Road test: BMW 1 Series still strong in white-hot genre
SUDDENLY things are tough at the top…well, at the bottom of the top.
The luxury marques are jostling for position in the fledgling small car market which rapidly has the big guns struggling for elbow room.
Premium manufacturers know that getting buyers hooked on their product early often ends with a customer for life. BMW was the pivotal player in this genre when it launched the 1 Series here a couple of years back, and even started the range below 40 grand.
Yet now Mercedes-Benz has muscled on the turf with a compelling A-Class line-up starting at $35,600, while Audi will follow suit within the next month with an updated A3 at the same price. We returned to the baby Beemer to see how time has treated the compact hatch.
Given the Sport Line treatment, a package which provides a range of nice extras, our 118i was a refined blend of regal athleticism.
With hard plastics confined to the base of the centre console and around the park brake, black soft-touch materials are interspersed with glossy features and some red highlights. Befitting its moniker the pack includes sports seats and steering wheel, with the pews offering nice bolstering.
Cruise control functions are on the steering wheel and is far easier to use than the traditional BMW stalk configuration.
There are two cup holders in the console, with some handy insert options for storage of things such as smartphones and keys.
Like all compact hatches in this market, cabin space can be limited for those in the back. Up front is good for head and leg room, but if those in the pole positions slide too far back leg and knee space is compromised.
On the road
Combine rear-wheel drive with a wonderfully direct steering feel and it's the typically dynamic BMW performance.
The 118i has a turbocharged four-cylinder under its bonnet that is burly and strong.
Our test car had the optional eight-speed automatic transmission, and together the drivetrain combination walked the tightrope of performance and convenience.
The little hatch has an impressive ability to bite the bitumen and maintain its composure on testing bends.
Depending on your comfort preference the ride can be firm no matter which mode you choose.
What do you get?
On the 1 Series standard list are a 16.5cm flat-screen colour display, Bluetooth and USB functionality, CD player with six speakers, cruise control with brake function, auto start/stop function, keyless engine start and climate controlled air con, along with a five-star safety rating.
Our Sport Line pack added star-spoke styled 17-inch alloys, Sport badges and door sills, red detailing, sports leather steering wheel, sports seats and special cloth upholstery (leather is another option).
Providing keen competition are the Mercedes-Benz A200 ($40,900), the soon to be replaced Audi A3 1.4 TFSI ($41,200) and the new Volvo V40 T4 ($41,990).
Servicing can be expensive with the premium brands, so it's best to do your sums before buying.
A package is available which covers most maintenance costs over three-five years.
Fuel consumption is frugal according to the official figures (5.9 litres), although we managed eight litres for every 100km despite plenty of highway driving.
Add some Sport touches, and the little 1 Series becomes a package difficult to fault.
The propeller badge will be the stand-out feature for many buyers, but the hatch is well proportioned with some lovely creases that maintain a contemporary appeal.
The 1 Series is holding firm in a now ultra competitive genre. People are buying SUVs and small cars at a rapid rate, and the 1 Series is vital for BMW as drivers downsize from within the family or for the brand to attract new followers. Various options do have a big impact on the bottom line, and our test car was costing closer to $50,000 with all the inclusions.
It remains fun to drive and still looks every bit the prestige offering.
What matters most
The good stuff: Driving dynamics, Sport Line package value.
What we'd like to see: Cheaper options, capped price servicing.
Warranty and servicing: Three years/unlimited kilometre warranty. Roadside assist runs for three years. All BMWs
have "Condition Based Service", but usually it's every 25,000km or annually.
Model: BMW 118i.
Details: Five-door compact rear-wheel drive hatch.
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power 125kW @ 4800rpm and peak torque of 250Nm 1500-4500rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic.
Consumption: 5.9 litres/100km.
Performance: 0-100kmh in 7.4 seconds.
Bottom line: $45,893, as tested with Sport Line package ($1600) and eight-speed automatic transmission ($3077).