Unadulterated driving pleasure is for true petrol heads and there are few cars that manage to satiate that sweet spot right from the word go. One of them is the BMW 1-Series, the only rear-wheel drive hatchback in India. So imagine the excitement at the Valve office when we were finally getting our hands on the true Bavarian hatchback. And boy was it good! After driving close to 250 km across the twisties and highways of Maharashtra, we sampled enough of Bavarian power from a rather small package. However, soon after our road test the 2016 BMW 1-Series went on sale in India with a host of cosmetic upgrades. The mechanicals are unchanged and BMW promises that the driving pleasure remains the same. While the aesthetics may have improved, is the baby Beamer capable enough to widen the grin on our faces? Read on to find out.
How Does It Look?
Our test car was the pre-facelift 2014 edition and in its most neutral design language, the BMW 1-Series will appeal to Beamer fans for the extremely familiar styling; for the rest not so much. In fact, the baby Beamer blends into the crowd and you will find people passing by you without blinking an eye. So much for spending close to Rs. 40 lakhs to gain snob value. But, then that’s not the reason you get the 1-Series in the first place (more on that later). In the pre-facelift avatar, the 1-Series feels a bit dull as the kidney grille and bulging headlamps with LED DRLs (missing on our model) do not look in unison. The hood is tediously long and lends a disproportional arrangement to the overall design.
Sure it has all the right elements similar to the 7-Series but does not emanate the same kind of jaw-dropping attention that you would hope for. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the 1-Series facelift is a major cosmetic upgrade over the outgoing model. The front fascia is finished with a wider grille while the headlights are sleeker too and things do not look out of place this time.
Having said that, there is a certain relaxed stance to the 1-Series, unlike its rivals. The hatch has a more rearward design, unlike the competition which has an agile stance with the arrow inspired styling. Does that work well? For us, it does actually. You see, compared to a certain V40 or Mercedes A-Class, the RWD attribute on the 1-Series comes out rather naturally. Moreover, the stance is also a giveaway of the famous 50:50 weight distribution that all BMWs have.
As you move to the sides, a relentlessly long profile begs your attention, but not the way one would like. Despite the hatchback body style, the long dimensions give the hatch a shooting brake-like appearance. Don’t believe us? Look at the Audi RS6 Avant and check the 1-Series side profile back-to-back. You’ll know what we are talking about. Now, that isn’t a bad thing though, considering we like the shooting brakes in particular.
Things don’t get very exciting at the rear either as the squared tail lights have an uncanny resemblance to the Volkswagen Polo (German influence may be!). The good bits stand out though like the pronounced rear wheel arches integrating into the bumper and give a beefy appearance to the 1-Series while the sporty 17-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, shark fin antenna and ORVM integrated turn indicators all do their bit in giving German hatch a modern look.
We don’t say the BMW 1-Series looks bad, but the competition is just way better. Both the Mercedes A-Class and Volvo V40 are extremely well designed in the segment and look like Rs. 35 lakh worth cars when compared to the pre-facelift BMW. Having said that, the Bavarian folks have made some interesting improvements including the new rectangular headlights with angular LED DRLs, wider kidney grille that looks more proportionate coupled with a sportier bumper that gets larger air intakes. Compared to the pre-facelift version, the 2016 edition gets a more proportional stance while the rear gets a heavily reworked job with a redesigned bumper and new horizontally stacked LED wraparound tail lights. The side skirts also get new curved lines that help the hatch go easy on the eyes.
How Is The Cabin?
While the rear doesn’t impress much unless you are an ardent fan of the brand, the interiors are quite the opposite. Aged yet timeless, the BMW 1-Series gets a familiar layout similar to the bigger Bavarian models and is easily the most ergonomically sound ones there are in the business. We have grown to like BMW interiors and it is not different on the baby 1 as well. All controls come to you rather naturally and the all black cabin boasts of a superb build quality with gloss black and brushed aluminium inserts on the dash and door pad.
