BMW’s second generation 1 Series now deserves your attention too, this revised version rejuvenated with sleeker styling, a smarter cabin, extra technology and a range of more powerful, yet more efficient engines. A wide range of models offer everything from three cylinder frugality to storming six cylinder power and the option of all-wheel drive. It’s a strong contender.
There’s no doubt about this 1 Series model’s unique selling point from a driver’s point of view: it’s the only car in this class with rear wheel drive. If you’re an enthusiast, you’ll notice the difference immediately you throw this BMW into a corner and enjoy the way that the back end pushes you through the apex. Even if drive dynamics aren’t a priority for you, you’ll notice a greater responsiveness about this car, particularly if you make good use of the standard ‘Drive Performance Control’ system that allows you to tweak throttle, steering, stability control thresholds and, with auto transmission, gearchange timings to suit the way you want to drive.
Under the bonnet BMW has introduced a couple of 1. 5-litre three cylinder engines borrowed from the MINI, a 136bhp petrol unit in the 118i and a 116bhp diesel in the 116d. Otherwise, most buyers go for one of the 2. 0-litre four cylinder diesels, offered with 150bhp in the 118d, 190bhp in two and four-wheel drive versions of the 120d and 224bhp in this 125d. For petrol people, there’s also a 1. 6-litre 170bhp unit in the 120i, a 2. 0-litre 218bhp engine in the 125i and a storming uprated 326bhp straight six turbo powerplant in the flagship M135i hot hatch.
Taking any compact car and making it rear wheel driven will always mean an inevitable set of constraints when it comes to styling and packaging. For such a layout, you’ll need a longitudinally mounted engine – so a long bonnet. And a driveshaft running to the rear axle – which will compromise rear cabin space. Even given the need for all of this, the original first generation 1 Series model was still an unusual-looking thing and had rear seat space poorer than some two-door coupes. In 2011, both issues were certainly improved by this second generation design, a car longer and wider than its predecessor, with a more mature, grown-up feel that’s been further developed by this revised version.
The changes made are most obvious here at the front, where a smarter lower apron with larger air intakes and a horizontal bar combines with sleeker headlamps featuring LED daytime driving lights. These flank a re-shaped BMW kidney grille that features extra-wide
Time to lift the tailgate, the hatch rising to reveal a boot that’s 360-litres in size, regardless of your choice between three or five-door bodystyles.
Time to take a seat up-front, where BMW has sought to move this car a little more up-market. There are nicer materials on show, along with smarter seat fabrics, a gloss black finish to the centre dash and extra chrome accents around the airvents, the stereo and the climate controls.
BMW prioritises low running cost returns and has rejuvenated this car’s Euro6 engine range to underline the fact, claiming fuel consumption reductions of over 12% across this revised second generation 1 Series line-up. A major driver here has been the adoption for entry-level petrol and diesel models of the 1. 5-litre three cylinder powerplants originally developed for the third generation modern era MINI. Thanks to these, even the 118i petrol variant manages 56. 5mpg on the combined cycle and 116g/km.
The three cylinder 116d diesel improves that to 78. 5mpg and 94g/km – and you can enhance that showing still further by opting for this model’s more frugal twin, the green-minded 116d ‘EfficientDynamics Plus’ variant, which returns 83. 1mpg and 89g/km of CO2.
Other car makers create a premium compact hatchback by merely prettying up the ingredients of an existing cheap one. BMW’s 1 Series is different, with rear wheel drive giving this car a distinctive selling point.
It's certainly hard to argue with the changes BMW has brought to this sleeker and much improved second generation version. The three cylinder petrol and diesel engines allow BMW to keep pace with Audi in terms of cutting edge efficiency. Upgraded ‘ConnectedDrive’ connectivity meanwhile, brings much of the cleverness of BMW’s larger models into this more compact form.
Of course, many of this model’s more subtle attributes will probably be lost on a clientele drawn chiefly to its badge. Still, whatever your motivation for purchase, go for one of these and that warm and fuzzy feeling that accompanies making a smart decision is never too far away.