BMW 1 Series Road Test
Model/Engine size: 118i SE
Fuel economy combined: 47.9 mpg
Green-Car-Guide rating: 8/10
The new BMW 1 Series is here, and it’s bigger, more economical, and has emissions as low as 99 g/km CO2, or 74.3 mpg, in the case of the 116d EfficientDynamics – but what’s the new twin turbo petrol-powered 118i like to drive?
The original 1 Series, launched in 2004, was a groundbreaking car for BMW; a five-door hatchback is an unusual configuration for a manufacturer known for four-door saloons . However the 1 Series has become an important car for BMW and it is responsible for many of its ‘conquests’ from other manufacturers, with 125,000 of the five-door variants sold in the UK since launch.
The first generation of the 1 Series has been popular as a driver’s car in a front-wheel drive segment. However the first generation had its flaws – so has BMW addressed these issues?
The biggest problem for the 1 Series was lack of space – particularly in the rear seats and boot. Trying to squeeze anything other than the smallest child into the back could be very tricky with doors that were too small and didn’t open wide enough on the five-door version. Leg and headroom were also an issue. On space alone the 1 Series’ competitors in this sector such as the Audi A3 and VW Golf were far superior. Part of the problem for BMW is maintaining its unique selling point of rear-wheel drive without compromising space.
Other issues with the first generation 1 Series included cheap plastics in the cabin, an uncomfortably firm ride, and there were no cup holders – a nightmare when trying to balance a drink somewhere on a long journey.
The original car also divided opinion in terms of its styling; in particular its headlamps looked like droopy bug eyes. Overall the new car looks tighter and more muscular, but we’re still not fans of the new headlamps and the large triangle of bodywork between the headlights and the grille. The rear hasn’t changed too much, with squarer LED tail lights finishing the new look.
In terms of the main failing of the original car – its size (and packaging) – BMW has responded well. The length of the new car is extended by 83mm, the width by 14mm and the wheelbase by 30mm. These seemingly small increases become evident when you climb into the car. The claustrophobic feel of the original car is gone and light floods into the cabin thanks to the lower window line. The driver and passengers have room to move, with increased space between the front seats.
It’s in the rear where you experience the biggest improvement. There is still a high driveshaft tunnel to negotiate in the centre, but for two passengers there is visibly more space. This is now a comfortable four-seater, with a fifth being able to squeeze in for short journeys. The boot space has also increased by a significant 30 litres, so the weekly shop will fit a lot more comfortably.
The cabin materials have also improved. They are not to the same standard as the higher-end BMW models, but the plastics are more robust and there’s the addition of cup holders in the centre console. All the controls are an evolution rather than a revelation, but there are neat styling touches which ensure you’re reminded that you’re in the latest model. For instance, there’s a black gloss frame around the air vents, a red strip running across the dash and glove box (in the Sport model) and the tactile floating hazard warning light and door lock switches are a central feature. The 118i SE model tested had satellite navigation fitted, but the screen protruding from the dash at an angle had the feel of an afterthought. BMW called it ‘freestanding’ but it could have been incorporated into the dash more effectively.
As you might expect, new technology is a key feature of the car. Firstly, all models have ‘Comfort Go’ (or keyless start to you and me), and all cars from SE level upwards come with Bluetooth as standard and compatibility with the various media technologies. BMW’s iDrive system also appears on all models, except the ES, and it’s intuitive and easy to use.
Other useful additions such as lane departure warning help to keep things safe, however at times it felt like there was too much going on; the sat nav was directing us, the steering wheel was vibrating when changing lanes, the gear shift indicator was telling us when to change gear, and there’s lots of information on driving style with a congratulatory range extension meter if you are driving efficiently. All of this driver feedback can be useful but it also felt like there was too much information.
The biggest advances are in the new car’s engines and handling. The biggest selling car in the UK from the previous range was the 118d. Its low emissions, at 119 g/km, and driveability made this the popular choice. The new cars will have even more efficient diesel engines ranging from just 99 g/km for the 116d ED to 119 g/km in the 120d. All cars have BMW’s EfficientDynamics technologies as standard, including Auto Start-Stop, Brake Energy Regeneration, ECO PRO mode, Electric Power Steering (EPS), lightweight engineering, Optimum Shift Indicator, and reduced rolling resistance tyres. This puts BMW ahead of its main competitor the Audi A3 Sportback in nearly all model derivatives.
On the engine front, the biggest advance has been with the petrol models. Using new TwinPower engines, BMW has raised the bar for petrol engines. The new 118i, in six-speed manual form as tested, has CO2 emissions of 137 g/km, and combined fuel economy of 47.9 mpg. An eight-speed automatic is also available, and this has even better figures, as in the new BMW X3 , with emissions of 134 g/km and 48.7 mpg. As with most current BMWs, these are impressive statistics, especially when viewed in combination with its 170 hp and 0-62 mph time of 7.4 seconds.
The engines have plenty of low end torque, similar to a diesel engine, thanks to the twin turbochargers that provide an even spread of power, and there is no turbo lag.
Although not as economical as the diesels, which will dominate company car purchases, the petrol versions will be appealing to the consumer market. However, there is no price differential between the 118i petrol and the 118d, so the diesel may attract more buyers.
BMW is also realigning the range. Starting with the ES, there is now the SE with additional standard equipment. There are then two new models; the Sport and the Urban. The popular M Sport tops the range with new meaty alloy wheels and sport package. BMW says the new models will provide more differential across the range with increased levels of customisation available. The Sport model for example has lots of black gloss around the wing mirrors, kidney bars and bumpers. In contrast the Urban model offers white alloy wheels and mirror caps that are reminiscent of MINI. The result is a slightly confused model line up although the options to personalise your car are much greater.
Both the list of standard and optional equipment is improved, with many new toys available. All cars come with Driver Performance Control which allows for ECO-Pro mode to maximise fuel efficiency, Comfort mode for normal driving and Sport mode that allows more of a sprightly driving style. Selecting the adaptive suspension option at £750 also adjusts the ride and handling capabilities of the car from a firm ride in Sport mode to a softer setting in Comfort mode.
The new 1 Series maintains its rear-wheel drive configuration and so it is still unique in the segment. It seems that BMW has ironed out the niggles from the previous car to create an accomplished premium hatchback. Prices for the entry-level 116i ES start at £18,480, which sounds high for a hatchback, but that is the cost of a higher quality product and a premium badge. The fuel efficiency and low emissions mean this car will appeal to a certain segment of drivers looking to move up from volume manufacturers to a German brand. As an introduction to BMW the new 1 Series is a great car and a big improvement on the first generation. If the quality of the driving experience was the only measure then this car would be class-leading. However, a premium price tag and some compromises in terms of practicality mean that it won’t take too much ground from its cheaper front-wheel drive competitors such as the VW Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. The new BMW 118i therefore gets a Green-Car-Guide rating of 8 out of 10.
The new 1 Series five-door hatchback goes on sale in the UK on 17 September, with the thee-door, coupe and convertible variants following later.
Review by Tim Anderson
Fuel economy extra urban: 57.6 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 37.2 mpg
CO2 emissions: 137 g/km
Green rating: VED band E – first year £115
Weight: 1295 Kg
Company car tax liability (2011/12): 16%
Price: £21,985 (From £19,375 to £24,720)
Insurance group: TBC
Power: 170 hp
Max speed: 140 mph
0-62mph: 7.4 seconds