The new 1 Series’ dynamic smorgasbord takes in wheel sizes from 16in to 19in in diameter, as well as standard passive suspension, lowered and stiffened passive M Sport suspension or adaptive damping as an option (although only in combination with certain trim levels and optional configurations). Interestingly, none of the car’s derivatives that are available in the UK uses run-flat tyres.
Our test car occupied the sportier end of the car’s character spectrum, having not only that M Sport lowered suspension but also BMW’s M Sport Plus package with its 18in alloys, uprated brakes and quickened steering system. For handling appeal, therefore, it was well configured to demonstrate most of the car’s maximum potential, which, for some, will have decreased notionally for fairly obvious reasons.
The 1 Series’ dynamic appeal hasn’t decreased much in actuality, however – and that has more to do with the fact that the last-gen car always struggled to realise the potential of its rear-driven chassis than it has to do with the capacities of the new one.
The latter are certainly impressive enough. Our test car had BMW-typical precision and progressiveness of response about its handling. So despite its M Sport steering set-up, it didn’t dive suddenly into corners, had plenty of weight about its steering, and seemed entirely stable and settled at high speeds. But it also felt grippy and agile enough once a quarter turn was dialled into the rack; quite tightly controlled and ever-composed in both its vertical and lateral body movements; and in all respects and on a variety of roads ready to be driven enthusiastically, and not to entertain in spades.
There’s a distinct and appealing sense of directional keenness about this latest 1 Series that becomes apparent almost immediately on the hill route’s snaking Tarmac. While the loss of a rear-driven architecture might dampen the BMW’s appeal in the eyes of some, it still feels like one of the more dynamically capable and expressive hatchbacks in its class when driven hard. It might not change direction with the frenetic sort of immediacy that defines the Minis with which it shares a platform, but there’s still a confident sense of purpose about those quick-witted directional shifts that lets you know you’re in control of a sporting product.
Front-end grip isn’t huge enough to surpass every expectation, but the ability to adjust your line with a minor (or major) lift of the throttle keeps the BMW largely in good graces. Its lowered M Sport suspension trims body roll neatly too, and doesn’t leave the car prone to kickback or inadvertent deflections.