JOHANNESBURG: Make what you will of its appearance, but the new BMW 1 Series, which has just undergone its local launch in 5-door hatchback guise, has successfully micronised the big car values of its brethren and looks set to emulate the success of its predecessor.
Styling: give it some time…
I think I’m slowly getting used to it…
I’ll be the first to admit that when the images of the F20 BMW 1 Series first emerged, I did wince and look away. But then, I did the same when the first car was shown off and that didn’t stop it from clocking up global sales in the region of 1,2-million units. It’s one of those designs that can’t be judged immediately – close that Internet browser window on the BMW website, spend some time with the car and the chances are you’ll slowly succumb to its charms.
The first thing to grab attention is that more pointed nose section with headlamp units that flare at their outer edges and narrow abruptly towards the grille. It looks awkward at first, but at a front three-quarter angle it looks more grown-up, less po-faced than the outgoing car – a look helped by the addition of headlamp eyebrows that give the otherwise bug-eyed design a touch more visual aggression. It’s distinctive, but it has to be said that the featured Sport Line (read gloss-black air dam and rear apron inserts, wider grille slats) and standard specification cars are a bit less challenging to the senses than the Urban. With trim elements similar to the Sport Line, but finished in high gloss white and supplemented by optional white/chrome finish alloys, it is visually treading a bit into Mini territory.
The new car is outwardly bigger than its forebear (85 mm longer, 17 mm wider and with front/rear tracks that have grown by 51 and 72 mm, respectively) but it appears more taut – the previous car’s awkward swage line, which gave the impression of a saggy midriff, has made way for cleaner character lines that intersect at the rear wheel arches while the rear has also been sharpened up with more distinct taillamp clusters, flared wheel arches and a rear apron that echoes the front bumper’s styling.
Inside: a mixed bag…
The previous 1er’s interior was one of the main bones of contention, often receiving poor press for its limited rear space and iffy trim finishes. The new car’s cabin does serve up an additional 21 mm of rear kneeroom and 30 dm3 of luggage space, but it still comes across as pinched – an impression perhaps enforced by the dark leather/ piano black finishes in our particular car. The facia, with its layered styling, freestanding iDrive screen and “black screen” design binnacle layout is clean and the level of perceived quality is high, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces and nary a trim squeak to be heard.
On the road: distilled BMW…
Driving dynamics were always a 1er strong suit, but its ride often marred the overall experience. “My” test unit featured the standard fitment Driver Experience Control unit, which allows you to select presets for throttle and engine management with bias toward either sports driving, comfort or fuel efficiency.
The suspension set-up (comprising a double-joint cross-strut front axle with MacPherson struts and sway bars, and a five-link rear axle) still reins in body roll neatly and, while firm, is better damped and less crashy than that of the previous car. The car’s electro-hydraulic steering setup still exhibited the satisfying weight and precision we’ve come to expect from BMW helms and combined with a slick gearshift from the six-speed ‘box and an easily-modulated clutch to make the new 1er a pleasure to drive in both town and backroad environments.
Road-holding? Nothing to complain about there: the 1er is pretty much big BMW distilled, being communicative yet comfortable and composed.
Power: an interesting slant…
Although I sampled both of the new turbocharged 1,6-litre petrol models, it was the lesser-powered of the two that really impressed. Developing 100 kW at 4 400 r/min and 220 N.m of torque at a low 1 350 r/min, the 116i’s unit felt appreciably punchier at the low-end than its 125 kW counterpart – even up on the Reef, where blown powerplants tend to struggle for breath. The entry-level engine’s performance is pretty respectable, with BMW claiming a 0-100 km/h time of 8,5 seconds and a top speed of 210 km/h for the manual. The engine also plays host to a variety of the company’s fuel-saving EfficientDynamics technologies and returns a claimed consumption figure of around 5,7 litres/100 km on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of around 130 g/km.
The new 1er is an appreciable improvement over its predecessor in almost every facet. It still delivers on the dynamic front, but adds more composure and big-car feel to the mix, effectively distilling BMW’s big-car virtues into a compact, distinctive package. The styling will polarise opinion (again) but it most certainly won’t be considered boring while the improvement in perceived quality will please those who bemoaned the previous car’s plasticky, sometimes rattly, trim.
Like many German premium compacts, you have to be careful when ticking the options boxes – entry-level cars appear to be good value but are somewhat spartan, while better-specced models tend to wear a hefty price tag. The fact remains, however, BMW has produced what looks like an impressive addition to the premium hatchback segment.
116i M: R268 500
Sport Line: R286 000
Urban Line: R282 700
116i AT: R286 500
Sport Line: R304 000
Urban Line: R300 700
118i M: R287 500
Sport Line: R305 000
Urban Line: R301 700
118i AT: R305 500
Sport Line: R323 000
Urban Line: R319 700
120d M: R325 000
Sport Line: R342 500
Urban Line: R339 200
120d AT: R343 000
Sport Line: R360 500
Urban Line: R357 200