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Driven: BMW thinks big with new 1 Series

BMW expects strong response to highly featured, sharply priced third-gen 1 Series

5 Dec 2019

BMW is expecting to build on the previous 1 Series’ sales momentum in Australia, despite the latest F40 generation’s switch to an all-new front-drive-based platform, a jump in price and, for the time being, the lack of a mid-range variant.


According to BMW Group Australia chief executive Vikram Pawah, the richer specification of the third-generation 1 Series – which was previously built on a rear-drive platform – is what buyers in the premium small-car segment want, with high levels of equipment and technology justifying the company’s decision to price the 118i entry model some $3000 above its F20 predecessor.


"For us, the target for this year was fairly simple,” said Mr Pawah.


“We’re going to focus on our growth and we’ll deliver growth, and I think that’s what we’re doing."


To the end of November, BMW is one of the few volume players to increase its sales (up 0.9 per cent to 21,741 units) and market share (now 2.2 per cent) in 2019, and has even managed to outsell Ford, Subaru and Suzuki in passenger cars, as well as Mercedes-Benz in SUVs.


“Our intention for next year is going to be clearly that as well, that we’ll continue growing,” Mr Pawah said.


“(We’re in the process of) the biggest product offensive in BMW’s history, which is continuing going forward.


"So the aim with every product that we launch, we recreate the benchmark in that segment... redefine it, own it."


As GoAuto reported in September, BMW has focused on improving the value-for-money equation of its products for some time now, and the F40 1 Series continues the trend.


The base 118i gains several features previously reserved for much higher-range models, including 18-inch alloy wheels, ambient cabin lighting, a head-up display, wireless phone charging and wireless Apple CarPlay – currently free for the first year, then $479 for three years’ subscription, although this is likely to change in the new year.


But it is the standard Reversing Assistant, a feature that debuted on 7 Series not too long ago, that underlines how far BMW’s equipment game has moved on.


Reversing Assistant memorises the last 50 metres of steering input (for up to 72 hours) when you’re driving at less than 37km/h before parking.


Then after pressing the button before reversing, it removes the steering guesswork for the driver and traces the same arc as you exit.


Mr Pawah emphasised that the company’s efforts in improving customer satisfaction would also expand the 1 Series’ buyer appeal, not just the high list of standard features.


“Part of our strategy is introducing customer-centric programs, starting with simple things like charging no fees for our finance, changing the finance game, or coming up with a really attainable price for the 1 Series,” he said.


BMW’s third-generation 1 Series starts its career with just two models: the front-drive 118i from $42,990 and an all-wheel-drive M135i xDrive from $63,990, with on-road costs extra on both.


The 118i is again powered by a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol three-cylinder engine, now producing 103kW of power (+3kW) and 220Nm of torque (unchanged) and driving through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.


It sprints from standstill to 100km/h in 8.5 seconds, and delivers fuel economy of 5.9L/100km on the official combined cycle. CO2 emissions are set at 135g/km.


The M135i has a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol unit that punches out 225kW/450Nm – down 25kW/50Nm over the preceding M140i.


Using an eight-speed torque-converter auto transmission, triple digits come up in 4.8s (+0.2s) while mileage/emissions stand at 7.5L/100km and 171g/km respectively.


In line with what it says reflects customer preferences, BMW Australia has chosen to forego the Sport Line and Urban Line iterations of the previous F20 1 Series in favour of a standard M Sport styling and equipment package even on the entry-level 118i.


Product and pricing manager for BMW 1-4 Series and future mobility, Prabs Datar, said the reasoning behind that decision is simple: “One part of it was that the take-up rate (for M Sport) was really high – not just on 1 Series but across all models – and from a looks perspective, it just made sense (because it’s) the most aesthetically pleasing of the line offerings available.


“When we had Urban Line, Sport Line and all those in the previous generation, it made things a bit too confusing for an entry-level car. We just don’t seethe requirement for it.”


Mr Datar confirmed that sales were split evenly between 118i, 125i, and M140i in the previous F20 1 Series model line-up, leaving the door open for a mid-range variant to join the new F40 118i and M135i down the track.


“There will be a mid-point model in the future as well, but it’s a bit too early to give any details... it hasn’t been announced internationally.


"(So) it’s a bookend at the moment as part of launch,” he said.


There will be an optional M Performance package for the M135i xDrive, which BMW expects to be a hit with Australian buyers.


The $1900 package includes lightweight 18-inch M forged alloy wheels (one-inch smaller than the regular M135i’s, but painted black for differentiation), a high-gloss black grille and a bunch of other high-gloss black styling details.


Crucially, the M Performance package does not include adaptive dampers, which will remain a separate $400 option. 


“We anticipate a 50 per cent take-up rate for the M Performance package,” Mr Datar said.


“It wasn’t available from launch, it was made available from November production, so we’ll probably get them around mid-to-late February.”


Mr Datar ruled out any F40 diesel variants for Australia.


“We’ve decided not to bring in the 118d. We don’t see much of a demand for it in the passenger car segment,” he said.


But he remains optimistic about a plug-in hybrid version of the F40 1 Series joining BMW Australia’s growing PHEV family (330e, 530e, 745e, X5 xDrive45e).


“The platform (UKL2+) can take it so possibly, yes,” he said.


“At this stage we haven’t been given any advice on timing or anything to do with what powertrain it might contain but I see it as a possibility. 


"And obviously it’s part of the platform design itself, which is fantastic, and you’ll see that with all the platforms moving forward that they’re designed to have that capability.”


While the timing of a plug-in hybrid variant is yet to be determined, expect the mid-range 1 Series model – likely to be badged 125i like its predecessor, using a detuned version of the M135i’s 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four – to be announced during 2020.


And there might even be a reprisal of manual transmission availability, albeit in a very limited number.


“At this stage we’re not settled on what that (the mid-series) engine is,” said Mr Datar.


“We don’t have any details that we can work on (but a manual) be something we’d consider.


"A manual transmission is something that customers in Australia like having... I completely agree that there’s that customer that wants a manual car.“


"M2 Competition, for example, which is probably the strongest car in the brand at the moment that has a really high take-up on manual... 50 per cent.”


Despite the now-superseded F20 1 Series being right at the end of its eight-year lifespan, Australian sales in 2019 have remained steady.


Up to the end of November, the F20 1 Series has achieved 2085 sales – a 12 per cent drop compared to the same point last year. 


This places the 1 Series third in its class behind the new-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class (4233 sales) and Audi A3 (3028 sales).


2019 BMW 1 Series pricing*

118i (a) $42,990
M135i (a) $63,990

*Excludes on-road costs

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