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Is the Series 1 still the One?

The compact car class is the most hotly disputed in terms of sales volumes, so naturally manufacturers are embroiled in a fierce battle to grab as much as possible from the market share pie. Case study on the BMW 1 Series. By Adrian Ion

November 2011 - From the Print Edition

The undisputed leader of the compact car segment has for many years been the Volkswagen Golf, which has built up an image as an affordable, reliable and practical piece of machinery. Everyone has tried to take the throne from King Golf but even though other car models were better in some ways, overall the winner was the same. So, the engineers must have decided to change their strategy, saying: Letís build cars for those customers who donít want just an affordable and practical car.

Strange thinkingÖ

Letís take as our case study the result of BMWís mission to build a compact car that could be better than the Golf, the Series 1.
In 2004 when the first generation of the BMW 1 Series was launched, it was a hit. It was more expensive than the Golf, had less interior and boot space, and the design was not brilliant either. Still, it offered unrivaled road handling, sporty characteristics and as the firmís slogan says, joy of driving. More than one million cars were sold.
The typical client of the 1 Series was a driver who could appreciate these values in a car, placing less importance on the practical issues. And the car was not without flaws. Some clients complained about the harsh and bumpy suspension setting, dull and weird design and severe lack of space.
BMW took note of all those complaints and here it is: the new and improved version of the BMW 1 Series.
The test drive car was the 118 petrol version, fitted with a 1.6 Turbo engine, delivering 170 hp. Not the sportiest version (an M series is also available) but a good engine choice for those who want a bit of fire under the seat. The results are quite impressive and show how much you can do these days playing with the Turbo: 170 hp, at 4,800 rpm, 184 lb ft of torque from 1,500 rpm to 4,500 rpm, 0-60 in 7.4 seconds, and a top speed approaching 230 km/hour.
The first thing you notice is of course the design, which has improved, and fitted with the right design kits can be an eye catcher. Still, this is not a category where the BMW shines. It is brilliant in other aspects, such as build quality, technology implemented and ultimately the pleasure of driving it.
The new BMW 1 Series incorporates the BMW Efficient Dynamics technology package as standard. This includes the Automatic Start/Stop function and an Eco Pro mode which changes the engine behavior, throttle response and even air conditioning function to increase fuel efficiency. The same switch that enables the Eco Pro mode, called the driving experience switch, can also be used to transform the car into a small beast. Sport mode will increase fuel consumption but an adrenaline injection will kick in that is worth every penny. On BMW Sport Line models, and on cars fitted with the optional eight-speed sport automatic transmission, Variable Sport Steering or Adaptive Suspension, there is also a fourth mode, Sport+, which turns off traction and stability control.
Inside, the typical BMW design and technology has been transferred to this little brother. The driving position is excellent and the overall feeling is that you are in a smaller 3 Series.
The new BMW 1 Seriesí high-tech presence is everywhere. The tested car was fitted with an innovative technology that ensures integration with the Apple iPhone and other smart phones. The Apps option allows iPhone users to do things like listen to web radio stations through the carís audio system and use Facebook and Twitter services. In-car internet access and the new real-time traffic information function are two further options that are unique in the compact segment.
The 1 Series continues to dominate the class when it comes to handling, with a great engine and transmissions range and superbly balanced chassis. And yes, the 1 Series still remains The One as the best driverís car in its class.



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