This is the One with the most to lose. The launch of the BMW 1-series was met with the general consensus that here is a Golf-class car gifted with a brilliant chassis that could cope with more power than that on offer.
A lot more power. And the fact that BMW didn’t bring along the 1.6-litre 116i to the original driving launch planted the idea that it might actually be an embarrassment to its more powerful siblings. So how does the One fare with just 115bhp?
Well, BMW’s own figures reckon the 116i is more than two seconds slower to 62mph than its 2.0-litre petrol sibling, which is itself one second slower than the 2.0-litre diesel-powered 1-series.
For the record, the 116i will reach 62mph in 10.8sec and a top speed of 125mph. Which isn’t great for a car that claims dynamic rear-wheel drive kicks as its USP in the class.
And I’m even less encouraged by the 116i’s torque figure, which is 111lb ft at a revvy 4300rpm. To put that in perspective, the 118d develops nearly twice the torque at half the revs. Oh dear.
And so, to the drive.
I still love the One’s driving position, way down low in the car with that high beltline and enveloping dash. And there is no car in this class which includes so much of its own bonnet in the view forward: further evidence that this is a rear-driver with its engine mounted longitudinally, just as God intended.
Slot the electronic key in and punch the separate starter button – the jury is still out on that one. When the novelty wears off, you’re stuck with a two-task start-up procedure where one was sufficient, if slightly less James Bond-ish.
After that familiar BMW starter-motor giggle, the little four settles to a smooth idle of the ‘is-it-on?’ variety. An exploratory rev reveals pure BMW responses, a gentle hum hardening and sharpening as the revs rise.
Slot the five-speed gearbox into first, easy off the clutch and we’re away. First impression as we trawl through a French suburb en route to some gloriously quick and twisting roads is of a car that responds languorously if you’ve got much less than 3500rpm on the clock. So we rapidly get used to the thwack of throttle pedal on firewall as the roads open up and traffic thins.
Maximum power is developed at 6000rpm, meaning that during rapid progress the 116i tends to spend most of its time between 4000 and 6500rpm.
It’s got the shortest gearing in the 1-series range to make the most of its power and torque, so at an 85mph cruise, you’ll be revving at nearly 4000rpm in top. That makes for more engine noise than you’ll get in any other 1-series, the rest of which get a six-speed gearbox and a much more relaxed motorway manner. Still, the 116i’s engine note at a fast cruise isn’t annoyingly intrusive.
The five-speed gearbox action feels just as precise and mechanically satisfying as the six-speeder’s, and as we turn onto some tight country roads with plenty of 30-40mph corners, the fun quotient rises significantly. With pedals well placed for heel-and-toe, which you need to do a lot of to keep the 116i on the right side of its powerband, it’s possible to get the car into a swift and rewarding rhythm.