What's hot: Rear-drive magic, beautiful engines, intense handling, sharp pricing, well-featured
What's not: No paddles for lower grade models, brittle M Sport suspension, run-flat tyres still not great
X-FACTOR: The last, and best, of the small rorty rear drivers - and now with good looks to match
Vehicle style: Small premium hatch
BMW 118i - $36,900
BMW 118d - $40,300 (not tested)
BMW 120i - $41,900
BMW 125i - $48,900
BMW M135i - $62,900
118i: 100kW/220Nm 1.6 turbo petrol four | 8spd Steptronic auto
120i: 130kW/250Nm 1.6 turbo petrol four | 8spd Steptronic auto
125i: 160kW/310Nm 2.0 turbo petrol four | 8spd Steptronic Sport auto
M135i: 240kW/450Nm 3.0 turbo six | 8spd Steptronic Sport auto
118i claimed: 5.6 l/100km | tested: 8.5 l/100km
120i claimed: 5.8 l/100km | tested: 9.5 l/100km
125i claimed: 6.6 l/100km | tested: 9.3 l/100km
M135i claimed: 8.0 l/100km | (not recorded, track drive only)
No question about it, if you are in the market for a smart, stylish and roomy small hatch, BMW's refreshed 1 Series demands your attention.
And if you are also looking for the best balanced and most appealing drive this side of $50k, then put BMW's superbly engineered and compact road warrior at the top of your shortlist.
And do take the new 1 Series for a test drive.
Better, the fact is, if you don't want to pay more than $40,000 for the privilege, you will be more than happy with the $36,900 118i.
It might be the least powerful in the 1 Series range, but it drives with real sporting verve, looks the premium product inside and out, comes with a premium feature-list, and gets around a set of bends like a greased ferret.
This new 1 Series is a very good car from BMW. Perhaps, at its most basic - in terms of that nexus between handling balance, performance, quality feel and price - it is the most 'resolved' small car you can buy in this market.
It is also the last of the rear-wheel-drive small cars. And, with a front-driver on the horizon in BMW's future product portfolio, may also be the last compact rear-wheel-drive from BMW.
If it wasn't such a good drive, that latter fact may not be such an issue. But the 1 Series is simply a cracking drive.
BMW 118i, BMW 118d
- Push-button ignition, trip-computer
- Cruise control
- Rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps
- Bluetooth and iPod-ready audio system
- Rear-view camera
- Automatic climate control
- Satellite navigation
- ConnectedDrive real-time traffic information
BMW 120i adds:
- Interior mirror with anti-dazzle function
- Fog lights
- Dual-zone climate control
- Extended Smartphone connectivity
- Driving Assistant
- Sensatec upholstery
BMW 125i adds:
- M Sport package
- Variable sport steering
- Exterior mirrors with anti-dazzle function and fold
- LED headlights
- Front and Rear Park Distance Control
- Alcantara/cloth upholstery
BMW M135i adds:
- M Performance package
- Adaptive LED headlights
- Navigation Professional
- DAB+ Digital Radio and high-fidelity speaker system
- Leather upholstery
Once upon a time, buying a BMW meant buying a boned-out premium shell: the only way to enjoy the kind of features commonly offered in, say, an equivalent Lexus, was to start ticking options boxes.
Expensive boxes at that.
But not anymore; now your BMW sits on the showroom floor nicely decked out with premium standard features.
Like in this 1 Series: the 'base' model 118i is hardly a base model.
Your $36,900 purchase comes with a full suite of features like satellite navigation, rain-sensing wipers, rear view camera and a cracking eight-speed automatic transmission as standard (six-speed manual a no-cost option).
BMW describes it as an "extended list of base specification". It may have come a little late to the party, but you'll be well satisfied with what you find in this new 1 Series straight out of the box.
Something its key German competitors cannot claim.
The interior is 'typical BMW', that means fastidiously put together - appealing surfaces, nothing mismatched or misaligned - and a cold metal quality feel to the metal garnishes and rotary dials and controls.
It also means a really sharp driver-focused cockpit, direct sports steering and clear dials and driver information display.
Whichever model you choose, you will feel you are sitting at the wheel of a driver's car, a real sports tourer. (Which you are, of course.)
The seats are snug, well-proportioned and bolstered just right for a snappy drive through your favourite mountain pass.
There are various grades of trim materials for seats, but none look 'cheap', topping out with the Alcantara and cloth in the 125i and leather in the M135i.
Legroom in the back is fine for an average-sized adult, the long rear doors and square-decked roofline also mean that both access to the rear and headroom is quite ok.
Boot space too is acceptable for a compact car, rising from 360 litres with rear seats in place to 1200 litres with the seats folded.
There is no spare in the boot, run-flat tyres do the job here; instead, to help achieve that 50:50 weight balance that the 1 Series boasts, you'll find a battery back there under the floor.
