The MK3 version of BMW's 1 Series gets a new platform, a new drive layout and new engines. It's sleeker, lighter, safer, more practical and more efficient than before. And, the company reckons, it's still the most rewarding steer in the premium compact hatch sector. Big claims for an important car.
Back at the launch of the very first 1 Series model in 2003, rear wheel drive was a non-negotiable part of BMW's engineering fabric. Yet this layout practically compromised both that MK1 model and its 2011 successor. And for what? The Munich maker's own research suggests that over 85% of 1 Series customers have no idea whether the drive wheels are front or rear. And whoever complained about the handling of a front-driven BMW-engineered MINI? If you opt for the brand's xDrive 4WD system of course, none of this will matter, but availability of that depends upon the engine you select, so let's take a look at the various powerplant options, all of them re-developed for this car.
BMW expects the 150hp 118d diesel to be the big seller; for black pump variants, there's also a lesser 116hp 116d three cylinder 1.5-litre derivative and a more powerful 190hp 120d 2.0-litre model, the latter only offered with the xDrive system. That 4WD set-up is also a non-negotiable part of the top petrol M135i xDrive hot hatch variant (which offers 306hp), but most customers wanting to fuel from the green pump with this car will choose the 1.5-litre three cylinder 140hp unit powering the base 118i front-driven version. Three different transmissions are on offer, depending on variant. The 116d, the 118d and the 118i get an upgraded 6-speed manual gearbox and the two base three cylinder variants(116d and 118i) can also be ordered with an optional 7-speed Stepronic auto. At the top of the range, the brand's smooth 8-speed Steptronic Sport auto transmission is optional on the 118d and has to be had on the two top xDrive models.
The rather dumpy styling that characterised earlier 1 Series models is all forgotten now; this third generation model is much sleeker, with a more wedged shaped silhouette and a pronounced 'shark nose'. At the front, the BMW kidney grille is larger and, for the first time in this model range, the kidneys merge in the middle. The car features a shorter bonnet and significantly more space than before within a footprint almost identical to that of its predecessor. At 4,319 millimetres, the MK3 1 Series is 5mm shorter, 34mm wider and 13mm higher.
The 2,670mm wheelbase meanwhile, is 20 millimetres shorter but despite that, thanks to the switch of drive layouts, there's significantly more cabin space than before. Passenger access is easier, particularly in the rear where there's an extra 33mm of knee room, 13mm more elbow room and 19mm more head room. The luggage compartment capacity rises by 20-litres to 380-litres (or 1,200-litres with the rear seat bench folded down). The minimum width of the luggage compartment has also increased by 67mm. Up-front, BMW's latest 'Live Cockpit Plus' infotainment package is standard giving you an 8.8-inch centre-dash screen and a 5.7-inch instrument cluster display. This set-up includes features such as a Touch Controller, a navigation system, two USB ports for data transfer and a WiFi interface.
We can't help feeling a little disappointed that BMW's MK3 1 Series has abandoned its unique rear-driven selling point. But at the same time, we can't help being impressed by the way that the Munich maker has managed to retain so much of this car's eager, dynamic character, despite the fundamental engineering changes visited upon it.
Sales will also be boosted by the fact that this is the first 1 Series with really sleek looks, proper rear passenger space and a decent boot. And it's far better prepared than its predecessor in terms of media connectivity and camera-driven safety provision. About to choose a Mercedes A-Class or an Audi A3? You really ought to try one of these too. You might be surprised just how much you like it.Click here to find out more about our BMW 1 Series range