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What's Hot
Great interior, excellent handling, superb turbo engine.
What's Not
Standard equipment list seems a little thin.
X-Factor
Turbocharged engine, RWD, hatch practicality. Where do we sign?
Tony O'Kane | Jan, 07 2012 | 15 Comments

2012 BMW 1 SERIES REVIEW

Vehicle Style: Small luxury hatchback
Price: $45,493 (plus on-roads), $53,075 as-tested.
Fuel Economy (claimed): 5.9 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 8.3 l/100km

 

OVERVIEW

A clean-slate design, new engines and a brand-new platform: this is the F20 BMW 1 Series. And it’s not only the newest luxury hatchback on the scene, in our opinion it’s one of the best.

The engines might have been downsized, but they’re now more muscular than the powertrains they replace.

Interior quality has also been hugely improved. The result is that the new 1 Series is not simply an appealing sporting drive, but also one with a real premium feel.

Perhaps most importantly though, in a sea of front-drive small cars, it’s still RWD.

 

INTERIOR

Quality: Interior quality is impressive; the 1 Series finally has a cockpit that equals those of its larger stablemates for solidity and finesse.

There are soft-touch surfaces aplenty in our test car, along with finely-textured aluminium trim (optional) and high-quality hide on the seats (also optional).

Our tester was also fitted with the optional black cloth headliner, which gives the 118i’s cabin a snug, sporty feel.

Every button, knob and switch operates smoothly, and all fittings are faultless for fit and finish. The rear parcel shelf emitted the occasional rattle, but only on particularly rough roads.

Comfort: The front seats might only be manually-adjustable as standard, but they’re grippy and supportive.

The backrest bolsters are electrically adjustable and give excellent lateral support to the upper-body, no matter what your build.

Finding a comfortable driving position is a cinch, thanks to the good range of adjustment to the front seats and the telescoping and tilting steering column.

Knee-pads on the side of the centre stack are a nice touch too, and will help keep your legs in place during enthusiastic cornering.

The back seat is surprisingly accommodating, considering the 118i’s low roof, small size and RWD layout.

Headroom can be a little tight for very tall passengers, but it’s more than comfortable enough for two adults back there - especially with the fold-down centre armrest and face-level air vents.

Equipment: The 118i Sport comes with a push-button ignition, power windows, trip-computer, cruise control and dual-zone climate control, all as standard.

Rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps, Bluetooth and an iPod-ready audio system that’s run via a simplified iDrive interface are also standard features on the 118i.

Our car was also equipped with the optional sunroof, front parking sensors (rear sensors are standard) and leather trim.

Other options on the 1 Series hatch’s extensive equipment list include keyless entry, two grades of sat-nav, bi-xenon headlamps and a lane departure warning system.

Storage: The boot is a little narrower than some hatchbacks (a side effect of the 1 Series’ independent rear suspension), but still measures a useful 360 litres with the seats up.

Fold the 60/40 rear seats - 40/20/40 split seats are optional - down and you get 1200 litres of room, plus a flat(ish) floor.

There’s no under-floor storage though, just space for the battery and a basic tool kit - no spare.

 

ON THE ROAD

Driveability: The engine might have been downsized from a 2.0 to a 1.6, but that 1.6 has also sprouted a twin-scroll turbo that helps it push out 125kW and 250Nm - 25kW more power than the last-gen 118i, and a whopping 70Nm more torque.

To call it zippy is an understatement, as, with the optional eight-speed automatic (that’s right, eight gears in small hatchback) the 118i can gather speed at an impressive rate.

There’s a brief moment of throttle lag as the turbo winds up, but impressively for a turbocharged engine with such a small capacity, the 118i’s engine delivers its peak torque from just 1500rpm all the way to 4500rpm.

It’s a flexible powertrain and happy to be lugged around at low revs or to spin right up to its 6500rpm redline - the little 1.6 has an exceptionally broad and useable powerband.

The eight-speed auto is a delight, delivering smooth, slurred gearchanges around town, and crisp, rev-matched shifts when in manual mode.

However, the 118i isn’t all about performance. When put in Eco Pro mode, throttle response is dulled, gearshift-mapping changes and the climate control is dialed back to give maximum fuel economy.

In Eco Pro mode we saw average highway fuel consumption figures of around 4.8 l/100km - comparable to the Lexus CT 200h hybrid we recently tested.

Around town the standard engine start-stop feature helps save even more fuel, although the start-up time is a fraction too slow for our liking.

Refinement: Aside from a hint of wind rustle across the top of the hatch, the 118i’s cabin is very quiet. Even tyre roar is quite muted - impressive, given the ultra-stiff sidewalls of the 118i’s run-flat rubber.

Suspension: The 118i Sport’s suspension is refreshingly soft.

Cars with ‘Sport’ somewhere in their name (particularly German cars) tend to use suspension tunes that are better suited to glass-smooth autobahns rather than the pockmarked surfaces we Australians call roads.

The 118i is different though, with soft springing, good damping and plenty of suspension travel to soak up bumps.

It can feel a bit spongy when attacking a tight corner and the Bridgestone Potenza tyres can get pretty vocal when pushed, but don’t let that put you off - there’s quite a lot of grip to exploit.

The electro-mechanical steering is close to perfect too, with a weight that’s neither too heavy, nor too light. It gives good feedback through the wheel, and the rim itself is comfortable to hold.

Braking: A firm, responsive pedal and capable all-disc hardware give the 118i good performance in an emergency stop.

And there’s very little fade during prolonged hard usage; a plus for a car that’s so much fun to drive hard.

 

SAFETY

ANCAP rating: 5-Stars

Safety features: Three-point seatbelts plus dual front, front-side and curtain airbags .
Active safety is provided by dynamic traction control, stability control, ABS, EBD and brake assist.

 

WARRANTY AND SERVICING

Warranty: Three-years/unlimited kilometres

Service costs: Service costs and intervals vary with vehicle usage.

 

HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY

Lexus CT 200h Luxury ($48,990) - You get more equipment in the Lexus, but much less performance. The CT is a finely-finished and very refined car, but with just 73kW and 142Nm, it is a bit slow for some tastes. (see CT 200h reviews)

Audi A3 1.8 TFSI ($45,600) - Roughly the same price as the BMW, but less powerful despite its larger turbocharged engine. The BMW’s RWD layout also gives it a dynamic edge over the A3. (see A3 reviews)

Mini Cooper Countryman S ($49,850) - The Countryman S’s 1.6 turbo uses the same basic engine architecture as the 118i’s mill, but tuned for more power and less torque.

The BMW feels more flexible around town as a result, but the Countryman’s distinctive styling and slightly roomier interior may appeal. Keen drivers however should head for the 118i. (see Countryman reviews)

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.

 

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL

We like the 118i so much, we ranked it as one of the top-ten cars of 2011.

Why? Because it proves that small engines aren’t limp, that German cars don’t need rock-hard suspensions and that pint-sized RWD cars can be incredible fun to drive.

The new F20 1 Series might be BMW’s cheapest car, but it certainly doesn’t feel cheap. It’s a massive step up compared to its predecessor in virtually every regard.

So if you’re in the market for a small luxury car, put the 118i at the top of your wishlist. It’s that good.

 
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