Individuality. It’s what makes us different, and it’s also what can divide opinion. And in 2011 when BMW launched its first redesign of the original 1 Series it certainly created a divide. The bold, athletic, sculpted face of the redesigned car was a far cry from the pretty curvaceous design of the 2004 original. Some (Including myself) loved it, some absolutely opposed it; however, one important point of difference about the car that did not change from the original and was its biggest selling point: it is the only car in its class to boast rear-wheel-drive.
For many, this may not seem like a big deal but under the skin, the ‘1er’ boasts a poised and well-engineered chassis of front engine/rear-wheel-drive with 50:50 weight distribution which make it exceptionally dynamic and fun to drive. Think of it as a sports car dressed as a five-door hatchback and you’re about halfway there.
Launched locally in September 2011, BMW originally offered with 4 models, albeit with three engine choices, two petrol’s and one diesel; whichever model you choose from, there is no doubt there is a 1 Series to suit anyone. My car, the 116i, is fitted with the 100kW/220nM 1.6-litre turbo petrol derived from the same engine found in the Mini Cooper S.
Although having less power than your average hatchback, the 116i makes up for it in torque giving the car a free-revving character and makes it very sprightly and a joy to drive around town. And being a BMW, it offers an excellent choice of drivetrain options. Our car is paired with the 6 Speed Manual gearbox and although it is a little bit notchy and rubbery than more fluid gearboxes found in some of its rivals, it still provides drives an excellent marriage with the 1.6 turbo, accentuating the peppy character of the 116i’s engine and having an appropriate cog for any situation.
As with all BMW’s this side of the decade, the 116i comes with the latest fuel-saving technology, which BMW calls EfficientDynamics. Standard fitment includes stop-start, regenerative braking and BMW’s driver mode control which allows you to change the cars performance settings via a toggle shifter.
Even in normal driving conditions the BMW will return good fuel figures. The 116i will return a claimed average of 5.7 litres/100 km, however in our car this figure was close to the claimed urban average (7.2 Litres/100km’s) returning 7.4 litres/100km’s since the car is mostly driven in Sydney’s notoriously congested streets. Servicing is reasonable with 12-month/25,000km intervals between visits.
The interior design harks at the bold and modern lines that have donned the newer generation cars, without losing the BMW trademark wrap-around cockpit style dash. Bold styling, curvaceous shapes and different materials give the car an air of premium and bespoke feel that you just don’t get in more mainstream hatchbacks or its rivals. However, some of the surfaces cannot match the well-crafted cabin that dons the Audi A3, nor the sporting character that can be found in the Mercedes A-Class.
Although interior space is considerably improved over the previous generation, which was always criticized for its lack of interior space, it is still on the cosy side of things when compared to the space found in its rivals. Boot space is good totalling 360 litres, having a deep floor and low lip aiding its capacity. However the design of the taillights makes the opening somewhat constricted for bulkier items and some of its rivals do have larger load lugging capacity.
Standard equipment levels are good, rather than class leading and being a BMW there are a plethora of options to tailor your car to your needs and taste. You can get carried away with the extensive range of options available on the car and it can blow out the cost so it’s best to keep things simple and choose your options carefully.
Although the 1 Series may not have the best interior space or have the classiest cabins found in the likes of the Audi A3, it is far from bargain basement; and there may be faster, more sporting and prettier options for similar money such as the Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen Golf GTI or Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV but they cannot match the composure and precision of the excellent chassis that the unpretentious 1 Series packs. It is a true drivers car and remains loyal to its Bavarian pedigree of offering a well-engineered drivers car that makes it worth every cent over its rivals.