BMW’s infamously front-wheel drive new 1-series compact hatchback has been revealed at last, complete with bold claims of “improved handling and agility.”
It’s 30kg lighter, a gnat’s wing shorter, 13mm taller and 34mm wider than before with more of a wedge profile running from the jack-o’-lantern face to the traditional, stubby tailgate. Oddly, while most cars on new platforms opt to stretch the wheelbase, the new 1er chops 20mm off while still providing more interior space than before.
The styling will divide opinion but falls into line with BMW’s latest trends set by the 7-series and X7. The large kidney grille, now joined in the middle for the first time on a 1-series, has the usual vertical bars on most models but switches to a mesh design on the car you see here – the launch flagship, the M135i xDrive.
As you may already know, the switch to a Mini-derived chassis and transverse engines limits the new 1-series to four-cylinder engines at the largest. At launch the range has five power options: the M135i is the clear performance favourite but the better sellers will be the 116d, 118d, 120d xDrive and 118i.
Interestingly, the entry-level 118i uses a much-improved 1.5-litre three-pot. It’s 4bhp more potent than before at 138bhp but emits a fairly massive 29g/km less than before. It will punt its way to 62mph in 8.5 seconds and return up to 47mpg if you spec the smallest wheels and have won awards for hypermiling. There’s also, for the first time on the 1-series, a lightweight twin-clutch transmission available on the 118i and 116d.
The diesels are the diesels, returning realistic fuel economy in the 50-60mpg region and offering a longer tank range in exchange for increased uncertainty over how hard governments are going to tax them in the not-too-distant future.
More interesting is the most powerful four-cylinder engine BMW makes. The M135i is blessed with a heavily-upgraded 2.0-litre unit housing a reinforced crank and con-rods, a bigger turbo and new injector valves. The 302bhp and 332lb ft it coughs up is enough to keep pace not with the very fastest alternatives out there, like the 395bhp Audi RS3, but it should be enough to match the crop of 300bhp-ish options.
The M135i clearly isn’t meant to tackle the real heavy-hitters, though, leaving space for a potential future M140i and M2 to close the gap. Its xDrive system isn’t the sportiest, able to send a maximum of 50 per cent of the torque to the rear, but the M135i’s torque converter gearbox integrates a Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential, which should liven things up.
There’s an anti-understeer system taken from the i3S, brake-based torque vectoring and Dynamic Traction Control to allow a little more wheelspin before the safety net cuts in.
Rear passengers get a useful extra 33mm for their knees while people in the front get an extra 42mm for their lucky, lucky elbows. There’s an extra 20 litres of boot space taking the total to 380 litres, and up to 1200 litres is yours if you fold the rear bench seats down.
Another first for the 1-series is the option of 19-inch wheels. Basic SE models get 16s, Sport trim adds 17s and M Sport cars get 18s. The M135i also gets 18-inch polished items, but can upgrade to 19s as long as you don’t also want the VDC adaptive suspension - the two aren’t compatible.
The range will start from £24,430 in the UK when it goes on sale in September.