With the consumer gradually becoming more brand conscious and sentient about their perceived ‘status’, the names that we once associated with larger executive cars are trying to make a place for themselves in the hatchback segment at a relatively, well, let’s just say an affordable price point. Mercedes-Benz launched the A-Class earlier this year, which was then followed by the Volvo V40 and with both these cars already on Indian shores; BMW couldn’t fall too far behind.
Soon enough BMW brought forth their much awaited 1 series and needless to say that the German-manufacturer has a lot of hopes riding on it, not just because it’s venturing into unknown waters but mainly taking into account that it will go against the already acclaimed A-Class. But that’s not all, it has even managed to get aficionados all charged up knowing that it is the only rear-wheel drive car in the segment – a concept that is fast disappearing in ‘regular’ cars. So while the 1 continues to be a rear-wheel drive for now, we decide to have some fun with it before this too goes the stereotypical front-wheel drive way in 2015.
As far as the looks are concerned, the 1 series looks typically Bimmer, both from the outside as well as on the inside. The long bonnet leading to the small-ish grille with the Xenon headlamps give the front end a rather pleasing disposition. Although the profile, does have a sharp shoulder line and tries hard to give the 1 a smooth silhouette, the long bonnet and the cut hatch make it look rather unbalanced. The boot too is somewhat plain Jane especially when put against the likes of the A-Class and the Volvo V40 Cross Country.
The insides tell a different story altogether. The cabin is nice and airy, has plenty of space on offer and most importantly is a great amalgamation of quality, style and comfort. The dashboard looks pretty much inspired by its elder sibling the 3 series, but even so we aren’t really complaining. The red accent just above the glove box and the stitching on the steering wheel add to the overall appeal of the completely black dashboard. The top end ‘Sport’ variant that we drove has electronically adjustable seats with memory for the driver as well as the passenger. Although the rear bench has ample of leg and knee room on offer, it is just good enough for two. The large transmission tunnel doesn’t quite leave enough legroom for the third. Further, the low seating position not only makes it a little uncomfortable to sit at the back, it also makes ingress-egress a difficult affair.
But then again, the boffins at Munich have built the car with a one track mind. Get behind the wheel and you will immediately feel that the car has been crafted to be completely driver oriented. The 118d that we drove hosts a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel mill that produces 143PS at 4,000 rpm and 320Nm between 1,750-2,500 rpm. Now, on paper, these figures might just seem a little run of the mill but hit the throttle hard and you will be swayed into an entirely different opinion altogether. Power is available throughout the rev range and this actually comes into perspective when you go pedal to the metal and watch the tacho needle revving with much ease right up to the red line. A lot of this character comes thanks to the eight-speed transmission that shifts oh so seamlessly. Go hard on the throttle and it touches the 100km/h marker in just 8.6 seconds and it goes on to hit a top speed of 212km/h. BMW claims that the diesel iteration of the 1 series is capable of returning an overall efficiency of around 20.58kmpl.
Figures aside, there are four driving modes – one for every mood. The Eco Pro, for the one off occasions when you feel like driving in the economy mode; then there is the comfort mode, again something that will be sparingly used. The Sport+ mode, which automatically switches off the ESP, is sure to bring an ear to ear smile on your face. The steering feels heavier than in the other modes but continues to remain as precise and responsive which makes it that much more fun to push around corners. The 225/45 R17 tyres make their contribution in ensuring that you feel confident while carrying speed into round a bend. The 1 series not only handles amazingly but is also quite comfortable even on bumpy and rough tarmac. The suspension is well damped and easily absorbs all the undulations that the road throws at it without letting out a single twitch to put your comfort levels in question.
Buyers of cars in this class are sure to expect a fair bit of technology and equipment to go with the price tag and the 1 series does fairly on that front as well. The top end Sport Plus trim gets keyless go, start/stop engine, dual zone climate control, sunroof, electric seats for the driver as well as the passenger, Xenon headlamps along with ABS, ESP and six airbags for safety. That said, one does feel the absence of an onboard satellite navigation and a rear camera.
With the launch of the 1 series at a price ranging from Rs 20.90 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) for the 116i petrol variant to Rs 29.90 lakh for the top of the line 118d Sport Plus, BMW marks its entry into the compact luxury car segment. One very important point to note here is that buyers of this segment of cars are likely to drive themselves and taking that into account Bimmer makes no errs as far as the 1 series is concerned. What it lacks in terms of looks, it makes up thanks to a brilliant amalgamation of comfort and performance while ensuring that the fun quotient of driving a car is not lost at any point in time. Having said that, the Sport Plus variant that we drove is slightly on the expensive side, demanding quite a premium over the A-and the B-Class and bordering around the base variants of the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class as well their own 3 series, but again for the kind of equipment level and driving pleasure it has on offer clubbed with the virtue of being a rear-wheel drive, it is well worth the price.