What is it?
BMW’s second-generation 1-series five-door hatchback. It goes on sale in the UK this September priced from just under £20,000, although a 120d like the one we tested will set you back closer to £25k.
With limited practicality, mediocre material quality, curious styling and a flawed and uninvolving drive, the old BMW One never really earned its stripes in BMW’s habitual class-leading sense. Despite being four grand cheaper than an equivalent 3-series, it was consistently outsold in the UK by the bigger BMW saloon, not to mention most of its key rivals – and that’s in its second largest global market.
So, after a complete redesign and restyle and a through engineering overhaul, can the new 1-series stamp greater authority on what’s become Europe’s most important market segment for premium brand players?
What’s it like?
The new 1-series is a car that looks as if it’s been steered, albeit carefully, in the right direction. The press material talks less about dynamic rear-driven handling, and at reassuring length about enhanced comfort and accommodation, improved efficiency and new-to-the-class technology. Which is a good start.
Longer than the old car by 85mm, the new One has a wheelbase that’s been enlarged by 30mm, with 21mm of that extra inter-axle length gone to additional rear legroom. Both tracks have been widened too, by a natch over 40mm at the front axle, and over 60mm at the rear.
Although it’s grown, the new car is 30kg lighter than the old one: would have been 60kg, but climate control now comes as standard. And a thorough structural redesign means the car’s body-in-white is now more than 30 per cent more torsionally rigid across the front bulkhead. That’s good news for ride and handling, too.
Adrian van Hooydonk’s styling update hasn’t cured the ungainly proportions of BMW’s smallest model, but the net effect is a clear improvement. The new car looks lean, more aggressive than the last. The biggest aesthetic bugbear remains the car’s profile, though. Short, tall and backward leaning, it still looks awkward: like a gangly pup that’s had the carpet pulled out from under its paws.
Developed in tandem with the new 3-series, the new 1-series, like the last, has all-independent suspension: MacPherson struts up front and a five-link rear end. The car will be sold exclusively with turbocharged engines: two flavours of directly injected, twin scroll turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol power will be offered from launch (135bhp for the 116i and 168bhp for the 118i), and three 2.0-litre commonrail diesels (ranging from the 115bhp 116d up to the 181bhp 120d).
With 280lb ft of torque from 1750rpm, performance from the 120d is as strong as you’d hope: 60mph comes up in around seven seconds. The powertrain’s all the more exceptional because, fitted with ZF’s excellent eight speed automatic gearbox as an option and BMW’s Efficient Dynamics fuel-saving ancilliaries as standard, the car emits less than 120g/km of CO2. This is a car capable of bettering both 140mph and 60mpg; not at the same time, of course, but remarkable from the same car.
Open the driver’s door, lift your feet over the raised sill, and one or two signs of sophistication begin to show themselves. Material quality’s that bit more consistent in here than it used to be; the plastics around the door pulls, storage cubbies and steering column look much less cheap. Elsewhere the mix of trim on the fascia is varied and attractive – with one exception. Our ‘Urban’ spec car came with glossy white plastic highlights on the centre console, door handles and dashboard that look like offcuts from Apple’s iMac storage cupboard. Thankfully the same trims are available in gloss black, which would certainly compliment the rest of the interior better.