We absolutely love the top notch quality and the biggest highlight happens to be that four-spoke multi-function steering wheel on the 1-Series that will leave a lasting impression on you with its small dimensions and precise feedback skill. The grainy leather wrap makes for a staunch grip and well-located buttons for the audio system and cruise control are easy to access. The instrument cluster though old, packs in a host of information with the twin pods holding up the speedometer and tachometer while the small rectangular Multi-Information Display (MID) unit located at the bottom shows the odometer reading, average fuel efficiency, trip meters among other details. Easy to read? Yes! Fun to see to revs go up? Hell Yeah!
So with a little struggle to get in the driver’s seat thanks to the low stance, the BMW 1-Series welcomes you to a well-arranged centre console and a tall driver will particularly appreciate the way the handbrake and gearshift knob falls into place with the seat pushed all the way back. A bit cramped due to the lack of width, the baby Beamer is a struggle, especially if you want to reach for the powered seat control on the right corner. The headroom is surprisingly good and the small sunroof allows some natural light inside the cabin adding a roomier feel.
Now that you have familiarized yourself with the layout, it is time to start the engine with the start/stop button and a mild grunt brings the motor alive. The floating display comes to life and pretty much falls in your field of vision. The slightly tilted unit is easy to read and packs in a host of information showcasing everything from the radio to the driving modes. You also get a dual zone climate control unit that is now optional on the 2016 edition and cools the cabin quickly. All BMWs get a familiar gearshift knob and just like the bigger models, we are in absolute awe of the way it changes cogs.
While we may not be big fans of space inside the BMW 1-Series, it is something we are more than willing to overlook. Once buckled up, the front seats are comfortable and offer adequate thigh and lumbar support. So, spending long hours while cruising or in the traffic aren’t really a hassle, and by that we mean for the front occupants. Another factor that impressed us is the large windows on the baby Beamer, that liberates lots of natural light inside the cabin.
If you think the front seats are quite practical, you are correct; but not in your wildest dreams can we ascertain the same about the rear. There is a reason enthusiasts love the 1-Series so much, you are better driving the hatch with lesser people as the rear bench does not offer expansive legroom while fitting three is a squeeze. The boot is reasonably nice and will gobble up a medium sized suitcase or a duffel bag. In terms of equipment, the iDrive makes you fall in love with it as the perfectly located dial that provides access to all controls of the 1-Series, whereas the multiple driving modes can be changed via the button located on the right side of the gear knob. You get to choose between Comfort, Eco Pro, Sport and Sport+ along with the option to switch off traction control. The last one though is best reserved for the ones that dare to do so!
How Does It Drive?
So the looks might be a bit off and the interior too familiar. But all that has little impact when it comes to the driving experience. Rear Wheel Drive, albeit expensive, is all about that exhilarating driving experience and the reason why BMW makes for one of the most sought after manufacturers petrol heads vouch for. Shimmering in a burnt orange shade on a bright morning, press start and the baby 1-Series comes to life with the distinct diesel clatter coming from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor.
Unlike the diesel engines on the A-Class or V40, this unit isn’t as refined as we hoped but calms down as you build revs. Inside the cabin, external sounds are well contained and NVH levels are at optimum. Engine noise filters through slightly and can be heard with a feisty grunt once you hit the redline. Slide the gearshift in ‘D’ and the baby Beamer will move but with a bit of turbo lag. Power comes close to 1700 RPM with the 320 Nm of torque kicking and is available until 3500 RPM on the rev band, in addition to the 145 PS that is made available up to 4000 RPM.
We may have bickered a bit too much about the styling on the 1-Series, but all is forgiven once you hit the gas pedal. With an instant jolt, boy does this Beamer go! Hit the throttle hard and the sporty note will excite you further to rev up to triple digit speeds. We are in complete love with the extremely responsive 4-cylinder motor that builds revs quickly, redlining close to 5000 RPM. Our test runs saw 0-100 kmph come up around 9.0 seconds, which is pretty quick by all means while the keeping the right foot planted means 200 kmph will be up on the speedometer without any signs of discomfort. In fact, we cruised between 130-150 kmph all day and the Beamer was as stable as it gets.
While the motor has impressed us in bulk, the show stealer is the 8-speed TipTronic automatic transmission and is an absolute gem. The shifts are extremely quick with the first four gears short while the higher gears make highway runs a breeze. While the normal mode is just perfect within city limits, the enthusiast in you will opt for moving into the manual mode and this is where things get interesting with the gears holding on the redline and change at the driver’s command. The experience can be spruced up further when slotted in the Sport mode where the gear shifts are much quicker and allow you to maximize performance from the engine.
