If there were beauty contests for cars, the first generation BMW 1 series would definitely be there just to make up the numbers. It has a rather ungainly appearance and the dominance of its tail has given rise to it being compared to a puppy crouching on its haunches.
Nevertheless, it has proved to be a popular model since its launch in 2004, mainly due to the prized BMW badge on its nose and the fact that is was both the smallest and cheapest model entire range from the German car giant. Now, seven years later, the second generation of the 1 series has been unveiled, and it has to be said that the extensive restyling has turned this ugly duckling into some more resembling a swan.
The baby of the BWM range has also grown up a bit, it has gained 85mm in length and has both a longer wheelbase and wider track that its predecessor. This gives improved space to the back seat and the car looks altogether more balanced. Due to these changes the new 1 series has a stronger overall structure yet the weight has dropped by approximately 30kg.
The 1 series also has the added distinction of being the only rear wheel drive car amongst models of this size, which gives it a certain cachet for those drivers who are attracted by the different dynamics it gives to driving compares with a mainstream front wheel drive. It is still open to debate as to whether it actually lives up to these expectations, but it has been realistically priced and starts from £19,375 for the 116i ES with petrol engine.
This new version gives the buyer a choice of two new generation 4 cylinder petrol engines and three slightly revised 4 cylinder diesels. All engines come complete with auto shut off to save on fuel wastage when driving in urban areas or stuck in traffic jams. The diesel engines are 2 litre turbocharged common rail units which have differing outputs of power.
The petrol engines vary in power from 135-168bhp, and the diesels deliver between 115-181bhp. There is a choice of transmissions between a 6 speed manual and 8 speed automatic, the latter being operated by shift paddles with move up and down in the steering column.
As with the earlier model, this new 1 series benefits from an all-round independent suspension with McPherson struts at the front and a multilink at the back. The car has been tested on the rural roads around Berlin and this showcased how the car handles and how comfortable it is to ride in. These tests brought favourable results, no doubt helped by the BMW norm of including the front rear weight balance which deals with bends effortlessly.
The overall consensus is that while the new series 1 handles well enough, it just doesn’t quite meet the standard that you expect from a vehicle bearing that famous propeller badge. There will be some who will fall in love with this car, but there will be others who will consider it a good effort that could have been a lot better.