When BMW announced the sale of Rover on Friday, 17 March 2000, it also revealed hastily drawn up plans for a new small, sporting BMW hatchback positioned between the Mini and the 3-series Compact. The crucially important new 1-series you see here is that car.
The new 1-series, to go on sale simultaneously in the UK and left-hand-drive Europe in September priced from £15,630, pitches BMW into the most competitive car segment of all. It is the key to BMW’s ambition of expanding total sales to 1.4 million cars – including Mini and Rolls-Royce – by 2008. To guarantee the One remains true to BMW’s ‘ultimate driver’s car’ philosophy, the new hatchback ignores the universal small-car layout of transverse front engine driving the front wheels. Instead, it opts for BMW’s traditional longitudinal front engine driving the rear wheels. Given the resulting space limitations, many will see this as a massive gamble.
BMW is unconcerned. Munich has no intention of competing head-on in terms of value for money or sales volumes with the Focus and Golf. By pegging production at around 150,000 a year, BMW wants to position the 1-series as the premium model in the class. Management seems happy to cop criticism of the car’s packaging restrictions, because they know the 1-series drives like no other small car. The One will sire a whole family of models. At least two years after the five-door hatch, BMW plans to add a range of variants, including a 2-series coupé and convertible, 1-series saloon, estate and possibly a roadster. Performance versions are also in the pipeline, but any M1/M2 version is at least three years into the future.
Remember the CS1 concept car, pictured right, and unveiled at the 2002 Geneva show? The 1-series is the hatchback of that convertible. Its appearance is just as controversial and sure to stir debate.