For a prime example of where cost-cutting doesn’t cost the customer, look at the 1 Series.
BMW has developed its latest version of the compact hatch from the platform the Mini rides on. That means a front-wheel drive layout for the 118i and all-wheel grip for the M135i.
The new car is 5mm shorter than the previous model yet here is more interior space for passengers despite the fact.
The shift to front and all-wheel drive – away from rear-wheel drive – aligns BMW with its prestige compact hatch rivals from Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
And no, it doesn’t dilute the driving experience. Clever software and a flex-free chassis make the 1 Series a sharp drive, no matter which version you’re in.
The price and default kit are just as sharp.
The 118i is $42,990 plus on-roads. It is powered by a 103kW/220Nm 1.5-litre turbo engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Default gear includes a pair of 10.25-inch displays, satnav, head-up display, LED headlamps, parking assist, the full bag of safety software, wireless phone charging and a one-year subscription to Apple CarPlay (no Android Auto).
It’s a big step up to the M135i at $63,990, meaning BMW is almost certain to introduce a 125i at some point.
The 1 Series range-topper employs a 225kW/450Nm 2.0-litre engine and eight-speed automatic. Wheel size moves up an inch to 19s, there are better brakes and more responsive steering, powered front sports seats, adaptive LED headlamps, leather upholstery and 16-speaker audio.
Abundant options range from $1200 for the convenience pack adding auto tailgate, luggage net with tie-down points and through-load port to $2900 for the enhancement pack with metallic paint, panoramic sunroof and 19-inch wheels for the 118i, plus active cruise control for the M135i.
On the road
The last time I drove a front-drive BMW I was not impressed — torque steer and the “ultimate driving machine” should not be complementary terms but the 2 Series Active Tourer would chirp and judder the front wheels under anything approaching a spirited launch.
This time around BMW promised the experience would be different: the new 1 Series is fitted with the anti-wheelspin technology first seen on the i3 electric car.
A gravel road and a full-throttle take-off later and we can attest the 118i tracks impressively straight with no corrective steering needed until the needle tips 80km/h.
The M135i ups the ante with on-demand all-wheel drive that can direct up to half of the torque to the rear.
The rest of the package is typically BMW: direct steering (though the rim is a fraction too thick for smaller hands), intelligent ergonomics, solid brakes and firm but compliant suspension.
Most drivers will be more than happy on the standard suspension — the adaptive dampers option that might be worth ticking if you’re an enthusiast.
The new car lives up to BMW’s claim of being a better drive than the previous rear-driver.
As a city commuter, the 118i makes perfect sense but it would be tempting to disable the auto stop-start.
The software’s calibration between the three-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual-clutch auto can cause the compact hatch to hesitate and shudder when it fires back into life — it doesn’t happen all the time but occurs often enough to be mildly frustrating.
The M135i, equipped with a four-cylinder engine and conventional eight-speed auto, is much more refined.
Once under way, the 118i is pleasingly responsive and the engine warble is more engaging than its bigger sibling, which is fairly muted for a car that will be competing with the likes of the Mercedes-AMG A35.
The 1 Series is a better buy than its predecessor. It looks and drives like a BMW and the standard gear is impressive for a premium brand. That’s all most buyers will want to know.
BMW 1 Series vitals
Warranty/servicing: 3 years/unlimited km, $1465 for 5 years/80,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 8 airbags, AEB, blind spot and lane departure alert, rear cross-traffic alert
Engines: 1.5-litre 4-cyl turbo, 103kW/220Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 225kW/450Nm
Spare: None; inflation kit
Originally published as How huge change made BMW better