“So, have you reviewed other BMW cars before?,” asked the rep from BMW when I picked up one of their cars. Honest as I was, I sheepishly replied, “No, this is the first BMW, the first European car I’ll be reviewing”.
This was exactly why I had some apprehensions when I was assigned to get the BMW 118i from RSA Motors along Libis. In my job I’ve been fortunate enough to try Japanese and American (branded) cars, but never one from BMW. Yes, I’ve driven some, but not enough to review one.
“Oh, we hope you enjoy this experience. We’re sure you will”, were some of the last words the folks at the dealership said before I drove out.
Ever since its launch, a lot of people have been asking about the new 1 Series being front-wheel drive. We’ve heard some comments that it may lack the character (read: spirit) of the rear-wheel-drive BMWs, that the fun may have been watered down, et cetera. With this in mind, I thought that maybe being a clean slate in the world of Euros is a good thing. With no prior expectations, this is about as straightforward of a review of the new BMW 1 Series experience as it gets.
The unit we got was colored Melbourne Red Metallic. Right from the get-go, I knew that it was a handsome car. BMW kept it simple: main body color, black trim all around. Subdued, perhaps. But it served to make the 1 Series look bigger than it is. In the front, you see the lower portion of the front grill colored in the same black finish as well.
Other than that, there are no fancy accent pieces. It’s as if the designers wanted people to look at, see, and appreciate the kinks and lines of the 1 more than anything. The beltline is pretty high up, giving the hatch a heftier look at the expense of making the greenhouse appear smaller. Nothing lost here, though.
Being a luxury car, you’d expect a lot of chrome bits, but that’s not the case with the 1. The only chrome piece we could find was on the grille.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about that kidney grille. On the bigger cars in the lineup, it doesn’t look massive. On the 1 Series, though, it does; But I like it. A car as small as the 1 is probably supposed to sport subtler features, right? I must say that the new grille looks right at home, though.
There’s nothing loud about the 1 Series’ looks, for sure. But the kidney grills being a “standard” feature of BMW, it gives this hatchback a lot more presence. Again, nothing is out of place with the 1 Series’ exterior package as a whole. If anything, you’re getting yourself one good-looking hatchback.
The whole (dare I say it) minimalist approach continues well into the interior. Black and brushed metal accents adorn the driver-centric cabin. Everything from the infotainment screen to the climate control is where you’d expect them to be, sight- and reach-wise. The steering wheel controls are not as ergonomic as I'd hoped, particularly for the audio. It feels like the buttons are positioned too far towards the wheel’s center, so you’ll have to make your thumb reach a bit further for some buttons.
However, that is something that you can easily forgive. That's because more it’s the interior’s materials that command a lot of attention. Though you can see some plastic bits, they made use of soft-touch materials. The leather is soft and supple, and the fabric pieces on the seats are of plush quality.
Lo and behold, you do see a little bit of chrome in the interior, too. But it’s used as the frame for the shifter, the drive mode, and the infotainment control panel. Oh, and that piano black accent does a lot to remind us that you are inside a classy BMW, too.
As part of the BMW Live Cockpit, the gauge cluster of the new 1 Series also went the full digital route. It looks a lot neater, of course, and it’s a lot more visible and legible. Most of the information you need is all in front of you, which is always a good thing. Changing the displayed information is also easy to do.
Something expected but also something that I always liked are the minute details, though. For example, if you switch between the different drive modes, they are accented in different colors (blue, green, red). It’s a very small thing but they’re all that is needed to spruce up the cluster’s otherwise straightforward appearance.
Passenger comfort is something that does leave you wanting, though. In front, both the driver and passenger have more than enough space. The seats are properly bolstered and padded, too, so you’re assured of a comfortable seat. The backseat, though, is the same as this 1 Series’ predecessor: small.
Technically it’s supposed to be able to seat five individuals, and really, you can. But that’s if you have smaller people for passengers. It already feels a bit crowded with two in the back. If anything, the middle seat is probably best for a child, or a friend with a lot of patience. Getting in and out of the rear is also quite cumbersome. You’ll have to lean your head forward and in upon entering, lest you hit your head somewhere around the C-pillar. Legroom is also a bit of a squeeze. This isn’t something new with the 1 Series, so unless they change the platform, then this may remain the same for the foreseeable future.
For cargo space, the 1 Series is rather versatile. You have yourself a flat floor as it is, so vertical space is something you can work comfortably with. With the backseats up, you can expect space to be limited, of course. Both backrests split and fold separately, though, so you can fold either or both, depending on the cargo space you might need. The “trunk” is what you’d expect it to be: something that can carry your daily wares, but not an excessively large number of groceries. A cargo net and tonneau cover would be nice, but this is just nitpicking.
As for on-the-road impressions, let’s start with how it rides. I find the 1 Series leaning towards the stiffer side. BMW did say that there were some minor tweaks to the suspension of the Sport Line, though, since it’s meant to deliver more “spirited” performance. Add the fact that it has run-flat tires then you have yourself a firm and audible ride. It won’t jar you or your passengers, but you’ll feel a lot of the road with the 1 Series.
Earlier we mentioned that the BMW faithful weren’t too keen on this being front-wheel drive. It’s also powered by a smaller three-cylinder engine, albeit turbocharged. Is it true that it loses the “fun” of its RWD brethren? I can confidently say that that is not so.
The 1 Series is a quick car, and it can take corners just as comfortably as its previous counterparts. Possibly even better, since you’re not worried about the car’s rear kicking out even with TCS turned off. Granted that it might not be as agile, but it is still a very capable hatchback. Fun? Definitely.
The smaller engine also translates to (relatively) good fuel economy. We managed about 8.1 kilometers per liter, dipping into the 7.5 regions in heavy traffic. The former consumption was already with spirited blasts along open stretches, mind you.
The 1 Series in the 118i variant is supposed to be your gateway into BMW ownership. It is the most affordable vehicle entire lineup, after all, and you do get all the necessary bits and bobs that make a car a BMW.
Yes, it’s not RWD, nor is it as spacious as its more common sibling the 3 Series, but what you might sacrifice for space is made up for by the quality and fun that you get for the PHP 2,690,000 price tag.
Before we even talk about that figure, we just have to remember one thing: owning a BMW is an emotional choice. Sure, you can get something made on another continent, but if what you’re looking for is a true, German-engineered vehicle that has the makings and features of a modern BMW, then the 1 Series is something that you should consider.