When asked during early market research how they would change the ride and handling of their car, the majority of 1 Series owners wanted better rolling refinement. So says BMW, which is why it focused squarely on providing the second-generation car with a more stable and compliant primary ride.
The 1 Series is considerably more pleasant and relaxing to drive in everyday use on typical British roads than the car it replaced. Gone is a great deal of that annoying tendency to fidget and pitch along an uneven country road, for example. The softer-sprung but effectively damped suspension set-up does a very respectable job of smoothing out an undulating road surface at normal speeds, and it keeps good control of the car’s body when travelling faster. The standard chassis compromise is still more sporting than that of a typical five-door, but earlier test experience suggests that if you pay extra for BMW’s adaptive dampers, it can be made even more absorptive.
The 1 Series’ electro-mechanical power steering is a big improvement over the old car’s heavy hydraulic system. Dial up Comfort mode on the standard Drive Performance Control and, assuming you’ve specified Servotronic power steering, you’re rewarded with easy, fluent control over the front wheels.
But the car’s main failing – one that BMW might have been alerted to if it had thrown the net of its market research a little wider – is that it still doesn’t have the finely tuned chassis and doesn’t offer the driver involvement and interactivity that anyone familiar with the firm’s larger saloons would expect. Drive the 1 Series hard through a corner, or with much speed at all in the wet, and a disappointing amount of understeer is evident. Try to adjust its attitude mid-corner with power or with the brakes and the car hardly responds.
Fortunately, the more overtly sporting models in the 1 Series range reward more readily. The 125i possesses strong grip, nice pedal weights and direct steering. The option to firm-up the dampers through the Sport and Sport Plus modes results in a jarring ride, however.The flagship M135i is one of BMW's best driver's cars of recent years. It's grippy but balanced and offers noticeably more steering feel than any other 1 Series. The dynamic performance is capped by a scintillating engine and powerful brakes.