Another model year, another facelift for one of BMW’s most widely purchased models in the European market: The 1-Series. Historically, the 1-Series has been a hit or miss endeavor in fulfilling an entry-level BMW experience. The short wheelbase platform has served BMW’s Motorsport division well with the peppier models but left the intended buyer craving more from the civilian focused 118i and 120i entry models. With this in mind, we arrive in 2020. Is this a half-hearted attempt to pump the 1-Series full of artificial glitz and glamour or is there substance behind the curtain?
The short answer is that it is a mixed bag, but the new drapes are hard to ignore. As of late, BMW’s design philosophy has shifted towards a style more fit for piloting than driving, which has polarized many luxury car buyers. The new 1-Series has also received the fighter-jet makeover, especially with the included, yet optional, M aerodynamic package. As with many other models of the new BMW era, the gaping front kidney grills threaten to devour anything ahead on the freeway. They dominate the front facade along with the tough and angular air inlets resting below the sharp and highly functional LED headlights that illuminate the road with a vengeance. The 1-Series is composed of exclusively direct and sharp lines, barring the wheel arches, making it an unquestionably good-looking hatch. A definite improvement over the bubbly and soft 1-Series the generation before. But we aren’t just here for appearances.
Stepping inside of the new 118i, I was immediately met with conflicting emotions. It was an internal battle between the elegant interior ambiance and mild annoyances that subtracted from the experience. Reaching for the electronic seat adjustment, I was disappointed to find nothing there. Instead, I was greeted with manual seat adjustment more on par for the Mini which shares the same chassis. This borders on unacceptable for a $47,000 car. The seating position also made ergonomics somewhat awkward, keeping the shifter stalk just a bit out of reach. Small gripes aside, though, the 118i’s cockpit was a nice place to exist. Perhaps most readily noticeable was the amount of Melbourne sun penetrating into the generously sized interior through the enormous panoramic sunroof. Enough light, in fact, that the entire 5-seat arrangement felt even more spacious than it let on, which already felt like it would give a new 3-Series a run for its money in terms of livable space. The dominating twin 10.25” display screens demanded attention as well, acting as both the instrument panel and in-flight entertainment respectively. Here you can find both vital information about the vehicle’s condition on the instrument panel itself, and creature necessities like Apple Car Play and navigation on the adjoining screen.
In addition to having digital displays reminiscent of radar targeting systems fit for aerial combat, the new 118i is equipped with a litany of smart features that throw you head-first into the new decade. Wireless charging comes as standard, providing your device with its own tightly-hugging cradle in front of the gear selector. Also providing additional sensory input is the included heads up display which can share the duties with the other two displays to show navigating information and speed.
So, like a fresh home remodel, BMW’s entry-level 1-Series looks like it has been brought into a new era inside and out. The only question that remains is whether or not there are still creaky floorboards and water damage left unresolved. With only 103 kW on tap from a 3-cylinder engine, it would be hard to argue that the new 118i is much zippier than the previous generation which also suffered from the same sluggishness. With the lack of paddle shifters and performance brakes, it is clear that the 118i isn’t meant to be a weekend racer. While this probably isn’t an issue for the entry-level buyer, it is a struggle at times to keep the vehicle at higher RPMs to squeeze a sufficient amount of power out of the motor. On a redeeming note, the transmission handles the underwhelming power better than it probably should and even with a 10-millimeter suspension drop from the M Sport suspension package, the ride is rather buttery.
Ultimately, it seems that BMW is set squarely on delivering a repackaged formula for a modest consumer keen on getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle. This comes with its drawbacks, but also with a fair amount of perks. In many ways, you can feel that the 118i is at the bottom of the BMW pack. From a lack of electronic seat adjustment, absence of proximity entry and sacrifice of enthusiast driving pleasure carried on from the previous generation of entry-level 1-Series, the new 118i falls short in many places that it shouldn’t. That doesn’t make it a bad car, though. If you want an efficient and spacious everyday shuttle engulfed in high-quality materials and loaded with technology that you won’t find in your average Toyota, this might be your car.