Power comes from the familiar 148bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, which drives the front wheels (there, said it again) through a standard six-speed manual gearbox, although our test car has the optional eight-speed automatic. Lower-powered petrol and diesel models are also available with a self-shifter, but just to make things a little less straightforward, it’s a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Inside is the latest high-tech iteration of the traditional driver-focused BMW wraparound dashboard. There’s the usual array of screens, with our car’s optional 10.25in (an 8.8in layout is standard) infotainment display accessed via either the touch-sensitive screen or the intuitive iDrive rotary controller. There’s also a familiar line-up of connected and live services, plus the effective ‘Hey, BMW’ voice control that mimics a similar system used in the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. And, of course, quality is top notch, with details such as the knurled metal-effect ventilation controls and top-to-bottom use of soft-touch materials bostering the car’s premium credentials.
It’s also more spacious than before, with an extra 33mm of leg room and 19mm of head room, making the 1 Series a viable choice for four tall adults for the first time. And the larger, 380-litre boot (up 20 litres) means they can all bring along their luggage now. There’s more elbow room all round, too, so those in the front don’t feel as hemmed in.
How does the 1 Series perform on the road?
The good news is that there’s some fun to be had here, even if it doesn’t exactly feel like a BMW. Move off and the 118d initially feels very familiar. You sit low in the car and the steering is light and positive, with a natural rate of response. And even on our car’s optional adaptive dampers (you can choose between Comfort and Sport), there’s a reassuring tautness to the ride.
The 148bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel is a decent performer, and in this application, it’s more refined than before, with only the occasional tingle through the controls under load at around 2000rpm and a gruffness right at the top end reminding you that it drinks from the black pump. Our test's car optional eight-speed automatic is slick and smooth and, in combination with 258lb ft of torque, it makes for swift and effortless progress.
Find a series of corners and you’re in for a surprise, because the 118d is genuinely good to drive, if not in a traditional BMW way. The front end responds instantly to the quick and accurate steering, the nose diving toward the apex with laser-guided precision, and even when pushing hard, grip is tenacious and understeer virtually non-existent. Instead, it’s the rear of the car that wants to move around, the combination of a grippy front end, well-integrated torque vectoring and trick ESP allowing the car to rotate quickly around your hips. Lift off the throttle and the 118d tightens its line further, creating a real sense of agility.
Factor in the excellent body control (even in Comfort mode) and quick, reasonably feelsome steering, and the 118d slices through corners with fluidity and deftness, the front and rear axles sharing the cornering loads equally and the whole car feeling like it's up on its very tippy toes. No, it doesn’t feel rear-wheel drive, but then it doesn’t really feel front-wheel drive, either. This is a car that tries to deliver on BMW’s passion for creating driver’s cars rather than any rear-wheel-drive dogma.
It’s not perfect, mind. For the most part, the steering is uncorrupted by its need to steer and drive, but accelerate hard in a straight line and there’s a subtle stiffening of the rack just off the straight ahead as you get just the merest hint of torque steer fight. And although the ride is good most of the time, sharp imperfections such as potholes still send a jarring thud through the car’s structure.