14 November 2003

BMW ownership will become a whole lot cheaper next October when the eagerly awaited 1-series goes on sale in the UK as a three-or five-door hatchback. A four-door saloon arrives later.

Munich sources suggest a worldwide potential of at least 250,000 annual sales by the middle of the decade, with around 30,000 in the UK. To put that in perspective, that’s less than half last year’s global 3-series sales of 561,249.

The 1-series’ design adheres closely to BMW’s open-top CS1 concept car. Autocar’s scoop photographs confirm the new look, with BMW’s signature kidney grille and ‘Hofmeister kick’ at the base of the C-pillar, but also more radical convex and concave surfacing that should sit well with younger buyers.

What will make the 1-series stand out from every premium rival is its rear-drive layout – something BMW’s head of R&D, Burkhardt Goeschel, claims will provide razor-sharp handling. If he’s right, the One could set the new standard among hatchbacks.

However, this longitudinal engine layout and prop shaft gobble up valuable interior space, and rear accommodation in particular is said to be poor compared with front-drive competitors. This is compounded by a low-slung sporty stance – the car sits 80mm lower than a Golf. Boot space stretches to 300 litres.

Underneath, the new car shares more than 40 per cent of its componentry with the next 3-series, including its MacPherson strut (front) and trapezoidal link (rear) suspension, as well as its axle assemblies, braking system and wiring harness.

Power for BMW’s new entry-level model comes from two different versions of the familiar 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine produced at the Hams Hall factory in the Midlands. It kicks out 105bhp in the 116i and 120bhp in the 118i.

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Also planned from the outset for UK sale are two versions of the excellent 2.0-litre common-rail turbodiesel. Munich sources say it will produce 115bhp in the 118d and a strong 150bhp in the 120d. About a year after launch, a sporty 120i model running a 215bhp four-cylinder turbo will join the line-up.

BMW has already registered the names 125i and 130i,proving that six-cylinder Ones are on the drawing board.

All models get a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, although the Sequential Manual Gearbox nudge-shift and a six-speed auto will be optional. Conspicuous by its D C absence is the iDrive multi-function controller; expect instead a back-to-basics interior like the Z4’s. With prices in Germany 10 per cent above the Golf’s, that suggests a starter price of around £15k.

Spin-off versions of the 1-series will be badged 2-series and the first models – a coupé and a cabriolet based around the CS1 concept shown overleaf on page 9 – will arrive at the end of 2006 and 2007.

The move is part of a plan that will see all of BMW’s two-door models adopt even-number designations, with the more conventional four-door offerings continuing with odd numbers.The highlight of the new line-up will be the M2 performance coupé.

Described by BMW sources as the spiritual successor to the original M3, it will be powered by a highly-strung 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine delivering up to 240bhp.

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