The eagerly-awaited BMW 1 Series will reach South African shores by the end of 2004. It should make new BMWs accessible to more motorists, but could it also dilute the exclusivity of the brand?

The eagerly-awaited BMW 1 Series will reach South African shores by the end of 2004. It should make new BMWs accessible to more motorists, but could it also dilute the exclusivity of the brand?


BMW’s first fully-fledged subcompact model will stand out from its rivals thanks to its rear-drive layout – something BMW’s head of Research and Development, Burkhardt Goeschel, claims will give the little Beemer “razor-sharp handling”.


It’s expected to be launched initially in three- and five-door hatchback and later as a four-door saloon. Sources suggest a worldwide potential of at least 250 000 annual sales by the middle of the decade. However, that’s less than half last year’s global 3-series sales of 561 249.


The 1 Series’ design will be based on BMW’s CS1 concept car, complete with BMW’s signature kidney grille and Hofmeister kick at the base of the C-pillar. According to a report, its “radical convex and concave surfacing should sit well with younger buyers”.


The drawback of the rear-wheel drive layout is that the longitudinally-placed engine and prop shaft limit interior space and that rear accommodation is said to be disappointing compared with front-drive competitors. The low-slung sporty subcompact sits 80mm lower than a Golf IV.


The new car shares more than 40 per cent of its components with the next 3 Series, including its MacPherson strut (front) and trapezoidal link (rear) suspension, as well as its axle assemblies, braking system and wiring harness.


Power for BMW’s new entry-level model comes from two different versions of the familiar 1,8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Theoretically, the engine would produce 78 kW in 116i and 89 kW in 118i guise.


Also planned from the outset are two versions of a two-litre common-rail turbodiesel engine. BMW sources say it will produce 86 kW in the 118d and 112 kW in the 120d. And during mid-2005, a sporty 120i model fitted with a 160 kW four-cylinder turbo will join the line-up.


All models get a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, although the Sequential Manual Gearbox nudge-shift and a six-speed auto will be optional.


According to spin-off versions of the 1 Series will be badged 2 Series and the first models – a coupé and a cabriolet – will arrive at the end of 2006 and 2007.


The move is part of a plan that will see all of BMW’s two-door models adopt even-number designations, with the conventional four-door offerings continuing with odd numbers.


The highlight of the new line-up will be the M2 performance coupe, which is described by BMW sources as the spiritual successor to the original M3. It will apparently be powered by a fizz-popping 2,4-litre four-cylinder engine delivering up to 179 kW.


BMW SA spokesman Clynton Yon told CARtoday.com on Tuesday that the 1 Series would definitely be launched in South Africa “around the end of 2004”. Despite the introduction of the subcompact, the current BMW Compact model range will remain on the market, because “the new 1 Series will have a five-door layout and will not compete in the Compact’s three-door sports coupe market”.