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BMW 118i SE 5-door

Click to view picture gallery“Forget The Young Ones (Sorry,
  Cliff) because this September is going
  to be all about The New Ones when
 
BMWs new and improved’ 1 Series
  sports hatch goes on sale
...”


THE UK IS THE SECOND LARGEST global market (behind Germany) for the 1 Series with the most popular version with Brits being the five-door hatchbacks one in every three BMWs sold in the UK each year is a 1 Series.

The new 17-model 1 Series sports hatch five-door range makes its world debut on 13 September at the Frankfurt Motor Show; just two days later it will be on sale in the UK. Other versions (three-door hatch followed by a 99g/km diesel) are set to join the range in 2012.

There were criticisms of the first generation 1 Series; notably negative issues such as ugly design, cramped rear cabin, harsh ride, some poor areas of interior quality and expensive purchase price. This second generation 'One' is claimed to address most, if not all, of these points.

The new 1 Series models are still not 'cheap' but at least the cheapness of the interior has been remedied. A modest price rise (850 maximum for some models and a reduction of up to 290 for others) sees the new, better-equipped line-up priced from 19,375 (116i ES) and topping out at 24,720 for the turbodiesel 120d Urban and Sport variants.

“Reflecting the real
wired world, theres
Internet connectivity,
smartphone and music
player integration
plus real-time traffic
information as well as
web radio, Facebook
and Twitter apps
...”
Equipment levels are ES, SE, Sport and a new one Urban. Whereas the Sport spec is well, 'sporty', the new Urban trim is not, as used by other manufacturers for their starter price model, a budget level.

Urban is as equally range-topping as Sport, albeit with a more stylish theme chrome grille, white-topped door mirrors, leather interior and high gloss paint for the centre console and other areas. This is a similar 'packaging' approach to that successfully adopted for the MINI.

And as with the MINI, there are loads of extra-cost options and packs allowing BMW 1 Series owners to personalise their car. Many of these are unique for a compact car and include High-Beam Assistant, Adaptive Headlights, Park Assist, Reversing Assist Camera, Lane Departure Warning including Collision Warning, cruise control with brake function, speed-limiter and no-passing information.

Additionally, reflecting the real 'wired' world, there's Internet connectivity, smartphone and music player integration plus real-time traffic information as well as web radio, Facebook and Twitter apps.

Adding a further slice of sales appeal, the new One remains the only rear-wheel drive car in its class competing against Audi's A3 Sportback, Alfa's Giulietta, the Golf, Focus and Honda Civic, to mention just a few.

Powerplants for the new '1' include two all-new 1.6-litre TwinPower turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engines: 136hp 116i and 170hp 118i. There are also revised four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbodiesel units: 116hp 116d, 143hp 118d and 184hp 120d. CO2 emission levels run from 117 up to 137g/km.

An even lower CO2-emitting 116d will be added to the line-up in March 2012, putting out just 99g/km along with an average fuel consumption of 74.3mpg the first BMW car engine to achieve emissions lower than 100g/km.

Both manual and automatic (a first-in-class with eight speeds) transmission options run with BMW's EfficientDynamics package of intelligent energy management systems and Auto Start-Stop. And now there's a new acronym: ECO PRO. Also fitted as standard, ECO PRO is activated using the Drive Performance Control a new feature that adjusts various on-board systems to maximise fuel efficiency by as much as 20 per cent. In ECO PRO mode the throttle response is adjusted to encourage a more economical driving style, and to encourage the driver to be more frugal the enhanced economy is displayed on the in-car display.

I’m not keen about the
new face — BMW says
it’s ‘more grown up’.
For me it’s too ‘soft’ with
less sporting character
than is usually
associated with the BMW
brand. I just hope this
new look is not adopted
for all new generation
BMW models as it is
just too bland
and a touch twee...”
The marque's distinctive 'kidney' grille stays on the front of the new 1 Series but in a revised form; leaning forward and with more pronounced vertical slats. Flanking the grille is a revised version of BMW's signature daytime running lights and there's a distinct feline look about the new headlamps. The previous long bonnet is used, but with a more prominent bulge, as also is a longer cab-back cockpit.

