There was a time when hatchbacks were labelled as small, cheap and hassle free to drive. Today premium hatchbacks are hatching like never before, growing in appeal and reputation.
In its quest to secure the premium small car market in Australia, German badges such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes, as of early last year, have begun filling in the gaps. That is the reason why you will notice just about every shape and size on the road today.
Having driven the two variants of the 1 Series for a week – the 118d and 118i, both were very similar at face value. The more expensive diesel costs an extra few thousand from the entry level 118i petrol at $36,900 price tag plus on-road costs. The diesel segregates itself quickly from the petrol variant when comparing thirst, cabin noise, vibration and handling. Basically, the motor of the petrol version introduces noise and constant buzz into the cabin on freeways, whereas the diesel was smooth, composed and more luxurious to drive across all rev bands.
Power up front was remarkable for both cars considering the petrol is a 3cyl 1.6L turbo and the diesel being a 4cyl 2L turbo, both are economical motors. But credit is due to the brand new range of class-leading diesel engines which rightly claim to minimise friction and reduce thermal losses, thereby increasing efficiency and decreasing emissions to outstanding levels.
The brand new exterior doesn’t share much in common with its former 116 range. Everything seems bigger and better. Larger kidney grille finished in high gloss black and new headlamps with dynamic contours, a longer nose, budging rear bumper and sleek L-Shape LED tail lamps gives this small car a not so small car look anymore. Until you get in.
When taking a seat for the first few times, you can expect the occasional bump here and there until you learn to work with it. Sydney-born BMW designer Calvin Luk is proudly responsible for this reshape which actually looks great from all angles inside and out. Rear seats sit passengers fairly high (due to transmission tunnel in rear driven cars) which means the ride is slightly bumpier whilst leg room is minimal especially if the driver is tall. But up front, everything is smooth and well-balanced which makes the driver feel like a winner.
Getting back to rear passengers, the long rear doors open extremely wide which make getting in and out of tight spots a tad difficult.
The cabin looks modern with soft touch well-colour coordinated materials. Piano black swooping dash inserts, and just the right amount of brushed aluminium which spruce up the control switches, upping its benchmark of cool. Seat adjustability comes as an unexpected surprise for an entry level motor vehicle. So you can drastically adjust height, tilt, pivot angle of the driver’s seat and also electrically adjust the way it hugs your torso so you feel less body roll when driving in a sportier manner. Kudos for the extra support under the back of your knees whereby you can extend the base of the seat. On long drives, seats are very supportive and comfortable. But minor flaws to be addressed is that the foot rest is placed at an odd angle with not much room for movement, air vents are a bit noisy if you are on a phone call and side mirror indicators are directed into the eye which is a little startling when used at night.
Reverse camera, single zone climate control, auto start-stop ignition, keyless start, rain sense wipers, real time GPS traffic information will smartly calculate a faster route to your destination. LED day time park lights with old school halogen head lamps all come as standard features to name a few. However extra premium frills such as full leather seats, dual climate control, rear passenger air vents, DAB Digital radio come with extra coin.
No spare wheel or space saver tyre. Yes, you read correctly. Run on flats are gaining popularity lately with many car makers adopting the idea to save weight and space which you might not come to appreciate if it happens late at night or on long drives. Thankfully, tyre pressure logging will alert the driver in the case there is a 20 per cent fluctuation of tyre air pressure giving you time to make it to the closest garage. Boot has a reasonable wide opening and can swallow 2 golf bags comfortably.
Although it’s handsome all round, you won’t find other drivers peering over to check it out as it’s understated and classy. So don’t look for others approval.
But rest assured, if you are looking for a car which handles and drives like a finely-tuned luxury hatch with traditional rear drive handling you can enjoy and admire the BMW 1 Series as it is one of very few rear wheel drive small cars. This ensures power is delivered to the rear whilst front tyres take the soul duty of steering which makes this car stand out from its so called rivals in this aspect. The eight speed gearbox is seamless in the diesel and petrol variants. Power delivery is predictable and torque is ample.
Traction is good in wet conditions steering and handling is just as predictable as it is in the dry. Pushing limits result in quick auto corrections from the host of electronic safety systems – which makes this car very safe and just about idiot proof.
Road noise in cabin is not intrusive but definitely not the quietest compared to its rivals.
Acceleration is good in lower rev range but becomes monotone shifting from second gear onwards. For a 2L, with claimed fuel emissions so low in the diesel variant, one wonders how BMW have harnessed such decent acceleration resulting in more thills per litre.
For a premium entry model one would think a compromise is inevitable as you start looking for things BMW cut cost on. Sun visors are flimsy but come with cosmetic lights. No spare, but run on flats are more pricey. Overall BMW have done wonders granting new life to this refresher model in time for summer. For the price, even the discerning and fastidious will find it hard to fault.
By Amandeep Singh