I like BMWs, but I never liked the original 1-Series. It was just too cramped, too uncomfortable, and just didn't do it for me in the style department.
That was then. Perhaps the new generation 1-Series -launched late last year- can change my mind.
First off, there are two main variants of the 1-Series made available by ACC-BMW: the 118d Urban Line and the 118d Sport Line. This one is the latter, and already it's growing on me.
Generally speaking, I'm a bit iffy about the styling. The design of the car is a bit of a polarizing prospect: you either love it or hate it. I find the headlamps a just a tad too large for the front of the car, kind of like how people get after several cups of coffee (read: wired and wide eyed).
The front end is a bit more bulbous than before, with the twin kidney grilles popping out further ahead than the old model. The proportions seem right enough, and the Sport Line's touches do enhance the look of the car with a nice set of sport wheels. Ditto for the black details like the grille slats and the mirrors. Call me crazy, but I think the back end looks better than the front.
I feel a little odd in calling the style of the 1-Series as 'improved', but there's no denying that it did get bigger overall. The new F20 1-Series is longer at 4324mm and wider at 1765mm, though just as tall at 1421mm when compared to the original E87 1-Series. The wheelbase is longer too at 2690mm. Honestly speaking, I don't find this trend of cars getting bigger in their own class or category being too big a deal. If you want a bigger BMW, get a 3-Series.
In terms of design, the interior is definitely much, much better. We drove the 120i about 4 years ago, and from what I can remember we were really underwhelmed with the cabin. Not anymore, as they have thoroughly reworked the interior, especially with the dash. There's also a marked improvement in space all around over the old 1-Series, as the old one was really cramped especially in the rear whereas this new one is rather spacious given the proportions and the expectations of it.
The controls of the car do take quite a bit of familiarization, as the new 1er's features are quite extensive. BMW's iDrive does make it a little easier in avoiding button overload, but like any modern electronic device like your iPad, it takes a bit of getting used to before you can really exploit the improvements. Once you do get used to them, finding the function you want, such as controlling your music library or displaying your fuel efficiency over the past couple of hours is easy.
Being a diesel BMW, there is quite a bit of judder when the engine springs to life. The 2 liter diesel engine is one of the brand's latest and most sophisticated, with BMW's TwinPower (twin turbo) technology to produce 143 PS and 320 Newton meters of torque, and is matched with an equally advanced 8-speed automatic transmission; a first in the class.
Around town, the 1-Series does give an easy, comfortable drive. It's quite a contrast to the old one, as I recall the E87 as being rather harsh on the bumps and road imperfections (of which there are many on our streets), while this F20 is much more comfortable even though it belongs to the Sport Line. The seats aren't as plush as the Urban line, but they do provide plenty of lateral support and full adjustability (including the side bolsters) to better hold you down while cornering... more on that later on.
There are actually 4 driving modes: Sport+, Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro. Comfort maximizes convenience for the driver for a smooth ride around town. Eco Pro is unusual because it really takes fuel efficiency seriously. Things like the heat from the brakes is captured and stored as energy which can be used to power vehicle functions. The power steering is electric, meaning there's little loss to the engine's actual power caused by older belt-driven hydraulic pumps. There's even a display of how many “extra kilometers” you're getting by driving efficiently. The most important innovation, however, has to be the start/stop function that cuts off the engine automatically when you've stopped at a red light, and springs back to life when you move forward again. You can feel the engine start and stop, leading to a rather unusual sensation, but if it saves fuel then I'm all for it. As a result, my personal best on the highway was 23.8 kilometers to the liter; quite close to the claimed 25 km/l.
It's the last two driving modes that I'm sure you're interested in, as am I. In Sport mode, the computer lets the engine and transmission off the leash quite a bit more, allowing you to really get the most power out of the 118d. 0-100 km/h is quoted at 8.9 seconds, and the top speed is 212 kilometers per hour. In Sport+, however, the 1-Series really lets loose. Dynamic Traction Control is deactivated, giving the driver full control of the car and allows a bit of rear-wheel drive sideways fun, if that's the kind of thing you're looking for. Nevertheless, in either of the two modes, taking on a long, empty stretch of blacktop is very, very easy.
Many have asked why we like BMWs. Some argue that the Mercedes brand is more prestigious and Audis are more stylish, and in several ways I would agree; after all, I didn't like the original 1er. Today, however, given a pick between a car of the same category from Mercedes, Audi or BMW, there's a good chance that I would be reaching for the keys to the Bimmer every single time... as is the case with this new BMW 118d Sport.