“Most customers can’t differentiate between front- and rear-drive, anyway.” The crucial line BMW told Top Gear when we first made acquaintance with the new, third-gen 1-Series.
Thus, after 15 years of the 1-Series being uniquely rear-driven in the small-hatchback class, its unique selling proposition has been relinquished to match customer demand. Which, in a car like this, is space rather than skids. For shame.
So the new 1-Series now has proportions more akin to its VW Golf and Mercedes-Benz A-Class rivals, and possesses more room in each direction for every passenger, as well as an extra 20 liters of rear cargo space and a tailgate that can now open electronically. Quite why you need that in a car so small is beside us.
If you’re not yet sold on the looks—an area of controversy for most new BMWs nowadays—then rest assured they get gradually more assertive as you move up through SE, Sport, and M Sport trims, leading up to the top-spec M135i xDrive hot hatch (pictured in blue).
Alongside numerous trim levels, there are plenty of engine options at launch, with power ranging from 114hp to 302hp. Gasoline mills bookend the range, with a three-cylinder turbo 118i (the white car in the photos below) opening pricing at £24,430 (around P1.62 million), and the M135i topping it at £36,430 (around P2.42 million). In between there are three diesels, the most economical of which boasts a fuel-economy figure of 25.5km/L. A fully-electric version will follow in due course.
Front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual are standard on lowlier options, with four-wheel drive and an eight-speed paddle-shifting auto equipped on the 187hp 120d diesel and the 302hp M135i.
This xDrive system allows as much as 50% of torque to be thrown at the rear axle, so that M135i won’t be a drift-tastic car like hot 1-Series of old, but heaps of electronic tech—including a new ‘ARB’ electronic braking system that nips away at the front wheels to stop understeer—should keep it sharp.
That system stays active when you turn the stability control off, making something approaching oversteer much easier to achieve. When we tried it on BMW’s test track, it proved wholly effective. On an actual road? We’ll find out as soon as we can.
The M135i also comes with launch control, enabling 0-100kph in 4.8sec on the way to that dastardly old 250kph speed limit. The 1-Series as a whole is around 30kg lighter than before, partially helped by an aluminum hood and tailgate, while if you wish to throw some more kilos back in, this is the first 1-Series with 19-inch wheels and a panoramic glass roof on the options list.
There’s heaps of active safety and connectivity tech as standard, with a head-up display optional to make this feel like a more grown-up BMW. In fact, the dashboard layout is a lot like the latest 3-Series and Z4, while the M135i gets a simply fantastic-looking pair of suede-esque sports seats. Let’s hope they’re as comfy to sit in as they are bewitching to look at.
Sales in the UK start in September, but we’ll have a review for you long before that. For now, it’s time to tell us: a) whether the existence of a natively front-driven 1-Series bothers you; and, b) quite what you think of the looks, a question sprung up by every brand new Bimmer right now.
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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.