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BMW & the 'Uber-Hatch'; the 1 Series

The new 1 series is only five months away from general release in the UK and Europe, with a starting price of £16,500.

The 1 Series slots into the luxury paced small car market and is honed to target the likes of the VW Golf, Vauxhall Astra and Audi A3. The smaller car market has since exploded beyond the budget rationales of the cheaper car makers and has now won important recognition among the larger prestige European auto-makers.

While the styling has drawn some questions – it shouldn't be too great a shock to the system. Once one overcomes the obvious constraints of the small car form, the BMW look and style exemplified in the 1 series is a rather predictable leap from the larger 3 series. BMW has aimed to achieve a 'premium sports hatch' - and the five door One has the looks to match, a front-on stance, compact but traditional headlight approach with the characteristic double-grill and low sweeping roof-line. The smooth, sweeping flanks are reminiscent of the modern curves worked into the latest five series.

BMW's played it safe with the rear and allowed none of the liberties which modelled the E65 seven series to be entertained here. The One hosts a modern, clean back which far out-styles that of the 3 series Compact. But that said, little distinguishes it from the standard of the small hatchback established by other makers before it.

The interior assumes a simplicity without compromising style, BMW opting for a whistle free dash and minimal cluttering controls. As an option, i-drive is situated near the gear lever, with the starter button by the air vents. Sports seats are an option.

The line-up for customisation will give the customer a choice of four engines and three gearboxes. The base model, the 116i is given a 1.6-litre engine with 115 bhp and 110ft of torque. This gives the frills-free BMW 62mph from standing still in 10.8 seconds. The 116i boasts a maximum speed of 15 mph. The 120i is gifted with 150bhp and 147lb ft of torque for 0-62 in 8.7 seconds, for a top of 135mph. The diesel varieties mix performance with efficiency admirably, both at 2.0 litre capacity. The 122bhp engine is sported by the 118d with 206lb ft of torque and 50 miles to the gallon and a competitive top speed at 125mph. The better performing diesel rests at the heart of the 120d with 162bhp for a maximum travel of 137mph at an impressive 49.6 mpg in economy.

A six-speed manual is standard for One series transmission. The entry-level 116i is the exception with a standard five-speed. In the 120d and 120i, consumers may opt for a six-speed automatic. BMW has hinted at offering an SMG box as an option in the future.

What sets the BMW hatch above that of its competitors is rear-wheel drive, sacrificing nothing in torque unlike most cars of its class. 16-inch run-flats are provided as standard in the way of tyres.

Luggage capacity is always an on-going concern in this type of vehicle. The one performs well, offering 1150 litres at one's disposal. Detractors may point out that the rear wheel drive compromises same space at the rear of the vehicle, while it noticeable that the transmission column takes up some room the the cabin.

Safety is an essential concern of any small-car buyer and BMW is aiming to assure. The One will feature Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control, Dynamic Brake Control and Electronic Differential Lock as well as a comprehensive system of airbags – head airbags for all passengers.

As far as tasty extras go, BMW is preparing to offer it all on release. Some of these include Bluetooth capability, acoustic parking distance control (front and rear) and Bi-Xenon headlights. I-Drive is an attractive option with the choice of a navigation system which will pop-up from the central dash and responds to voice commands – very tidy. Key-less access will, of-course, be obligatory.

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Ok, but how does the BMW hatch drive?

Maurice Glover

Four years after work started on a project aimed at pitching BMW into a lucrative new sales segment, the 1 series is ready to roll. But even before development work had been completed, a drive in the prototype versions soon confirmed that the latest breakthrough model from Munich has all it takes to win a significant share of business in an emerging global market for smaller, higher quality cars.

After creating fresh niche segments with the Z3 and X5, company heavyweights set about the task of recreating the feat with a pace-setting range based on an upscale family hatchback designed to be smaller than the Compact 3 but bigger inside to provide more room for passengers and luggage.

Six months in advance of the car's début at the Paris Motor Show, BMW invited a group of UK motoring journalists for a sneak preview of the model that project director Dr Gerd Schuster believes will put BMW brand values before an even wider audience.

Wearing masking tape to disguise their identities, two-litre 120i and 120d petrol and diesel prototypes were provided for us to sample on little used country roads in the South of France.

We were than allowed into the company's high security proving grounds at Miramas so we could put the mule cars through their paces in a series of track manoeuvres that demonstrated abilities in the areas crucial to the DNA of any BMW – steering, handling, and cornering.

And pretty convincing it was, too. Like its stablemates, the new baby Beemer uses the front-engine, rear-drive layout to provide agility, stability and an absence of torque-steer under harsh acceleration.

Although the chassis engineers had still to finish off their work on the cars, it soon became clear that the classic package was spot on in every respect, except one – quality of ride. While each version I tried showed the sporty characteristics that will be essential in setting the 1 series apart from the competitors, the suspension seemed too firm on anything but the smoothest of tarmac.

Thanks to a combination of minimal body roll and immense grip in the wet as well as dry, the suspension system (borrowed from the next generation three series), proved agility was indeed a gold star strength of the 1 series. I particularly liked the way the cars sliced trough bends, thanks to a steering system that makes the 1 series easy to set-up for corners and provides a good 'feel' of the road at the wheel.

Using hydraulic assistance rather than electric, it is quick to respond and needs only three turns from one full lock to the other, yet there's sufficient in-built tolerance to allow the straight-ahead position to be easily maintained at high speeds.

Both two-litre engines provide ample power, but the high output and immense torque of the diesel made it my favourite. Geared to show no less than 35mph per 1000 revs in sixth-gear, it promises to give the car impressive long distance credentials with relaxed cruising and economy on the better side of 50mpg.

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Last Updated:
Saturday, May 19, 2007 18:41 WST

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