Some visions become reality, even if it takes a little longer: As early as 2010, then-BMW CEO and today’s supervisory board chairman Norbert Reithofer announced that the BMW 1-series, then and to date the only rear-wheel drive model in its class, would switch to the front-wheel drive. Now the time has come: The third generation of the BMW 1-series sits on a new platform, shared with the Mini, in which power is distributed to the front wheels, optionally to all four wheels.
Simultaneously, another unique feature of the 1-series disappears: The straight-six engine is gone – because it would hardly fit horizontally under the front hood of the new model. The vehicle’s proportions have changed significantly: The 1-series now presents itself now with a short, steep bonnet and a long roof, in the usual style of the segment. However, it plays successfully with iconic BMW elements such as the twin headlights, the front kidneys, the “Hofmeister kink” in the C-pillar or the L-shaped taillights, and we will say unequivocally that it looks like a real BMW, one with a very short front end.
Whether the new 1-series can live up to its brand promise on the road will be determined by road tests, but BMW’s engineers have spared no effort to give this front-wheel drive model the agility that is associated with the brand’s rear-wheel-drive models. Its chassis features a sophisticated rear multi-link axle, and the M135i xDrive top model comes with an electronically controlled Torsen locking differential and 18-inch rims on 225/40 rubber. The stability control system works much more quickly and with greater precision than before.
Power is provided by motors from BMW’s well-known modular engine family; at launch, there will be the 118i (1.5-liter three-cylinder with 140 horsepower), the 116d (1.5-liter three-cylinder diesel with 116 horsepower) and the 118d (2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel with 150 horsepower) . The range-topper will be the M135i xDrive, which is fitted with a 306-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo. It charges to 100 kph in just 4.8 seconds iand is governed at the obligatory 250 kph. The most economical model is the 116d, with an official consumption of just 3.8 liters per 100 kilometres in the (ridiculously demanding) European cycle.
Purists and nostalgics will regret that the manual transmission is pushed back further. In most versions, and there are more to come, BMW will mate the engine to a ZF-supplied eight-speed torque-converter-style automatic. The manual will be relegated to entry-level model, its main purpose being a lower starting price.
The dimensions (and unfortunately also the weight) of the 1-series are virtually identical to its predecessor, but because the drive unit is mich more compact, the passenger cabin is significantly more generous than on the previous model. There is ample space, with lots of legroom and headroom on the four outer seats. The trunk holds 380 liters and can be extended to up to 1200 liters. Four doors, until now a EUR 750 option, are now standard. If you prefer a two-door, you will be relegated to its sister model, the Mini, or the predecessor’s sister model, the 2-series Coupe.
In an exclusive event, we already experienced the unusually modern and well-equipped cockpit:. The optional digital instrumentation corresponds with larger and more expensive BMW models, the telematics screen is elegantly attached to the instrument cluster, and the optional decor is backlit. The optional head-up system is an uplevel system that projects numbers onto the windscreen, not onto a small piece of glass that rises from the dashboard. This is a first-class interior.
On the market, the new BMW 1-series will meet strong competition: The A-Class from Mercedes-Benz is still fresh, VW will launch a new Golf this year, followed by the Audi A3 in 2020. In this competitive environment, new 1-series checks all the boxes. Let’s hope that it retains enough independent character to set itself apart from the competition, as it has so successfully done before.