Tim O'Brien | Oct 12, 2011 | 2 Comments

2012 BMW 1 SERIES REVIEW

Pricing:
116i - from $36,900
118i - from $42,800
118d - from $43,500

Fuel consumption:
116i – 5.7 l/100km (combined)
118i – 5.9 l/100km (combined)
118d – 4.5 l/100km (combined)

 

Overview

BMW’s new 2012 1 Series: cheaper, yes, the entry point to the range is nearly five percent less than the car it replaces, and it’s better – what else would you expect it to be?

BMW rarely gets things wrong, and it hasn’t gotten the new 1 Series wrong. Petrol or diesel, this is a car that any keen driver will enjoy.

And while it might sit at the base of BMW’s range of sporting cars, there is no sense that the compact 1 Series is built to a long list of compromises, nor built to a price.

Like its bigger brothers, it feels every bit the premium package.

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It’s not perfect – it’s still a bit cramped in the back, the style of the nose is a tad polarising and, though quick, even the 118i Sport will be shown a set of heels by the likes of the Golf GTI - but you get a lot of thoroughbred for the price.

We put the 118i Sport, 118i and Urban Line 118d variants through their paces – each with the superb eight-speed automatic – and came away convinced.

If you’re in the market for a quality compact car, and can stretch the budget just a little further, you must at least have a very close look at the new 1 Series.

 

Interior

Each of the cars we drove was pretty heavily optioned, but the pick of the interiors ‘off the shelf’ is the Sport.

Ours came with the optional black Dakota leather with red stitching. In base trim it gets a cloth and anthracite combination with red or grey highlights.

It looks very smart. Red highlights are repeated throughout the cabin, offset by gleaming piano-black surfaces and a neatly-styled sporting cockpit.

Tightly bolstered, with electric adjustment to the back rests, the seats are terrific for my frame, both comfortable and secure for press-on driving.

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The Urban Line interior might not be to everyone’s taste. The gloss-white exterior highlighting on the grille, wheels and rear diffuser lip, is repeated inside on the centre console and dash highlights.

It comes with cloth/leather combos off the shelf, we had black leather.

We didn’t much care for the white surfacing – neither inside nor out (it looks like it got sent to the wrong dress-up shop). That said, the white splashes add a breezy air and will no doubt appeal to buyers looking for something a little different.

The new 1 Series has a very appealing interior though.

It feels very snug, it’s airy and beautifully proportioned, the instruments and controls sweep around the driver and into the centre console (where the now standard and brilliantly usable iDrive controller sits).

And, with more leg and shoulder room and larger side glass, it all feels considerably more spacious and accommodating.

A reach and tilt adjustable multi-function steering wheel is standard across the range, so too is keyless ignition, automatic stop/start, USB interface, Bluetooth, CD/MP3 audio system, cruise control, iDrive controller, 6.5-inch monitor, air-con, and a host of other features – all as standard fit.

And this in a range that begins at $36,990 (for the 116i) and has a BMW badge on the nose.

While the price bolts away if you dig too deeply into the options bucket, the entry-level purchase is well-featured and, as I am sure is BMW’s intent, will lean very heavily on VW Golf, Audi A3 and even Mazda3 sales. Here’s a premium buy - a BMW - in reach of the average buyer.

 

On The Road

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Whether at the wheel of the 118i turbo-driven 1.6 litre petrol, with 125kW and 250Nm of torque, or the 118d 2.0 litre turbo-diesel, with 105kW and 320Nm, it’s impossible not to get a buzz at the wheel of the 1 Series.

It is a deliciously-balanced car and can really be hustled along around a winding road.

Each, both the diesel 118d and the petrol 118i, feels alive. There is such accuracy and precision to the front end, and such a communicative chassis, that it draws the driver out in you.

Our route took us through some long winding passes, damp with rain and with slippery bark-debris littering the roads. The levels of grip and balance in the new 1 Series is class leading.

We were wringing its neck before we had the back-end breaking away – and then only momentarily, and only on mid-corner hollows, before seamlessly ‘caught’ by the traction control (which works delightfully transparently in press-on driving).

Throttle response, from both the 118i petrol and largely unchanged diesel (it’s a carryover from the previous model), is very lively.

Mated to the optional eight-speed automatic transmission (with manual ‘sport’ mode and a $3500 cost), both petrol and diesel can run like rabbits.

While the diesel is as good as you’ll find (it’s smooth, willing, has a wide torque band and is eager to rev), the 118i petrol is the pick.

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It’s got much more ‘headroom’ at the top of the rev counter, you can really stretch it out and can consequently can hold gears for longer between corners.

With the diesel, counter-intuitively and despite its significant torque advantage, in press-on driving you find yourself paddling back and forth through the eight-speeds to keep the torque in the sweet spot.

Down below, with hard-walled run-flat tyres, the 1 Series is less at home on small surface corrugations – which can jiggle and jar a little – than larger potholes and undulations, which it swallows effortlessly.

The extended wheelbase (up 30mm) produces a generally compliant though nailed-down ride - better considerably than the previous gen car.

In a day of quick punting over some pretty narrow secondary surfaces, we found the bump-stops just once; finding a large pothole at the base of deep hollow.

Fuel consumption? After wringing the 118i’s neck, we returned 8.2 l/100km; ditto with the 118d and returned 5.7 l/100km. BMW claims 5.9 and 4.5 l/100km respectively.

 

TMR First Impressions Verdict | Overall

With the new 1 Series, BMW has put the possum in the henhouse. Its pricing, revised downward in a vastly improved car, throws down the challenge to a brace of rapidly improving contenders in the small car segment.

Although a premium package – it’s obvious the moment you open the door – it’s now competing where it has barely competed before: on price.

If you’re looking at a Golf GTI or GTD, or considering an A3 Sportback, BMW can see you with its 118i or 118d.

Our pick, of the three we sampled, is the petrol-turbo 118i Sport. It’s not overly powerful, but a masterclass in balance, sporting verve and driver appeal.

With a petrol engine as good as the 118i, the case for the diesel is significantly diminished. Power is up, the torque gap has narrowed, and the fuel consumption advantage of the diesel hauled back.

Check it out; the new BMW 1 Series is one fine car.

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