no huge surprise to learn that whichever 1 Series you opt for, it can turn in some impressive economy and emissions figures.
Efficientdynamics, BMW’S suite of energy-saving features, continues with an Auto Start-stop function available on both manual and automatic transmissions. An ECO PRO mode, activated using the Drive Performance Control, is a new feature on BMW’S that adjusts various on-board systems to maximise efficiency.
When in ECO PRO mode the throttle response is adjusted to encourage a more economical driving style. The extra economy created in ECO PRO mode is fed back to the driver, with the incar displays showing the additional number of miles achieved.
You’ll be able to measure yourself against the 47.9mpg combined figure of the thirstiest of the lot, the 118i, the 49.6mpg of the 116i or the 62.8mpg of the diesel versions.
All of the diesels dip under the 120g/km threshold for carbon dioxide while the 116i and 118i record 132 and 137g/ km respectively.
If previously controversial BMWS are anything to go by, the rather divisive styling of the latest 1 Series will get easier on the eye over time, whereupon buyers will learn to love it for its engineering and driving dynamics.
It’s certainly hard to argue with the changes BMW has wrought. Aesthetics aside, the faults with the old car were easy to identify. It was too cramped in the back, it didn’t ride smoothly enough and the interior finish didn’t match the class best. Consider that to do list ticked off.
Although much has changed, the 1 Series remains the default choice for those craving a premium hatch with uncorrupted steering, great chassis balance and brilliant efficiency.
BIGGER INSIDE: BMW has loosened the 1 Series’ belt a little. This means that rear-seat passengers benefit from a further 20mm of legroom.