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A brief drive in a China-only front-wheel-drive model shows the future is bright for the 1 Series when it makes the switch from RWD in 2019
Mark Tisshaw
23 November 2017

What is it?

The BMW 1 Series is going front-wheel drive in 2018, when the third-generation model is launched. But in China, that’s already happened; the 1 Series saloon built and sold in that country as part of a joint venture with Brilliance is blazing a trail for the front-wheel-drive 1 Series.

2019 BMW 1 Series top model to be M130iX M Performance

This then, is a flavour of what to expect in Europe from next year, because BMW will not sell the 1 Series saloon in Europe however nicely you might ask through fear of stealing sales from the more profitable 3 Series saloon.

The 1 Series saloon’s UKL underpinnings are shared with the 2 Series Active and Gran Tourer models, as well as the current Mini line-up. So its chassis is a known quantity, as are the purely petrol turbo engines in the range, including the three-cylinder 1.5 in the 148bhp 118i and the four-cylinder 2.0 in the 189bhp 120i and 228bhp 125i we’re testing here.

What's it like?

Smart looking, isn’t it? Size-wise, the 1 Series saloon closely matches the old E30 3 Series. Its proportions are nice, and it looks a lot less ungainly than the current 1 Series hatchback for its switch to a transverse engine layout, something previously unthinkable from BMW.


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The benefit of that layout is chiefly around interior packaging in making the cabin more spacious, particularly for rear passengers, something so important to maximise for Chinese customers. They’ll be satisfied.

They’ll also be satisfied with the way it drives. What this 1 Series may lack in old-fashioned purity, it more than makes up for it with engagement, as our brief test drive around a test track in China proves.

Front-wheel-drive will make the BMW 1 Series better handling 

It feels more agile and lighter on its feet than the current 1 Series hatch, with none of the stodginess in the handling. Turn-in is sharp; there's a strong willingness to change direction. The layout just feels better suited to a car of this size – or rather, BMW has executed it a lot better than with the current model, no matter which wheels are being driven.

The engine is a lovely thing, too: willing to be revved, yet refined with it, and working well with the smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox to allow the driver to access its broad performance range.

Should I buy one?

This’ll have to be a verdict with large number of qualifications, given how limited the test route was and what the car was actually exposed to. Oh, and remember, you can’t even buy one here.

But it’s good, really good, the test having more than enough merit in serving as a rather tasty appetiser to the next 1 Series. On this evidence, BMW is on to a very good thing. 

BMW 125i saloon​

Where Guangzhou, China On sale na Price 204,800 RMB (£23,300) Engine 4cyls, 1998cc, turbo, petrol Power 228bhp at 5000rpm Torque 258lb ft at 1250rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight na Top speed 155mph 0-62mph 6.8sec Fuel economy 44.1mpg (combined) CO2, tax band 152g/km, 29%

Join the debate


23 November 2017

If Audi can sell an A3 saloon without worrying about cannabalising A4 sales, why can't BMW sell a similar product?

And following that logic, why aren't they worried about 2 series coupe stealing sales from the 4 series?

I don't like the current 3 series - the front looks like a whale with the huge forehead, however this Chinese 1 series saloon looks tidy, almost Volvo like in profile.

23 November 2017

Hi WallMeerkat

With Audi, the A3 does actually steal sales from the A4, which is why BMW won't launch it here through fear of similar. Shame.

We did the story a few months ago:


23 November 2017

The A3 saloon is based on the same platform that the A1, A4, TT, Almost all VWs, all Seats, and all Skodas and probably more! The volumes are higher and thefore the parts are much cheaper to buy from the suppliers. The more they sell, the bigger the profit. The one-series saloon is based on a platfrom shared by only the mini and 2 series. Both less profitable than the 3 series due to parts prices (the 2 coupe,3,5,6, X3, X5, X6, Z4 and 7 all share similar RWD platforms and components). BMW's FWD product volumes are much lower than VAG and therfore less profitable. The 4 series and 2 series coupe are both on the RWD platforms. 


23 November 2017
Oktoberfest wrote:

The A3 saloon is based on the same platform that the A1, A4...

Nope, three different plattforms.

23 November 2017

I stand corrected although the next a1 is on the same platform as the a3. The fact remains that the vag group have much higher volumes than bmw and get their shared parts cheaper. 

23 November 2017

As with every other BMW this 1 Series saloon just looks dull and uninspiring inside and out, with no hint of prestige, sophistication or desirability. Surely it can't be beyond the realms of possibility for BMW to design a car that makes you go wow and makes you want one, while also not making you fall asleep when you glance at the interior.

23 November 2017

...all that BL /Rover / Honda FWD know how has come in useful! 

23 November 2017

Blimey, another clone of the 3-series. All well and good. But jees - i've been into cars since i was about 2 and i'm getting bored of these cloned, tweaked, identical cars. It certainly feels like the dwindling of the dinosaurs..with tiny, incremental evolutionary changes, but basically business-as-usual. We need more Teslas to shake things up.

23 November 2017

You rightly bemoan "cloned cars" and then go on to say "we need more Teslas to shake things up" - Tesla may well have shaken things up on the technical side, but looks wise its done zero shaking up - its cars are just more "clones", theyre some of the most stylistically bland, boring and unimaginative cars around, what we deffo DO NOT need is more cars styled like Teslas.

23 November 2017

Sack the interior team at BMW. If the design was great then fine use it across the range, but it's bl**dy awful. When will they move on? 


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