BMW’s second-generation 1 Series has arrived in South Africa packed with fresh kit and exciting technology - but what did they do to its face?
The littlest BMW thus far has been fairly successful for the brand. More than a million of the first 1 Series hatch have been sold since the five-door was launched in 2004 and the company hopes to build on this success with the latest all-new model.
In common with new versions, it is bigger and wider than its predecessor. The wheelbase has grown by 30mm to 2690mm and passengers seated on the rear bench now have 21mm more legroom – a valuable commodity in a compact hatchback.
The most noticeable changes, though, are to the car’s appearance. Its hightop sneaker profile is less jarring (perhaps due to the car's greater length and narrower, upwardly sloping greenhouse) and an emphatic line that runs the length of the car and also carries the door releases.
I prefer the look of the rear, with its horizontal detailing and neat interpretation of the 1 Series’ squared-off light clusters but its front end is perhaps the most controversial styling point with its wraparound headlights and wider kidney grille resembling the unflattering combination of wide-set eyes and flaring nostrils…
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
THE URBANITE: The Urban Line models' white rims and grille and glossy accents set it apart from standard and Sport Line models.
However, to soften the blow of a possibly offending appearance, BMW offers a staggering number of options (around 6000!) to prospective 1 Series customers. This is not, however, an attempt to lure drivers who would otherwise be tempted by other options-heavy “trendy” models such as its Mini stablemates, the more affordable Citroen DS3 or the even-cheaper Fiat 500, but rather to allow BMW buyers more opportunities to configure their car according to their individual desires, BMW SA said.
The standard One has been relegated to “side show” status as the focus of BMW’s attentions are the new Sport and Urban lines for the range. Differentiated somewhat by high-gloss black and red/chromed accents for the Sport and white gloss and acrylic inserts for the Urban models, things can get complicated when thousands of options are thrown into the mix.
Great, then, that the new 1 Series is a lot easier to drive than it would be to configure.
The cabin is spacious and comfortable with a variety of storage bins for squirreling stuff; there's even a little tray for the key fob – all new 1 Series have keyless entry and start. Options include things more generally seen on larger BMW's such as lane departure warnings, a speed limit indicator with “no passing” information, and Connected Drive that, via the BMW iPhone app, relays a number of vehicle indicators, connects to the internet and Bluetooth and processes online software updates.
There’s also the familiar iDrive controller, although the “driving experience control” button with Eco Pro alongside the gearshift is new. Since auto stop/start is now standard on all models as part of BMW’s Efficient Dynamics programme, the driver is still able to switch between modes to adapt the engine management, shift patterns and throttle mapping, depending on the mode.
LAUNCH RANGE - WITH BOOST
Three models are available at launch – the petrol 116i and 118i and diesel 120d – each with a four-cylinder turbocharged engine. Petrol units were made available to drive on the media launch this week.
With the help of new technology and the enhancement of Efficient Dynamics principles, power and torque are greater on all models, while fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are down.
The 116i is no longer the runt of the litter with BMW’s Twin Power twin-scroll turbo tech with Valvetronic and Double Vanos valve control taking the 1.6-litre engine’s power up to 100kW/220Nm and delivering a car that is very enjoyable to drive.
COMPACT LUXURY: Leather trim, glossy accents and top technology are some of the new cabin's hightlights.
Similarly, the 1.6-litre with Twin Power is tuned to deliver 125kW/250Nm in the 118i model, while the 120d (also with Twin Power boost, this time with variable intake geometry and common rail injection) delivers 135kW and 380Nm.
On the launch, I had the chance to drive the 116i with the standard six-speed manual gearbox (with handy shift indicator) and the 118i with the superb new eight-speed auto transmission. Yes, an eight-speed auto in something as tiny as the 1 Series. How thrilling!
Auto shifts are almost seamless and shifting down under hard acceleration (to overtaking, perhaps) is done without any additional coaxing. Gearshift paddles are optional and the car driven did not have these on its specification list, but it was not missed at all as gear changes were intuitive and smooth and always right in step with the engine’s power band. No hairy hunting at all, although the whole operation was so quiet the car’s rowdy occupants may well have missed this.
Things were as easy-going in the 116i where the baby of the range had a chance to show its sportier side. Shifts through the sturdy BMW manual shifter were assured and the car’s light clutch action was welcome.
THEN AND NOW: The two generations of 1 Series.
This was, of course, aided by the 1 Series’ impeccable dynamic qualities. The wheels are wider
apart as both the front and rear tracks have been increased and the 1 Series rides on an aluminium cross-strut at the front and a multilink rear suspension that combined on the sometimes smooth, sometimes bumpy road surfaces to provide a comfortably compliant ride.
The 1 Series was composed at speed with no tummy-churning pitching under braking and cornering although Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes can be selected for the adaptive suspension, depending on the road and driving conditions. An electronically locking rear differential will be useful in reeling things to the safe side, when required.
There’s the optional M Sport suspension that is firmer and results in a ride height that is 15mm lower – perhaps a good thing to consider for those with sportier ambitions for their little 1 Series’, especially since there’s no word yet on more boisterous 130i and 135i models. Three-door 1 Series models are expected in South Africa from September, 2012, though.
So, the all-new 1 Series is meant to be sportier and “more adult” than the model it replaces, but it’s definitely not shaken off its youthful vigour. And, with its seemingly aggressive pricing (sans options), it could see many fans of vibrant, family hatchbacks calling up the calculator functions on their smartphones.
My biggest 1 Series joy, notwithstanding its painful appearance, is that it no longer resembles a shoe when viewed side on. That has to count for something, right?
BMW’s five-year or 100 000 km Motorplan maintenance contract applies to all models.
Standard R268 500
Standard Steptronic R286 500
Sport Line R286 000
Sport Line Steptronic R304 000
Urban Line R282 700
Urban Line Steptronic R300 700
Standard R287 500
Standard Steptronic R305 500
Sport Line R305 000
Sport Line Steptronic R323 000
Urban Line R301 700
Urban Line Steptronic R319 700
Standard R325 000
Standard Steptronic R343 000
Sport Line R342 500
Sport Line Steptronic R360 500
Urban Line R339 200
Urban Line Steptronic R357 200