The rear-driven BMW 1 Series has always appealed more to keen drivers as an idea than as a fully realised car.
Back in 2004, when I was a youngster starting out in this job, I remember being drawn so instinctively to the notion of a proper ‘standard-drive’ BMW as an alternative to a run-of-the-mill front-drive hatchback. The car’s promise was to take the humble hatchback into new and truly involving territory in terms of driver appeal.
But it was a promise the 1 Series has scarcely, if ever, come close to fulfilling. Squeezing a longways engine, a transmission tunnel and rear-wheel drive into such a small car clearly presented BMW with enormous packaging challenges. Even in today’s 1 Series, you become aware of them when you see how cramped the car’s rear seats are compared with those of its transverse-engined rivals.
Likewise, when you drive the car, the apparent difficulties present in numbers. To this day, the 1 Series is a hatchback that rides and handles in a pitching, restless fashion, like a car with a necessarily high centre of gravity whose bulk has been heaped on top of its wheelbase rather than nestled within it.
Moving to a front-wheel drive layout should at once dramatically increase the usable length of the 1 Series’ interior and also increase the amount of available space within it for passengers. It’s interesting to read that BMW will be seeking to preserve the 1 Series' idiosyncratic backwards-swept and cabin-rear design proportions as much as possible – and that’s probably wise. But even in light of that, we should clearly expect a shorter bonnet, a longer glasshouse and longer rear doors.