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The Top Gear car review:BMW 1 Series
For:Well engineered, great to drive, good image, facelift makes it much prettier
Against:Still a bit small in the back
118d SE 5dr
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Just because it’s the cheapest, doesn’t mean it’s the worst. Truly brilliant from BMW. Well worth a look.
What we say:
Brilliant engines, rewarding dynamics. BMW takes the 1-Series to the next level
What is it?
BMW has taken heed to critics of the 1-Series, who grumbled that the looks were challenging and the engine range spiralling. Solution? Its biggest facelift ever, introducing a far sharper nose, a much nicer rear end and some stonking new engines that further its performance and eco credentials over rivals. The 1 has never been better.
It still comes in three-door and five-door guise, with badges aligned to the 2-Series (so they bear little relation to engine capacity…) and BMW’s simplified the trim line-up. The old one was a top 10 best-seller regular. BMW’s aiming for more of the same with this.
When the 1-Series first appeared back in 2005 there was a high level of champing from hacks and punters alike. Here was a hatchback, from handling maestros BMW no less, with rear-wheel drive. However, the reality was rather muted. It didn’t handle anywhere near as well as a 3-Series.
This second-gen car has revised and lighter aluminium suspension components. These reduce unsprung mass, significantly improving ride quality. On board, a ‘driving experience switch’ offers you Comfort, Sport or fuel-saving Eco Pro driving modes. These remap the engine and stability control and alter the optional auto ’box to suit the desired driving style.
The upshot is greater levels of comfort and refinement rather than a more-focused driver’s car. The 1-Series will still wag its tail under provocation, but, for better or worse, this is not what this car is about these days. Saying that, BMW does offer a M140i variant which, with 335bhp from a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six, does bring a welcome dose of classic BMW enthusiasm.
On the inside
The most important element of the latest 1-Series interior is space, and whether or not BMW has managed to improve it. Yes it has, but not by much. The wheelbase has grown by 30mm, but it still feels cramped in the rear. This is due to the compromises in providing RWD, something BMW may be dropping for its future small cars.
The cabin itself is impressive. It’s clearly of high quality, in terms of design and materials. It was, for a brief time, the class benchmark - the gap to the Audi A3 really is quite small.
BMW’s new directive is towards efficiency and the engines it’s now offering, particularly the diesel variants, are nothing short of remarkable - with the margin growing yet more with this facelift. Even the 190bhp, 7.1sec-to-60mph 120d averages 65mpg and the new 1.5-litre three-cylinder (yes, really) 116d EfficientDynamics Plus averages a staggering 83mpg, emits 89g/km CO2 yet still does 0-60mph in around 10 seconds. It’s one of the greenest diesel cars you can buy - staggering.