BMW goes front-wheel drive with sharper handling new 1 Series
BMW's 1 Series has relinquished its claim as the only sub-compact sports hatch with rear-wheel drive. A new and revamped 1-series debuts today with front-wheel and all-wheel drive models only, prioritizing luggage space, back-seat legroom and agility over sick smoky drift action.
Ready for its first public unveiling at #NEXTGen in Munich in late June, the new 1 Series will be most easily recognized by its new, oversized front kidney grille, which is big enough to wrap over onto the top of the car's sharkish nose. Joined in the middle, without a strip of body-colored paint separating them, the kidneys now look a bit like a roided-out butterfly, with the BMW Roundel hood logo forming a cheerful little head.
Beneath that hood will be one of five different engines: three diesels and two gasolines at launch, presumably with an electric and/or hybrid to follow down the track. The lowest spec will be the 116-hp (85-kW) 116d diesel, which will shine in the efficiency stakes, offering a frugal 4.2-3.8 l/100km (67-74 mpg). Hooligans will want to look toward the premium end of the catalog, at the M135i xDrive that puts out 306 hp (225 kW) and uses nearly twice as much fuel. The majority of our photos are of the top-spec model.
Likewise, there are three transmissions: seven- and eight-speed Steptronic autos (the eight-speed being the smoother and quieter, and offering its own Sport variant for the M135 xDrive), and a six-speed manual, which is only available on the lower-spec 116d, 118d and 118i models.
The 120d xDrive and M135i xDrive models are all-wheel drive, while the remainder of the range goes to front-wheel drive – a system that BMW claims offers "benchmark driving dynamics for the segment," with understeer controlled by a combination of systems including the ARB (actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation) system embedded directly in the vehicle ECU, and BMW's Performance Control, which gently brakes the inside wheels during hard, powered cornering even before they begin to slip.
Going to front-wheel drive might upset the purists, but it does offer some small advantages. The new 1-series cars get a notable 33 mm (1.3 in) more legroom for passengers in the back, and you get some 20 liters more storage in the back with the back seats up for a total of 380 liters. Fold the seats down, and you've got 1,200 liters of storage, and since the entire car is now 34 mm (1.3 in) wider, everyone gets more elbow room.
Standard driver assist gear – at least in Europe – includes collision and pedestrian warnings, auto emergency braking, and lane keeping assist at freeway to autobahn speeds. You can option it up with adaptive cruise, city stop & go, lane change warnings, rear collision warnings, cross traffic warnings, rear view camera, auto parking for parallel or perpendicular spots, and a fun new reverse assistant that helps you reverse back out of tight spots by automatically taking you back exactly the way you came in.
If you've got a Samsung Galaxy phone, you can option the car up to use your phone as a car key using its built-in NFC communications. And all 1-series cars will have BMW's voice-activated, learning-capable personal assistant built in, which you can activate with "Hey, BMW," or whatever name you care to give it.
There's an 8.8-inch wide-aspect touchscreen, an iDrive controller with a touchpad on top, an optional HUD, and live navigation that can help you find parking – even going so far as to let you pay for your parking on screen in certain cities.
At the end of the day, sales figures will tell whether the shift away from rear-wheel drive bothers actual buyers of this kind of platform. Petrolhead forums are already ablaze with criticism of the move, but talkers aren't necessarily buyers, and who knows, perhaps folks might be charmed by a new, sharper handling, more spacious 1 Series with its piggy-nostrilled smile.