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First drive: BMW 1 Series keeps the fun factor

Still the One: BMW's smarter, larger and more civilized 1 Series retains the fun factor of its predecessor.

More comfortable and practical BMW 1 Series still aims to please

1 Aug 2011


THE second-generation 1 Series hatch is smarter, larger and more civilized than the original, but its fun-to-drive philosophy has survived the change.

BMW’s most affordable car remains staunchly rear-drive in an environment where cheaper and more fuel-efficient front-drives dominate the market.

The new 1 Series enters the Australian market in October and GoAuto understands the entry-level model, the 116i, should scrape in just below $40,000.

With a fresh platform that will also underpin the next-generation 3 Series, a new petrol engine, a new eight-speed automatic transmission, a wider and longer body and a revised interior, the latest 1 Series is an all-new model.

BMW has responded to customer feedback and increased the rear legroom by a considerable 21mm while also expanding the boot size by 30 litres to 360 litres.

GoAuto tested the new 1 Series at the global launch in Berlin last week and was immediately impressed by the improved practicality.

The rear seats, which are fairly unwelcoming in the outgoing model, are now a good place to be, with ample legroom and enough head and shoulder room to make an average adult feel comfortable.

14 center imageThe boot still has a relatively narrow opening, but is otherwise reasonably expansive for a small car.

Moving into the front, the dashboard looks familiar, but there are some important changes such as the standard tablet-like high-resolution screen – 6-inch as standard and 8-inch for the premium version – that sits in place on top of the dashboard rather than popping up and down like the previous version.

The graphics are crisp and the colours bright, which helps give the car a modern look and appeals to those who use to the latest smart phones, and the rest of the dashboard controls are easy to use and the layout is clean.

There is an extra digital dial under the tacho that indicates how efficiently you are driving, but this doesn’t tell you much you can’t figure out yourself from an instant fuel use figure.

BMW has redesigned the centre console and it has a modern appearance. There are some handy storage areas, one of which you may need for the key because the new 1 Series has keyless start and there is nowhere on the dash to put the key you just pulled out to get in the car.

Overall, the interior quality is far better than before, with better plastics and improved trim sections that give the occupants an idea this is a proper premium vehicle rather than an affordable vehicle made by a premium car-maker. It wasn’t perfect, with a couple of poor joins on the dashboard in two test vehicles, but was still a marked improvement.

The seats are also comfortable and offer a lot of side support.

BMW increased the width of the 1 Series by 17mm (to 1765mm) and added 85mm in length (to 4324mm) while the front and rear tracks have been widened, by different amounts depending on the model, which should contribute to improved handling.

We will need to wait a little longer to fully test the handling because the launch drive was thin on corners, but a blast around a vehicle testing track, including a wet section taken at speed, indicated the 1 Series handles very well.

It has a sure-footed feel and maintains good cornering speed even in the wet. Being rear-wheel drive, it is possible to get the rear to step out a little under acceleration, which should please enthusiasts.

Our test loop did reveal that BMW has got its head around run-flat tyres. The overly harsh ride of the previous model was just a memory as we covered some rough roads in the new car.

One test vehicle had the Sport pack and the other had the optional adaptive damping system, so we’ll have to wait to test the base car on Australian roads for a definitive view, but the initial impression is that this is a compliant chassis which can deliver enjoyable handling without battering the occupants over every bump.

The electro-mechanical steering is well-calibrated and gives the driver the meaty and good on-centre feel expected from BMW.

We detected a bit more wind noise than expected, but road noise appeared to fall within acceptable limits.

BMW will be bringing three models into Australia at launch: The entry-level car is the 116i petrol, the next step up is the 118i petrol and then there is the 118i diesel.

The two petrol models run different tunes of the same engine, which is largely based on the 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo unit developed as a joint-venture between BMW and Peugeot. It first appeared in the Mini and Peugeot 207, where it is mounted transversely, but has been spun around to be longitudinal in the rear-drive 1 Series.

It still runs direct injection and has variable cam timing for inlet and exhaust, but has been tweaked and features a new twin-scroll turbocharger. BMW has also fitted an idle-stop system as standard for all 1 Series models, in both manual and automatic forms.

The 116i engine makes 100kW at 4400rpm and 220Nm at 1350-4300rpm, enabling a 0-100km/h sprint time of 8.5 seconds and fuel economy of 5.5 litres per 100km, while emissions are 129g/km.

As is usually the case, the entry level engine was missing from the global launch drive, but we did get to taste the 118i, which produces 125kW at 4800rpm and 250Nm at 1500-4500rpm, accelerates to 100km/h in 7.4s, uses 5.8L/100km and emits 134g/km.

This is a sound engine in the Minis and Peugeots and is also a competent unit in the 1 Series. There is a good amount of power on tap and you don’t have to work the engine hard to get to it.

There is plenty of urge from low revs and the engine can be revved to nearly 7000rpm, but the best has already been delivered by 5500rpm.

The engine delivers a slightly meaty and sporty tone, not overtly loud and with no hint of any turbo sounds.

You can select an EcoPro Mode, which dulls the response and makes the engine feel a little lethargic, but the pay-off is improved fuel consumption.

The standard six-speed manual gearbox is nothing special and sits too far back from the dashboard, which makes it awkward to use, especially when selecting 2nd, 4th and 6th gears. The gearstick was also awkwardly located over on the side of the centre console, so you tend to hit your passenger’s knee.

BMW will make the brilliant new eight-speed ZF automatic transmission an option on all 1 Series cars, which is great news (although we don’t know how much extra it will cost). It has been fitted to premium models like the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series, but this is the first time it has been available in such an attainable model.

Fitted to a 120d, a model not coming to Australia, the eight-speeder was remarkably good, with quick and almost seamless shifts. And don’t worry about the gearbox going up through the gears one-by-one because it is smart enough to jump up or down one, two or even more gears at a time.

Australia will take the model below the 120d, the 118d, which uses an updated version of the existing four-cylinder diesel. It is still a 2.0-litre, but now produces 105kW at 4000rpm and 320Nm at 1750-2500rpm, enough to get from 0 to 100km/h in 8.9s while rating 4.5L/100km and 118g/km.

The styling of the 1 Series is certainly polarizing as BMW appears to have taken the nose from the 7 Series and 5 Series and transposed it onto the front of what is otherwise an attractive car. Styling is subjective, but in this writer’s opinion the nose looks strange on a small hatch and the lines give the car an angry look that doesn’t fit with its small hatch body.

Even if the styling doesn’t ring your bell, the new 1 Series is still a remarkably competent car that is now more practical and comfortable while still being fun to drive.

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