The revised 1 Series looks to establish itself as the premium hatch of choice in a hotly-contested sector. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
BMW's 1 Series gets sleeker styling, a range of more economical engines including an all-wheel drive diesel and a refreshed interior. There's still the brilliant M135i to head up the range, but at the other end there's a super-economical three-cylinder 116d that can manage more than 83mpg.
Yes, it is a bit prettier than before. That's what you wanted from a BMW 1 Series revision isn't it? Consider it delivered, the 1 Series now carrying a lot more of the 2, 3, and 4 Series about its front end. It's not as if being shaped like a shoe did the old 1 Series a great deal of damage in the sales department though. BMW has managed to shift nearly two million of the things since this car's original introduction nearly ten years ago. If you think of the 1 Series as a compact sports car that makes the million Mazda MX-5s sold in quarter of a century seem pretty small beer. This is an updated version of the second generation model that we first saw in 2011. As we've said, the front end's now sleeker and in addition, BMW have also improved the level of standard equipment, developed new options and mobility services and improved efficiency right across the board.
As well as the usual quest to drive down emissions, BMW has also done its best to sneakily add a little more poke under the bonnet where possible. The 1 Series petrol-engined range start with the 1.5-litre three cylinder 118i with 136PS and the 1.6-litre 120i with 170PS. Then there's the 2.0-litre 218PS 125i, and at the top of the range is the ferocious little M135i, with a three-litre straight six that cranks out 326PS. Pedal this one hard and 62mph flashes by in just 4.9 seconds. The biggest change has come in the diesel range. The 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine in the improved BMW 116d generates 116PS and 270Nm of torque, an increase of 10Nm compared to its predecessor. A new four-cylinder diesel engine is offered in three states of tune: the 118d generates 150PS, the 120d has 190PS, and the 125d, with its multi-stage turbocharging, cranks out 224PS, enabling this model to reach 62mph from rest in just 6.3 seconds. The majority of 1 Series models get a regulation six-speed manual gearbox but the all-wheel drive 120d xDrivel features as standard the eight-speed Steptronic transmission. The eight-speed Sport Automatic 'box is available as an option for the 125i, M135i, 120d and BMW 120d xDrive models. This transmission is standard on the BMW 125d. It features faster gearchanges, shift paddles on the steering wheel and a Launch Control function.
One consequence of running a transmission tunnel through what has been a rather compact hatch has been rather compromised accommodation. That hasn't really changed too much. The 1 Series is still a bit more cramped in the back than something like a Golf. Nevertheless, the cabin is a good deal better looking than most rivals, with a revision to the dashboard minor controls. Both the air vents and the controls for the radio and the automatic air conditioning now feature chrome surrounds, while the radio and automatic air conditioning keypads are now set against high-gloss black panelling. There's also a standard freestanding, 6.5-inch Control Display. Choose the optional Professional Navigation system and a bigger 8.8-inch display is fitted. All 1 Series models are optionally available with a 40:20:40 split rear seat backrest: folding one or more of the sections allows boot capacity to be increased in stages from 360 to 1,200-litres. The exterior styling is a bit neater, especially at the front. For the first time, full LED headlamps with low and main beam have been added to the options list, with Adaptive LED headlamps a further option. These follow the path of the road ahead, and also adapt their beam according to the type of road and conditions at any given moment. At the rear, revised tail lamps with a familiar BMW 'L' shape design also adopt LED tech.
Prices open at just over £21,000 and there's a premium of around £500 if you want the five-door rather than the three-door bodystyle. The top M135i flagship is priced fronm just over £31,000. The 1 Series range is offered in three mainstream trims - SE, Sport and M Sport. The SE nets you remote control central locking, keyless engine ignition, electric window controls, electrically heated exterior mirrors and the Driving Experience Control switch. Also included is automatic air conditioning, a multi-function leather steering wheel adjustable for height and reach, a rain sensor including automatic driving lights control and a front passenger airbag that can be deactivated. A CD and DAB stereo with six speakers and an AUX-In socket, plus Bluetooth audio streaming functionality are other standard equipment features, along with the iDrive operating system and the BMW Navigation system. The 16-inch alloy wheels look a bit puny, but then there's always the options list. Or indeed, the Sport model for another £1,000 more. This gets 17-inch rims, ambient lighting, black high-gloss interior trim, Sport exterior styling elements, Sport steering wheel and Sports seats. For an additional £2,700 above SE specification, M Sport trim comes as standard with 18-inch M Sport alloy wheels, aluminium hexagon interior trim, M Aerodynamic body styling, M Sport suspension, Sport seats, Alcantara upholstery and an M Sport leather steering wheel. The M135i model features uprated steering, suspension, gearbox and wheels/tyres combination. May owners will be tempted by an optional 360-watt Harman Kardon stereo, complete with 12 speakers and a digital amplifier.
No car manufacturer has made quite such impressive progress as BMW in the field of improving efficiency. As well as Brake Energy Regeneration, electric power steering, the optimum gearshift indicator and the auto Start Stop function, standard equipment for the improved BMW 1 Series model range also includes ECO PRO mode, which can be activated using the included Driving Experience Control switch. On some cars specified with an automatic transmission, ECO PRO mode now also offers a coasting function. In addition, vehicles with the Professional Navigation system come with a Proactive Driving Assistant function, which tells the driver when to lift off the throttle ahead of corners, turn-offs, roundabouts and speed limits. What's the net effect of all this eco geekery? Well, it's actually rather impressive. You'd expect a 116d ED Plus model to net some decent figures and that doesn't disappoint with 83.1mpg and 89g/km. Even the rapid 120i can nudge 50mpg, while the all-wheel drive 120d manages 62.8mpg. At the top of the range, the ballistic M135i can get almost 36mpg and emits 175g/km in auto guise.
Slowly but surely, BMW are excising each and every flaw in the 1 Series' makeup. When the car was originally launched in first generation form, it had plenty of flaws. It wasn't good looking, interior packaging was awful, the cabin quality wasn't all that it could have been and it wasn't actually that exciting to drive. The second generation version corrected many of these faults and this improved version finesses the package still further. While it's still not the most elegant looking hatch on the market, it's no longer conspicuously weird-looking. You could even call the latest car handsome, which would be a first for a 1 Series hatch. Where this generation scores is in building in so much value for the customer. The cabin looks and feels so much more aligned to more expensive BMW models and the engine range delivers so much more choice. One thing that hasn't changed is that the Munich maker continues to offer a balance between performance and economy that almost seems to defy the basic laws of thermodynamics. Expect this one to sell in serious numbers.
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