What is it?
BMW has been expanding the 1-Series range in every direction recently: there are 114i entry-level cars, a 116d EfficientDynamics 99g/ km CO2 car, a 320bhp six-pot range topper and a good-looking threedoor to bolster the existing fivedoor. It’s all very comprehensive indeed, but the approach is bearing fruit: it’s now a top 10 best-seller in the UK, and sometimes even outsells its big brother, the 3-Series.
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 has now launched an M135i variant which, with 320bhp from a turbocharged 3.0-litre straightsix, 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. With the new A3 though, Audi’s restored its leadership...
BMW’s new directive is towards efficiency and the engines it’s now offering, particularly the diesel variants, are nothing short of remarkable. The popular 120d, will see off 60mph in just over seven seconds, but emits a tax efficient 119g/km of CO2 and claims to average 60mpg. Even the 218bhp, 6.5secs-to-60mph 125d averages 57mpg and the 116d EfficientDynamics is green enough to get free road tax, making BMW ownership an increasingly mature and sensitive idea. Which is bizarre.