In principle, the concept is sound; a sporty, fun-to-drive hatchback with all the character BMWs are renowned for. We get behind the wheel of BMW’s smallest car offering in India to see whether the 1 Series truly is the best sporting luxury hatchback one can buy in the country.
Design & Engineering
Let’s begin with how the 1 Series looks. It’s a hatchback, obviously, and it may be the smallest car BMW makes, but not for a second should you think of it as a “small car”. At 4,324 mm long, it is a foot longer than compact sedans like the Honda Amaze. Its wheelbase too is a not inconsiderable 2,690 mm, which is more than a Toyota Corolla’s.
Now that you have some idea about its proportions, let’s talk about the details. Yes, it looks like a BMW, with a face that has hints of the 5 Series GT, especially the headlights. The strong ridge that runs along the sides of the car, taking in the door handles along its length, is another typical BMW design cue, and let’s not forget the twin kidney grille, which, in the case of the 1 Series, are almost square. At the rear, there are square-shaped tail lamps, and a heavy-set bumper. The shark-fin radio antenna atop the roof does provide some visual relief at the rear. However, no one can call this an attractive looking car, and it possesses none of the flair and sex appeal of the Mercedes A-Class for example, with which it will be inevitably compared.
Sixteen-inch wheels are standard equipment with the BMW 1 Series, although the Sport Plus variant tested here rides on 17-inch rims. In India, BMW offers the 1 Series with just two engine options – a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol, christened 116i, and a 2.0-litre diesel in the 118d. The 116i is available in a single, standard trim variant only, whereas the 118d is available in three equipment levels; Standard, Sport Line and Sport Plus. Both engines however make the best use of BMW’s new 8-speed gearbox.
The 1 Series is unique amongst its ilk in that it continues to remain staunchly rear-wheel drive. What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, the brand custodians realise that 50:50 weight distribution and rear-wheel drive is what BMW is about, and have thankfully sought to preserve that.
Interiors & Comfort
If the exteriors left you feeling a bit underwhelmed, the interiors of the new 1 Series will seek to elevate your mood. Granted, this isn’t the nicest looking interior, but it is functional, well-built and has more than enough storage available. The dashboard is angled towards the driver, and the entire cabin experience is centred around the person behind the wheel. The coral red highlights and contrast red stitching are standard on the Sport Line and Sport Plus trim levels, while the Standard variants make do with brushed metal finishers.
Seat upholstery is of a material which BMW calls Sensatec, and is essentially a form of man-made leather. Sounds nicer to say Sensatec, than Rexine, no? The driver’s seat is fully powered, and you can even vary the width of the seat back. However, even at its widest setting, I did find the seatback a little too cosy for comfort. Front-seat ergonomics are spot-on though, and it takes just a minute or two to get fully comfortable.
On-board computer is accessed via iDrive. Interface is simple and lucid to use.
Rear seat space is adequate, and while BMW proudly proclaims that rear legroom is now 21 millimetres more, I shudder to think how cramped the first iteration of the 1 Series might have been. In a nut-shell, it isn’t spacious, but you can get two adults in at a pinch, which should do fine for your weekend partying. However, believe it or not, the 1 Series actually has more space inside the cabin than the Mercedes A-Class, which then puts into perspective how tiny the A-Class cabin feels.
Boot space is a commendable 360 litres, and two suitcases can be accommodated. There is no spare tyre however, with BMW staunchly adhering to its run-flat technology on this car.
Performance & Handling
Precise and secure are two adjectives which best describe the 1 Series' handling.
Behind the wheel is where the BMW 1 Series is best experienced, and behind the wheel we first sat. BMW’s standard organic-shape gear selector is carried over in the 1 Series too. While the shape of the lever is very comfortable and fits easily in your palm, the tactile experience it affords leaves something to be desired. The gear selector has no mechanical linkage; rather, it functions as an electronic switch, and the plasticky squeak it emits is not particularly confidence inspiring.
I love the way the chunky steering wheel feels, and the small diameter adds to the sporty feel. It is an electro-mechanical system, so it feels reasonably light to steer in traffic, unlike BMW’s of old which gave your fore-arms a real workout.
The 2.0-litre diesel under the bonnet puts out a modest 145 PS, but the 320 Nm of torque which accompanies it really makes the difference. According to BMW, the 1 Series 118d will accelerate to 100 km/h in just 8.6 seconds, which is not blindingly quick, but it’s no slouch either. The 8-speed gearbox is smooth and unobtrusive, and the 1 Series always feels like it has more than enough power in reserve to overtake, even on the highway. Given its compact proportions and the cohesive and taut body control that it exhibits, you can really thread your way through traffic without breaking a sweat. It is this real-world pace and usability that makes the BMW 1 Series fun from behind the wheel.
You have a switch on the centre console to select either ECO PRO or SPORT mode, and as the name suggests, SPORT will firm up the dampers, quicken the gearshifts, and hold higher revs. ECO PRO makes sense for everyday use, but the default start-stop setting is activated as well. The start-stop function can be annoying in our traffic situations, where you find the engine cutting out and then restarting every few seconds. It doesn’t afford the kind of usability in Indian city traffic like you might find elsewhere in the world, and so it is best to switch off the system.
The 1 Series boasts of surprisingly good ride quality, helped no doubt by its substantial weight. If anything, this is one facet of the car which truly left me impressed. Don’t forget our test car came with 17-inch wheels shod with 225/45 R17 tyres; 16-inch wheels and slightly higher profile tyres would make the ride better still. And these are run-flat tyres, don’t forget, which have stiffer sidewalls. Of course, the majority of roads in the NCR are better than all the other cities in India, but still, we were quite impressed with the 1 Series’ ride quality.
The 1 Series isn’t particularly thirsty, and the 2.0-litre engine’s easy state of tune means that trips to the pump will be infrequent. As the trip computer display shows, we recorded a real-world figure of 10.8 km/l, at an average speed of 28.8 km/h in traffic. This figure was recorded over the course of 2 full days of driving around the National Capital Region, including Gurgaon and Noida. Not bad, I say, not bad at all.
Eight airbags are standard in the 1 Series, as are traction Control, Stability Control, Cornering Brake Control and ABS, across all variants of the BMW 1 Series. All these features together make it extremely safe.
After spending two days behind the wheel of BMW’s smallest car, I must admit to being impressed. It isn’t the prettiest, and you won’t spend evenings just looking at it parked in your driveway, but it will be a car you will want to drive as often as possible. Yes, it has just four seats, and the rear seat space isn’t great, but for nuclear families, this is actually a usable, everyday car. The boot space, which measures 360 litres, is more than adequate for your everyday shopping and even occasional trips out of town, if you’re using soft luggage.
The best part about the BMW 1 Series is that it has all the positive traits that the brand is known and loved for – well built, fun to drive and expectedly good reliability. This isn’t a small car wearing a premium badge with the novelty factor that brings. Instead, it’s a proper everyday BMW, which should appeal to India’s affluent and aspirational young middle class. Prices for the petrol 116i start at INR 20.9 lakh, ex-showroom, going up to INR 29.9 lakh for the 118d Sport Plus tested here. To me, the 118d Standard variant, at Rs 22.9 lakh, represents the sweet spot of the range. That it can do all that it does, and still cost less money than some cheesy retro redux like the Volkswagen Beetle, pack in more practicality and usability, and not make you feel like an idiot after half an hour behind the wheel, seals the deal for me.
Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Volkswagen Beetle, MINI Cooper