Car reviews - BMW - 1 Series - range
Balanced rear-drive chassis, steering set-up feel and weight, exterior aesthetics, quick M135i, six-speed manual still offered.
Room for improvement
Adaptive suspension comfort-mode ride quality, rear seat room, base model feels a little cheap inside, rear vision
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11 Jun 2015
THE BMW 1 Series in its updated guise is a better-looking machine than the one it replaces, no doubt due to the Australian heritage of its designer, but the overall look of the five-door hatch is more cohesive.
Interior space is at a premium in the compact segment and while front occupants are reasonably well accommodated, rear leg and headroom are on the tight side.
Starting in the new 120i variant, which along with the sportier 125i are expected to make up the bulk of the sales, first impressions of the 130kW/250Nm powerplant are positive.
It immediately impresses for its flexibility and enthusiasm, delivering its torque peak from 1500 through to 4500rpm and working well with the eight-speed automatic.
Ride quality is firm with a hint of compliance, marred only slightly by the harsh small-bump impact of the much-improved run-flat tyres.
Subsequent time in the adaptively-damped vehicles reinforces the abilities of the conventionally-suspended vehicles, which will go some way to getting the new baby Beemer on shopping lists ahead of the A-Class and on par with the A3 from Audi.
Steering via a grippy leather wheel is on the light side of well-weighted but is direct and results in a nimble and agile little hatch.
Stepping into the 125i, the extra 30kW and 60Nm is noticeable, particularly in a long hill climb, but any thoughts of leaving the adaptive suspension in Comfort mode are quickly altered by a lack of control in ride, something that was remedied by a switch to Sport mode.
The steering is upgraded to variable-ratio sports steering and the addition of M Sport brakes also made a long pedal less likely during enthusiastic driving, something of a danger in the aforementioned 120i during the drive.
The interior upgrade is also welcome, with nicer trim materials and power adjustment for the seats among a number of additions over the 125i.
Dropping back in the price range to the new entry-level 118i is no chore but the cabin trim changes betray the cut-price nature of the vehicle, as does the basic air-conditioning switchgear.
The entry-level five-door has an enthusiastic engine producing 100kW and 220Nm (the three-cylinder from the 2 Series Active Tourer will replace it by year's end) and while it's clearly down on outputs compared with its siblings, the powerplant toils tunefully and a nice chassis balance remains part of the driving package.
The M135i was sampled only on the nearby Lakeside racetrack, and a wet one at that, but the numbers promised a swift hatch and were backed up by the real-world performance.
Straight-line speed was easily achieved and considerable, with a decent, if not raucous, engine note.
Despite the deeply damp conditions, the hottest of the five-door hatches turned in without much fear of understeer, however the exits needed to be completed with careful consideration of the right pedal.
The traction and stability control systems were kept busy by the 240kW and 450Nm of torque (on offer from 1300 to 4500rpm) so hurried exits were not recommended.
Backing the computer nursemaids off left the driver in a more responsible position and with careful attention to the throttle on exit (as well as a preparedness for opposite lock) there was still plenty of pace on offer.
The top 1 Series is endowed with comfortable and supportive seating, a grippy sports steering wheel, a clever eight-speed auto and ample performance on the track, but any call on the ride quality will have to wait until it gets to turn a wheel in anger on public roads.
But BMW has certainly remedied some of the oversights in the compact prestige market and the 1 Series revamp has just made consumers in the segment a little more spoiled for choice.
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