In a world of me-too front-wheel drive hatchbacks, BMW’s first generation 1 Series was always going to be different from the norm. The biggest talking point was its looks. A bold statement, it divided opinion yet the car’s popularity was proof that buyers seeking a compact premium alternative were willing to embrace BMW’s baby.
With its rear-drive set-up it shamelessly targeted keen drivers, yet rear cabin space was closer to that of a two-plus-two coupe than compact hatchback. Despite being a compromise for some, the 1 Series was still a hit.
Second time around and BMW’s plan to address some of the first car’s shortcomings appear to have worked. In keeping with the new 5 and 6 Series models, this 1 Series boasts a more rounded exterior. Although it’s no less visually arresting than its predecessor, the corners have been rounded off to give a softer, more approachable personality.
And then there’s the cabin space, which has been expanded to help boost the car’s family-friendly credentials. You’ll still find more room in the back of a conventional hatchback, but BMW’s sporting alternative has grown slightly inside thanks to its extended wheelbase. Rear seat occupants will now find a reason to cheer and there’s more room in boot, too.
Up front and the car’s fascia has clearly been influenced by that of BMW’s premium coupe, the 6 Series. It all feels a little more driver centric than before, which is something that should please fans of the brand.
Looks aside, the biggest change to the 1 Series is how it behaves on the road. It would be fair to say that the car has matured in the time since it first appeared, and there’s been a gentle softening of its ride to help cosset occupants over poorly surfaced roads.
Far from being a compromise made in hell, this is a pleasingly pragmatic approach from BMW. This car, like so many others, will spend a lot of time in cities, and its sensible suspension settings make perfect sense. All told, it’s a relaxing and ‘grown-up’ experience.
Part of the praise for this performance should go the car’s engine range. Predictably, BMW’s low term plan of reducing fuel consumption and emissions continues with the 1 Series. Buyers can choose from a range of all-new petrol units or heavily revised diesel motors.
The 1.6-litre petrol motors are full of important technology – turbocharging, direct fuel injection – and produce 134 and 167 horsepower in 116i and 118i guise respectively. With plenty of torque available thanks to the turbo effect, these engines prove surprisingly gutsy – especially the ‘entry level’ 116i.
On the diesel front there’s a selection of 2.0-litre turbo units with power outputs ranging from 115 to 181 horsepower. Predictably these will offer the most gains in economy and emissions, making them particularly attractive to company car drivers seeking to minimise their tax outlay.
BMW’s focus on economy extends to engine stop-start technology and the recalibrating of throttle and air-con settings when in eco mode, which should deliver incremental savings over the ownership period. Factor in low CO2 ratings – sub 120g/km is the norm for a number of variants – and a general weight reduction plan – and while the 1 Series will be seen as a premium choice it’s also capable of saving you money in the long run.
You will need to open you wallet a little wider when it comes to equipping your new 1 Series, though. Standard kit levels are good by BMW standards but, predictably, there are plenty of tempting options to choose from. Sat-nav integrated with the car’s MP3 player and Bluetooth function is an attractive option, as are the various wheel and cosmetic trim enhancements.
Available in four trim levels (ES, SE and Sport, Urban), there’s plenty of choice regarding equipment levels and the degree of sporty driving behaviour available. For anyone seeking a premium-feel car with a modest footprint the 1 Series is worthy of consideration. And in typical BMW style, the car’s rear-wheel drive layout will please keen drivers everywhere.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: BMW 116i Sport, from £21,305 on the road.
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol unit developing 134bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the rear wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 130mph, 0-62mph 8.5 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 132g/km.