To point out that nothing much has changed in this department may well do an injustice to the efforts of BMW’s chassis engineers – but it’s undeniably true. And it speaks volumes about Munich’s attitude to this car, which has always been simplistic. “It’s the only rear-driver in the class,” goes their rationale. “So what more do we need to do?”
“Plenty,” is the answer we’ve been giving for a decade – but to little avail. With its lowered suspension and low-resistance tyres, the 116d Efficient Dynamics Plus probably doesn’t represent the 1 Series at the height of its powers, granted. But it’s got the same pitching, excitable primary ride as the pre-facelift version – and the first-generation car before that.
It corners and steers with greater precision than the original 1 Series did, and it has better lateral body control and better-balanced grip levels. But the car still fails to deliver truly commendable, rewarding handling, whether you’re inclined to define that in classic rear-drive BMW terms, or simply in comparison to the car’s wieldiest front-drive modern competition from Audi, Volkswagen, Ford or plenty of other car makers we might mention.
There are, as ever, several modes to choose from within BMW’s Drive Performance Control, but unless you pay extra for adaptive dampers or variable-ratio steering, there’s little to distinguish between them. Sport mode adds helpful weight to match the directness of the steering and a modicum of contact patch feel.
But it does little to address a lack of bite in evidence from the front axle, because whichever mode is selected, the 1 Series is never as agile as you’d want a compact BMW to be. Somehow it continues to handle like a car tuned to protect you from its undesirable dynamic tendencies, rather than to benefit from the inherent advantages as you’re expecting.
And, for keen drivers, that remains the 1 Series’ chief disappointment. If you wanted a competent, balanced driving experience, you’d buy an Audi A3 or, better still, a VW Golf. You’re interested in a 1 Series because you’re willing to exchange any number of things for entertaining handling. And yet you don’t get it.