BMW has finally lifted the covers off its new 1 Series hatchback, confirming the move to a front-wheel-drive platform but also showing off the flagship all-wheel-drive M135i from the get-go.

According to the German firm, the third-generation 1 Series boasts an “increase in agility” and a “dynamic sharpness unprecedented in front-wheel-drive cars”.

But it also offers what BMW terms “significantly more space” than its predecessor, thanks to that front-driven layout. Passengers in the rear, says the Munich-based automaker, are the main beneficiaries (gaining 33 mm extra kneeroom and 19 mm more headroom), while luggage space has increased by 20 units to a claimed 380 litres.

Interestingly, only the five-door body style will be offered, measuring in some 5 mm shorter than its forebear at 4 319 mm (its wheelbase, meanwhile, is 20 mm down at 2 670 mm). The 1 Series has grown in width by 34 mm (to 1 799 mm) while its height has been increased by 13 mm to 1 434 mm.

In Europe, three diesel engines and two petrol mills will be offered from launch. However, when the new BMW 1 Series hits South Africa in the third quarter of 2019, only the petrol-powered 118i and range-topping M135i xDrive will be available. That means SA will miss out on the 116d, the 118d and the 120d xDrive (initially, at least).

The 118i uses a turbocharged 1,5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine sending 103 kW and 220 N.m to the front wheels via a “further-developed” six-speed manual gearbox (with a seven-speed dual-clutch Steptronic transmission offered as an option).

The M135i xDrive, meanwhile, employs the most powerful four-cylinder unit in the BMW Group line-up. The turbocharged 2,0-litre unit generates 225 kW and 450 N.m, directed to all four corners via an eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission with launch control. That’s enough for a sprint to three figures in a claimed 4,8 seconds (or one-tenth quicker with the upcoming M Performance package specified) and an electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h. A mechanical Torsen limited-slip differential, M Sport steering and uprated brakes are part of the M135i package.

Four equipment lines are expected to be offered: Advantage, Luxury Line, Sport Line and M Sport. The new 1 Series will be available with a panoramic roof, alloy wheels measuring from 16 to 19 inches and big-ticket tech items such as the latest BMW Operating System 7.0.