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|BMW 1 Series
Would You Rather Have A BMW, Or A VW/Audi/Alfa?
The Question Comes To Life In Compact Sector For The First Time
Baby BMW 1 Series encroaches on new territory
Rating - ***** out of 5
A BMW suddenly became more available.
Those of you who thought that an upmarket Golf or Audi A3 was the pinnacle of your ambition will have to think again. You just might be able to stretch to a BMW. It might be a baby one, but its still a BMW.
BMWs new little 1 Series hatchback marks a new move downmarket for the German luxury car maker and will confront mass car manufacturers in a sector theyve dominated for years.
The likes of VW and Fiat are used to new comers from Asia invading their traditional small car markets from below; now BMW threatens to encroach on their higher priced small family cars like the Golf and Alfa Romeo 147.
When you see your first 1 Series in your rear-view mirror, it will look just like a proper BMW with its sculpted double headlights and kidney grille. But when it accelerates past, as BMWs do, you will see that it is the size of a front-wheel drive VW Golf, Audi A3, or Alfa Romeo 147. What you wont be able to see is the 1s rear-wheel drive, which BMW says makes it unique in this sector and gives it near 50:50 weight distribution and therefore a more stable ride and safer handling.
Love It Or Loathe It
The body styling of the 1 Series will also raise your eyebrows. Inheriting many of the sweeping angles and edges of recent BMWs like the 5-Series and Z4 Roadster, the 1 Series will polarise opinion. You will either love or loathe it, and you will recognise it instantly.
The 1 Series is launched with a choice of 4 engines 1.6 and 2.0 litre petrols, and 1.8 and 2.0 litre diesels. A 1.8 petrol motor will join the range early in 2005. Driving the car on the sweeping and largely empty roads about 60 kilometres south of Paris showed it to be a terrific performer in the BMW tradition, although the ride was harsh. Rear-wheel drive does have penalties as well as advantages; space in the back is on the tight side, although headroom is impressive. In the front theres plenty of room, with the passenger seat sliding back much further than is usual. If theres no one travelling in the back, the front-seat passenger can luxuriate. With four travelling in the car, leg room in the back is at a premium. But this is a small car. The rear seats fold flat and split 60-40. There is a gimmicky starter button which you press after inserting a key fob into the dashboard.
The 1 Series makes more room available in the boot by dispensing with a spare wheel all the cars have run-flat tyres which can be driven safely for up to 90 miles (145 kms) at up to 50 mph (80 km/h). This has consigned roadside tyre changes to history. There is a Tyre Puncture Warning System, as well as the full gamut of computerised brakes, traction and cornering control.
A neat idea which has so far only appeared on the BMW 5 Series Touring is the Brake Force Display. Ive often thought that the third brake light mounted usually at the top of the rear window should be used only to signal a braking emergency. Just having a third indicator that the brakes were on always seemed a bit over-the-top. But BMW has introduced a system to do something similar. When the computer detects that the braking is reaching an emergency level, an additional panel of brake lights comes on. This should reduce the chances of a rear end collision. I still think my idea makes more sense.
Gunning For Golf
BMW says it is gunning for sales from higher priced versions of the Golf, Alfa 147, Audi A3 and the Mercedes A class, and top end versions of the Ford Focus, Renault Megane and Opel/Vauxhall Astra. It also expects to win converts at the expense of larger, but less prestigious big family cars like the Ford Mondeo, Peugeot 407, and Opel/Vauxhall Vectra.
Of the 1 Series cars available at launch, the 2.0 litre diesel version was the most impressive, producing sports-car like performance with claimed fuel economy of close to 50 mpg (5.7 l/100km). Mated to a new six-speed automatic gearbox, it made a terrific combination, although this takes the price to well over £22,000 (33,300 euros) with the extra options included with the SE version like automatic climate control and sports steering wheel.
What A Performer
The 2 litre diesel engine is borrowed from the 320d, and its output increased by 9 per cent to 163 bhp. The performance of 0-62 in 7.9 seconds and top speed of 137 mph says it all. From 50-75 mph in fourth gear takes just 6.6 seconds. This engine uses the modified second generation Common rail system with a pressure of 1,600 bar and is EU4 compliant. The system facilitates rapid fuel injection and vaporisation, which gives increased performance and lower fuel consumption.
£15,690 To Start
Prices start at £15,690 (23,800 euros) for the 1.6 litre petrol 116i with a 5-speed manual gearbox. The rest of the range has six-speed manuals.
Expect BMW to augment the range with a four-door saloon, convertibles, coupes, six-cylinder engines and high performance versions.
The 1 Series goes on sale across Europe on September 18.
Golf, A3 and Alfa dealers may be bracing themselves for the onslaught, but are probably comforting themselves with the thought that BMWs high prices will work in their favour.
Neil Winton August 4, 2004
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