One - And On A Clean Slate
Yes yes… I can hear the many voices of discontent. Groaning about the new 1 Series BMW now being a FWD car. Believe me, I am in a way quite discontented as you.
But what if you could approach this from a clean slate? Which is in-fact what you should do. But why? Well you see. While the previous 1 Series had the distinction of being the only car in its class which boasted RWD, it did however suffer from a cramped interior. And while there were a good percentile of buyers who would indeed sing praises about the handling merits this FR setup delivered; there were also buyers who simply needed more passenger wriggle room.
So yes. On a clean slate, the new 1 Series, dubbed internally as the F40, and is built on BMW’s UKL2 architecture, which supports transverse engine mounting (therefore better packaging); their small car platform, which is shared with the likes of their X1 SUV, and the MINI Countryman and Clubman.
The new 1 Series sports fresh styling, mirroring design cues also seen on the larger award-winning 3 Series, like the frameless rear quarter slim window graphic, which culminates in the C-pillar, together with its must-have Hofmeister kink.
BMW’s familiar “Shark Nose” front end, with its signature grille, and angled headlamps, presents an unmistakable face. Rear design elements, like its broad shoulder line, and two-section rear lights, hints of 3 Series without even the need for you to squint.
The M-badged variant of the 118i we tested here, is decked out in fancier front and rear bumper treatment and 18” Double-Spoke M wheels, which are an inch larger than the Luxury line model. More importantly, for that $3,000 more, you also get the all-important M Sport suspension, which does wonders to how well the compact hatch is able plant itself around the bends, but we will get to that later on.
We like how BMW had carried over dashboard elements found in their larger cars, into the new 1 Series. Gear found on the 3 Series, like the infotainment screen, centre console, and even the central air-conditioning vent assembly, which seems slightly proportionately too large for the dash, makes it into the new 1. The resulting effect is one of, as a driver, you have a sense that “you know that you are driving a BMW”… versus “you are driving a lesser BMW”... if you know what I mean.
The new infotainment system utilises the current BMW Operating System 7.0, and benefits users with the added advantage of voice control, via the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, that responds to the voice prompt “Hey BMW”. A 10.25” screen fronts the system, with more traditional navigation done through its signature iDrive controller, steering and touchscreen. Unlike the Mercedes-Benz A Class, which now only offers USB C connectors, forcing you to adapt any existing gear to their car; BMW has gotten the formula right, by still keeping one Type A connector available. For those who have mobile phones with wireless charging capabilities, the 118i has a wireless charging dock included.
Sports seats in our M Sport variant, decked out in a Trigon/Sensatec mix are supportive, and built with large side adjustable bolsters, to keep you in-place. Both front seats come equipped with two memory settings, while thigh support cushions are helpful inclusions, helpful especially for longer drives.
Cabin space has been overall improved on, with the reduced centre tunnel, while rear passengers will especially benefit from 33mm of added knee room, versus the previous car.
Cargo room has also improved by 20 litres to 380 litres, and a wider boot aperture also means that loading up is now much easier. Folding the 40:20:40 rear seats down, increases luggage space to up to 1,200 litres. We also like that BMW had included a secondary storage area under the boot floor, which is ideal for stowing gear, you may want to constantly carry with you.
The 118i is powered by BMW’s proven 1.5 litre inline 3 engine; the same which also powers the One and Cooper Series MINIs. In the 118i, the inline 3 dishes out 140bhp and 220Nm from between 1,480 to 4,200rpm. Drive is supplied to the front wheels via a quick-shifting 7-speed Steptronic dual-clutch transmission.
Apart from a little inherent lag when taking off from a standstill, the engine is pleasantly responsive. With its expansive torque band, the 118i is able to hold easily on to higher gears at low cruising speeds in normal drive modes. A tall seventh-gear is intended for cruising, helping to keep fuel consumption low. You do however, get a bit of a drone from the engine at low rpms, but the noise does not intrude too much into the cabin.
Flick the 118i to Sport mode, and you will find yourself hanging on to just five ratios, while throttle response becomes sharper. The 118i is able to clock quite an impressive 8.5 second century sprint, while combined fuel economy at 16.9km/l is still decently good.
Behind the wheel, you will find the BMW hatch responsive to your inputs. Turn in is accurate, and that M Sport suspension which sits the car lower by 10mm, versus the Luxury model, impressively keeps the compact ‘Beemer’ glued around the turns, while roll and understeer is almost non-existent. This is attributed to BMW fitting as standard, its BMW Performance Control (yaw moment distribution), which applies the brakes to the inner wheels, before slip can happen.
We like that even with the sharper handling suspension, the M Sport version of the 1 Series still delivers a comfortable ride, well-suited for easy day-to-day motoring. Insulation has also been done well, keeping external noises to a minimum.
Like its larger siblings, the 1 Series is also equipped with BMW’s innovative Reversing Assistant, which allows you to back out of tight spaces, by tracing the journey you have taken in reverse, up to a distance of 50m. Other driver aids like its Parking Assistant, helps to take the strain out of parking the car in both parallel and vertical situations. Adding to the ownership experience, the 1 Series also features Auxiliary cooling, helping to keep the car ventilated, especially great on a hot day, when you are approaching the car (which also unlocks).
The new 1 Series does feel like how a premium car should. The carry-over of quality from more expensive BMW models can be seen, and experienced in their small hatch.
If you can get past the fact that BMW has now gone FWD for their 1 Series, and also settle for one cylinder less (and an unattractive engine noise which you will not hear from within the cabin); the 1 Series is very impressive.
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