How Does It Handle?
We were on a constant lookout for empty stretches throughout our test and not once did we miss on the chance to push this baby sideways. Switch the traction control off, move into Sport+ and the beast is alive. It is constant work and will take lots of attention on your part to keep the 1-Series in control. Nothing short of an outlaw, push hard and the hatch has a tendency to intimidate you. Hence, if you aren’t sure about the track or your skills, here is an advice – Keep that traction control on!
In its sane avatar, the BMW 1-Series is planted like a rail on tracks, it seldom loses sight and reassures you to push further. The chassis on the baby Beamer is well engineered and the 50:50 weight distribution ensures you push the car into the corner of your choice. Keeping with the tightest of corners comes to the car naturally and the car feels eager to dive into the apex.
Providing precise feedback is the steering wheel that complements the handling capabilities on the model and direction changes are precise. There is not a moment of doubt and the most aggressive corners feel like a cakewalk. The wide tyres were a major boon and helped us maintain the optimal traction at all times. So despite some spins, we never went off-track.
At the end of the day, the 1-Series is a hatchback and practicality needs to be one of its strong suits, which surprisingly it is. The ride quality may not be the best thanks to the stiffly sprung suspension but doesn’t get unnerving unless on a very bad patch of tarmac. Slip into comfort mode and the stiff setup eases out things with lesser bumps and thuds translating into the cabin. You also find the Eco Pro mode coupled with the start-stop system and brake regeneration system that help achieve higher fuel economy.
With a heavy right foot, we still managed to average 10.6 kmpl, but go around with ease and the number is sure to grow as high as 15 kmpl. The low ground clearance isn’t much of a hindrance either and the low height keeps body roll to a minimum, Things do get a bit tricky and maneuvering over a large pothole or speed breaker takes a watchful eye, but nothing too complicated.
Another reason, we have grown to love the current 1-Series is since it is the last of the model to come in the RWD layout. The next generation 1-er will be based on the UKL1 platform that also underpins the new generation MINI and is a FWD unit. With the 1-er gone, there won’t be a hatchback in the market to offer overtly fun over-steer. BMW if you are listening, please keep the RWD 1-er for a little longer. We still haven’t had enough of it.
Is It Safe?
Brought in as a CKD, the BMW 1-Series is as safe as it gets. It complies with the Euro NCAP norms having scored full 5 stars and comes with 6 airbags, ABS, ESP and corner braking control. How does that help? While it may not be as advanced as the City Safety feature on the Volvo V40, you definitely understand the electronic aids kicking in if the need be. So during panic braking or emergency braking which we experienced, the aids did not steering us out of the lane and kept the hatchback planted as glue with the tyres offering impressive levels of grip.
Price of the 2016 BMW 1-Series Sportline Diesel – Rs. 29.90 (ex-showroom, Mumbai)
Should I buy one?
If you plan to enjoy the thrill of driving, the BMW 1-Series definitely won’t disappoint you in any way. Move aside from looks and concentrate on the well-engineered chassis that is made for maximum driving pleasure. It is also one of the few cars to retain the RWD setup (the last of it) in this segment and is a car solely for the driver’s soul satisfaction. Priced at around Rs. 37 lakhs (on-road, Mumbai), the baby Beamer is definitely not cheap but your big ticket to the Bavarian carmaker’s family. The way we see it, it is one of the few cars that keep the ethos of driving alive. For the unadulterated driving experience, the BMW 1-Series remains to be a tough contender in the segment; most importantly with the 2016 facelift arrived in India making things much better visually.
What we like –
1. The 50:50 weight distribution makes for immaculate cornering capabilities
2. The only premium hatchback to come with the RWD configuration
3. The 2.0-litre diesel motor is an absolute beauty
4. Power delivery is seamless, the manual mode holds gears till the redline
What we don’t like –
1. The design still feels out of proportion
2. The distinctive diesel clutter gets too loud when idle
3. The interior is too familiar while the cabin lacks width being a bit cramped
4. The 2016 1-Series is only available in a single variant