ON THE ROAD
- 118i: 100kW/220Nm 1.6 litre twin-scroll turbo
8-spd Steptronic auto
- 120i: 130kW/250Nm 1.6 litre twin-scroll turbo
8-spd Steptronic auto
- 125i: 160kW/310Nm 2.0 litre twin-scroll turbo
8-spd Steptronic Sport auto
- M135i: 240kW/450Nm 3.0 litre twin-scroll turbo in-line six
8-spd Steptronic Sport auto
- 0 - 100km/h: 118i, 8.7 seconds; 120i, 7.2 seconds; 125i, 6.2 seconds; M135i, 4.9 seconds
- Suspension: front - alloy double joint spring strut; rear - five link (lightweight steel)
- Electric power steering (EPS)
We love the way this car drives.
Right across the range, the 1 Series offers a liveliness and sports feel at the wheel that is uniquely its own.
No front-wheel-drive car quite manages the same on-road balance, the same sense of being 'hooked-up' to the road and that same feel through the wheel. And this is the last of the rear-drive small cars.
If you are unfamiliar, it is something you need to experience.
Because what it does is make every drive an experience to enjoy. Even in the relatively 'low powered' 118i.
The entry model is no master-blaster away from the mark, but is ample quick enough (with an 8.7 second 0-100km/h run), feels honed like an athlete, and will put a smile on your face the first corner you whip it around.
The 120i is quite a bit quicker, shaving more than a second off the zero to 100km/h dash, and is just like the 118i… except, well, quicker.
With a 50:50 weight distribution, the dynamics of that superb rear suspension at work, and a simply 'alive' feel in the way the steering responds at the wheel, this car will find the keen driver in anyone.
The standard eight-speed Steptronic transmission works just as it should.
Though a conventional auto (not a twin-clutch), it is 'electric' through each gear change, changes down pre-emptively to always have just the right gear underfoot, and, should you take things in hand with the lever, responds instantly to manual changes.
The 125i is quicker again (natch), peeling off the dash to 100km/h in a hot-hatch 6.2 seconds. We had this one with the MSport package - bigger alloys, bigger brakes, dress-up bits inside and out - and decided we could do without it.
The MSPort package makes the ride on those larger wheels too hard, a bit more nervous over broken bitumen and quite a bit noisier inside.
No complaints with the way it grips the road however, nor with the instant throttle response of the larger 2.0 litre twin-scroll turbo under the bonnet.
If you have to fire out and around slow moving traffic, as we did (a 'Prado' roadblock) on a short straight on a winding road, the 125i will have you rapidly and safely out and around.
And lastly, to round out this range of superbly engineered sports hatches, we took the M135i to the track at Lakeside.
My gosh this is a superb driving machine.
Lashings of power from that gorgeous MPerformance 3.0 litre twin-scroll turbo in-line six under the bonnet, flicking it through the eight speed Sport Steptronic transmission, and with amazing front-to-rear balance through a turn, it is simply the greatest joy to stretch it out on track.
And that was on a wet slippery track at Lakeside. The drizzling rain just made it more fun.
We kept it in Sport+ mode (with traction control 'half' on, discretion being the better part of valour), but this car gets its nose into a turn like few others, and is rat-fast out of it.
And you can play with the rear end balance. You won't go any faster hanging it out, but it sure is fun.
It is something of a bargain isn't it, the $62,900 M135M? There is one hell of a lot of premium sports machinery packed in behind that price, and real track credibility. (Drive it, and you will want one…)
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It's a view we've held since the launch of the previous 1 Series, but we're convinced that this car is the benchmark for small hatches, for any small car in fact.
Whichever model you choose, the feel is of a car sublimely engineered for the person who revels in the experience at the wheel.
Its sporting soul is unmissable, and impossible not to enjoy.
And from tip to tail, inside and out, there is a sense of premium quality that is also impossible to miss.
Starting at $36,900 for the 118i, BMW's 1 Series is - head and shoulders - the best premium small car you can buy at the moment.
Sure, you can buy a much faster Ford Focus ST (for instance) for just a little more, a Golf GTI for a little more again, and both are cars that we really enjoy.
But for that elusive feel of premium quality and for such an involving experience at the wheel, the 1 Series is far the more compelling buy.
Lastly, if you're unconvinced by three-cylinder technology, you may need to get in quickly if the 118i appeals most - that model is to be replaced by a three cylinder variant in coming months.
And finally lastly, the new 1 Series front and rear design, courtesy of Aussie designer Calvin Luk, sure smartens up the styling. (You no longer need worry it's going to scare the kiddies if you bring one home.)
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- BMW 118i - $36,900
- BMW 118d - $40,300
- BMW 120i - $41,900
- BMW 125i - $48,900
- BMW M135i - $62,900