Fleet News

BMW 1-series

BMW

Review

HOW much of the appeal of the new BMW 1-series will be the attraction of buying into a premium brand that previously might have been out of reach, and how much will be the lure of BMW’s philosophy of rear-wheel drive 50/50 weight distribution is yet to be discovered.

BMW has just revealed its predictions and expectations for its new car that arrives in the UK on September 18, and it is not merely after a share of the sub £20,000 premium sector.

About 17,000 cars will find homes with drivers in the UK, and roughly half of them will be company cars. BMW thinks nearly 12,000 1-series drivers will be new to the brand, with the main casualties being the Audi A3, Mercedes A-class, Volkswagen Golf and Alfa Romeo 147.

While the A-class might be a different type of vehicle, Mercedes-Benz and Audi drivers would already feel they were driving a premium vehicle. Those in the Golf and Alfa Romeo would perhaps see themselves as driving something more upmarket than mainstream.

So driving dynamics must count for something.

Jim O’Donnell, managing director of BMW GB, said: ‘We are very confident that with the 1-series we will offer discerning customers a unique proposition that will win them over to BMW.

‘We haven’t developed this new model to entice MINI or 3-series owners. We are attacking a new segment and we expect to attract a very high proportion of customers who are new to BMW. Conquest is the name of our game and our target competitors are a broad church.’

To be fair, with the BMW 3-series outselling the Ford Mondeo in the UK last year, BMW probably wouldn’t be too disappointed to have a few substitutions, and in any case, there will be an all-new 3-series in 2005.

But BMW has also identified drivers of cars such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane and Peugeot 307 as legitimate targets for their new five-door hatchback.

‘This is a large sector,’ said O’Donnell, ‘representing about 18% of the total industry volume. And there are a considerable number of drivers out there who want a premium model but within their budget.

‘They appreciate product substance, driving performance, individuality, functionality and, of course, value.’

BMW is convinced that the migration to premium badges that has happened in the executive car sector and the upper-medium sector is about to be repeated in the lower-medium or C-sector, with forecasts predicting a remarkable 80% premium share of the segment in the next 10 years.

‘Sure, the 1-series does not have the largest boot or rear passenger compartment, but it is not small either. It is a full four-seater with split rear folding seats, tremendous comfort and a great cabin.

‘Furthermore, it will have strong residual values, not normally a feature of the lower-medium sector, the best aftersales package in the business and Euro IV emissions standard that will reduce benefit-in-kind payments to the Treasury.’

BMW will be offering a Service Inclusive pack for the 1-series, covering major maintenance and repairs for five years or 60,000 miles for £500, transferable to future owners if the car is sold before the time or mileage limits have expired.

Standard equipment includes six airbags, two-stage brake lights, run-flat tyres, dynamic stability control, electric front windows (and rear windows on 120i and 120d), a trip computer and a CD/radio.

The bad news for drivers who can just manage an entry-level car on their allowance or budget is that they will get neither standard air conditioning nor alloy wheels, so it’s probably worth stepping up a grade to SE or Sport to ensure the maximum price when defleeted.

Most options can be chosen individually, but BMW is also offering a range of packs where items are clustered together for a lower price than if chosen separately.

The 1-series will launch in September with the 116i, 120i, 118d and 120d with a 118i joining the range next year.

Behind the wheel

DIESEL 1-series variants scored an important victory on the UK media launch of the 1-series when driven back-to-back.

Although the diesel engine has been seen in the 3-series, both versions of it have been tweaked for the smaller car. It means the 118d produces 120bhp as opposed to the 318d’s 113bhp, and the 120d offers 161bhp instead of the 320d’s 148bhp.

The torque figure for the 120d is 251lb-ft – equal to the Honda Accord 2.2 i-CTDi and the Volvo 2.4-litre D5 diesel, both of which power larger cars.

While the styling might not be to everyone’s tastes, it is certainly distinctive and stands out as a modern BMW, with the familiar grille and headlamp shape.

The tapering roofline disguises a rear compartment that has surprisingly generous headroom, although knees of taller passengers will meet the back of the front seat when someone 6ft is in the front. Stepping in and out of the rear compartment is also a problem with big feet, as the opening at the base of the rear door is rather small.

But for every single 1-series driver, all that will matter is what goes on behind the wheel. The driving environment is second to none with a comfortable driving position, top quality plastics on the dashboard and the option of metallic finish plastics or aluminium trim.

Driving the 120d, the 1-series felt rather like a diesel 3-series only a little faster. It has the same intuitive steering responses, subdued engine note and roll-free handling.

With run-flat tyres as standard across the range (the space in the boot that might be occupied by a spare houses the car’s battery) the ride can get choppy on uneven roads, which you notice more as a passenger, but the overall composure of the car when pressing on along country roads is impeccable.

It also felt unusual to not have the steering corrupted by torque steer, as you might in one of its rivals – no other car in the lower medium sector is rear-wheel drive.

For those whose budgets don’t stretch to a 120d, the 118d offers more than adequate performance, with 207lb-ft available from 1,750rpm. Although BMW predicts the high-performance diesel will be the favourite for customers, the 118d might surprise them and put up a strong challenge for sales.

Both outperform the two petrol variants available for testing – the 116i with a 113bhp 1.6-litre engine and the 120i with a 148bhp 2.0-litre. The 116i has a crisp engine note, but it scoots along in sixth gear with about 3,500rpm on the rev counter. Either of the diesels would be more relaxing on a long journey.

The six-speed 120i has lower revs on the motorway, but the true performance car in the range at this stage is the 120d.

Driving verdict

IT might lose out to the Audi A3 Sportback in looks, and others in interior space, but will appeal to the purist user-choosers who want more substance in a premium small car.

Model: 116i 120i 118d 120d
Engine (cc): 1,596 1,995 1,995 1,995
Max power (bhp/rpm): 113/6,000 148/6,200 120/4,000 161/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 111/4,300 148/3,600 207/1,750 251/2,000
Max speed (mph): 125 135 125 137 (134)
Max speed (mph): 125 135 (auto: 133) 125 137 (134)
0-62mph (sec): 10.8 8.7 (9.2) 10.0 7.9 (8.2)
Fuel consumption (mpg): 37.7 38.2 (35.8) 50.4 49.6 (42.8)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 181 178 (190) 150 152 (176)
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 50/11
Transmission: 5-sp man (116i); 6-sp man; 6-sp auto
Service interval (miles): variable
On sale: September 18

Prices (OTR): £15,690-£20,800

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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