The first time I laid eyes on the BMW 1 series I really didn’t like the looks. No, I guess that’s an understatement…kind of like saying Lady Gaga’s meat dress was wasn’t really featured in the media. Thankfully it is what is under that opinion dividing skin that truly surprises.
By the time I got the review unit 116i Urban model from BMW, in the exact blue and white trim the ads have shown (The ones with those Arian, twins) I thought the looks were going to be the least of my problems. I have never been a fan of the 1series hatch, (the coupe and convertible are another story) it populates our roads in 116 and 118 guise, with mediocre engines, under-specced interiors and black trim bits like you’re driving a Nissan Sentre circa ’96. Thankfully the new model looks a lot better, but there’s a catch. It looks a lot better with Urban / Sport kits (The 1 Series is the first BMW to feature “BMW Lines”, opening up a whole world of personalization) If you don’t spec it with one of those it looks like a marshmellow that’s spent too much time in the sun. It’s one of those Jerseylicious girls that needs to get tarted up to look like something you’d take into public.
That said, the new 1 series is all-new from the ground up, and basically takes the best from the previous car, and builds on that. The new car is available with a host of technological ConnectedDrive options from their larger models, so you can spec it up with the latest in what they call comfort, entertainment and safety options.
One of the biggest changes is the choice of engines – The new model is currently available in a choice of two petrol engines: a 116i and 118i. Don’t let the nomenclature fool you, both models use the 1.6litre 4cylinder unit featuring TwinTurbo (featuring twinscroll turbo chargers) technology and the latest in BMW’s arsenal of Efficient Dynamics. The 116i delivers up 100kW and 220Nm of torque and sweet baby cheeses, what an engine. The 118 pushes out 125kW and 250Nm respectively. I can easily say that these new range of engines will definitely feature, if not win, engine of the year 2012. The 116 (in manual guise) will manage 0-100km/h in 8.5 seconds and up to a top speed of 210. There is also a choice of 8-speed automatic, which should be a superb fit on the diesel. Although not yet tested, the diesel unit is also a 4cylinder pushing out 135kW and 350Nm of torque. For every day driving, I cannot fathom why 99% of the buyers would need anything other than the 116. It’s a change in thinking but the turbo’s do such an amazing job at keeping the power on tap whenever you need it with no turbo lag to speak of that I can’t fault it at all. It’s perfect for city driving, and you don’t feel like the engine is strained under the weight of the car. I cannot give this engine enough praise, mainly because it was such a surprise in how strong it was in delivery through the rev range, as well as being a surprisingly sporty when you needed it to be.
I thoroughly enjoyed the 6-speed manual gearbox, solid shifts and typical BMW clutch action made it great for city driving. You’re going to do a little more work on the highway to keep speeds above the legal speed limit but once you’re cruising the real joys of efficient dynamics kick in for some stellar fuel consumption. I managed just under 8l/100km, and mixed spirited and economical driving, with a mostly city driving bias. Anyone else would no doubt do a lot better.
The interior is a very comfortable place to be. The quality of materials much improved, with more soft squishy touch materials, and the rest is typical BMW quality. The look and feel of the interior is, in my opinion, much better than the current 3 series in terms of ergonomics and the fact that it’s not boring as a box of hair. The person who specced out my test unit seemed to have ADD when speccing out the car (Urban Kit, Fog Lamps, Xenon headlamps, Comfort Access, ConnectedDrive, iDrive, Reverse Camera, F+Rear Parking sensors, Sunroof, Extra Digital Display, HarmonKardon Sound and the list goes on). Every single option box was ticked, and sadly, you might find yourself doing the same. The car comes rather brick and mortar, leaving you to finish it off as you see fit. There’s a few of the options I’d take, the climate control,Comfort access, Xenon Headlamps with very distinctive LED running lights, BMW’s i-Drive & Connected drive integration is noticeably improved, and the whole system with voice integration and easy pairing with iPhone, was pretty damn good at getting most commands right. It’s the best system at voice recognition I’ve tested, and this can mostly be attributed to BMW calibrating the system in the UK, instead of the US or on the Borg. High fives all round chaps.
Rear seating space is also improved, as it was one of the criticisms of the last model, but it is still a hatchback so your 6foot ginger friend would still scuff knees if you’re a tall driver. Not a train smash, you shouldn’t be driving with them anyway
Where the BMW has always excelled is driving dynamics, is with the unique rear wheel drive set up, and the new 1 builds on that even further. It boasts best-in-class suspension technology, with a double-joint cross-strut front axle with MacPherson struts and sway bars, and a five-link rear axle. It has a wider track than its predecessor at both front and rear, and the almost perfect 50:50 weight distribution helps to translate the dynamic advantages of the rear-wheel drive layout into an exciting responses and a more comfortable ride compared with the predecessor model. In short, it’s a refreshing blend of dynamic ability and comfort (because of the normal choice of rubber instead of incredibly low profile tyres).
There is a standard “Driving experience” mode button next to the gear lever and this changes some of the dynamics and electronics of the car to suite the mode (Sport, Normal / Eco). There’s quite a distinct difference between the 3 and there are some very nice touches in ECO mode.
The new digital display in instrument cluster of most new BMW’s can show multiple bits of information one of which is tangible things like how many km’s you’ve added to the tank range by driving economically, brake regeneration indicator, as well as whether you should let up on the accelerator or change gears.
Steering feedback and feel is near on perfect due to the fairly “normal” tyre selection so you don’t feel like you’re turning the Titanic . Confident brakes are complimented by a host of standard safety systems (ABS, CBC, DBC, DTC). On the safety front, as you’d expect, the standard safety package comprises front airbags, side airbags built into the seatbacks, front and rear head airbags, three-point automatic belts in all seats, front seatbelt tension limiters and pre-tensioners, and ISOFIX child seat mountings in the rear.
As test cars go, this is one of the few cars I could thoroughly see fitting into my lifestyle with zero compromise. I cannot imagine it getting any more balanced than the 116 Urban. Pity about the price, but otherwise definitely currently the category market leader by a very long shot.
Pricing 116i with Urban Line – R282 700
Handling & Dynamic ability
Hefty options list
More information visit www.bmw.co.za/1