I'm not keen about the new face BMW says it's 'more grown up'. For me it's too 'soft' with less sporting character than is usually associated with the BMW brand. I just hope this new look is not adopted for all new generation BMW models as it just too bland and, worse still, a touch twee.

However, seen in profile the new body has an improved balance and dynamic look, with the gently sloping roofline creating a hint of coupe. Thankfully, the rear door apertures are wider due to the longer wheelbase which really improves access to the rear seats.

Wide-set wheel arches and sculptured doors provide a more muscular image; one that's present with larger BMW models. However, the first generation's distinctive banana-shaped sills have gone. They are now long, flat and characterless the type usually seen on mass produced family cars rather than sporting BMWs.

In its new five-door form, the 1 Series is 83mm longer overall, 14mm wider and 30mm longer in the wheelbase so there's more interior space, mostly (and mercifully) for rear seat passengers. Boot space is up there's now 360 litres for luggage. Dropping the standard 60:40 split rear seats increases this to a maximum of 1,200 litres, with the added benefit of a flat load floor.

A lower waistline now makes the cabin less claustrophobic and, in addition to more room, the most noticeable change is the vast improvement in the ergonomics and the higher quality materials. The instrument panel now cants towards the driver, and the fascia and door trim materials are dimpled and soft-feel. While the improved rear seat legroom is welcome, the back cabin is still more suited to carrying children. The increase in the interior width has also resulted in a less cramped in particular for elbow and shoulder room travelling environment.

During the pre-public launch test drive event around Berlin in a rain-soaked Germany, we sampled left-hand drive German-spec cars: the 118i petrol and the 120d diesel, both big selling models in Germany but not the UK as between them they will only appeal to 25 per cent of British 1 Series buyers.

“Theres a definite
improvement with the
ride quality; it now irons
out most of the bumps
because the suspension
for the new 1 Series
has been tuned for the
UK
s notoriously bad
road surfaces.
And the rear-wheel drive
set-up delivers strong
and predictable
cornering grip along with
sharper handling
...”
However, there's a definite improvement with the ride quality; it now irons out most of the bumps because the suspension for the new 1 Series has been tuned to suit the UK's notoriously bad road surfaces.

The rear-wheel drive set-up also delivers strong and predictable cornering grip along with sharper handling. The steering is better weighted with driver feedback also improved. Overall, these changes add up to a more mature, polished and accomplished car and certainly the best in its class.

And the performance? Given the soaking wet road test conditions, the ECO PRO system, left in its most frugal setting, worked well for fuel saving without harming the car's responses too much.

The 1.6-litre 118i petrol engine's twin scroll turbocharger (also fitted to the new 116i unit) makes the engine response strong from low speeds with excellent mid-range torque; driving is easy and relaxed at mid-range speeds with plenty of power on call for overtaking whenever needed. This unit returned a real-life 34.4mpg against the official Combined Cycle figure of 47.9mpg. Interestingly, the ECO PRO setting stretched the driving range by 9 miles over a 60-mile route.

The 2.0-litre turbodiesel 120d unit pumps out 184hp but with a massive (for its capacity) 280lb ft of torque; in my test car it was paired with BMW's new eight-speed automatic transmission. A perfect combination, this, with seamless gearshifts, lots of mid-range 'grunt' and 75mph cruising required a mere 1,500rpm.

Over a similar driving route, including stop-start city driving, this engine/auto combo returned 48.4mpg against the official 64.2mpg. On this model the ECO PRO improved the range by 9.3 miles. Auto emissions over the standard six-speed manual 'box are slightly lower; 116 versus the manual's 119g/km.

Overall, the New One is much improved. It's still not totally perfect (mostly due to the dumbed-down passive front-end styling, the loss of the muscular sills and limited rear legroom for adults), but with the improved engines, lower emissions, better fuel economy, more interior space and better interior quality with higher levels of specification, it is now the car it should have been in the first place.

There's far more than One Good Reason to buy this New One: it's no longer the weak link in the BMW range, there's more space, more equipment, practical new driving aids and an improved cabin. Plus it's better to drive with better ride comfort and it's cheaper to run. David Miles

BMW 118i SE 5-door | 21,985
Maximum speed: 140mph | 0-62mph: 7.4 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 34.4mpg
Power: 168bhp | Torque: 184lb ft | CO2 137g/km