Next time you’re sitting at the traffic lights, take a look around. The chances are that within spitting distance you’ll see a host of hatchbacks from the bargain basement models to the well-known names from the mass production manufacturers.
In amongst them there’s a good chance there will be one with more perceived status than the rest, a BMW badge on the front and a satisfied owner behind the wheel.
The 1 Series has been with us for only ten years but it feels a lot longer because it’s become so well established, especially here in Scotland where sales have always been a healthy part of the 35,000 or so taking to British roads each year to make up the two million which have been sold since it first appeared.
The sharp-eyed will soon be spotting the latest incarnation which builds on the successful formula with some subtle design changes both inside and out. But importantly under the surface there are a range of new power units and even more of BMW’s EfficientDynamics technology fitted as standard.
The car’s distinctive profile has been kept pretty much the same with its set-back passenger compartment, long bonnet and short overhangs. At the front there’s a new lower apron with larger air intakes, reshaped kidney grille and new headlamps with LED daytime driving lights as standard across the range.
At the rear, there are new and bigger tail lamps following the familiar ‘L’ shape design but now with intense LED technology.
Inside, it’s still clearly a BMW with its clean and clutter-free dash but with some tweaks to the design and the materials used, including new seat cover fabric.
From September production onwards, the 1 Series will come with navigation as standard to make BMW the first manufacturer to offer cars from the compact segment all the way through to large luxury vehicles with navigation fitted at no extra cost.
The iDrive operating system is also standard so all new 1 Series models will have a freestanding, 6.5-inch display with the controller wheel on the centre console.
Under the bonnet, the range of new engines have cut fuel consumption by up to 12 per cent but with more power and sharper response.
At the top of the petrol range remains the formidable M135i with its turbocharged straight-six engine. Power has been increased in the new model to 326hp, with peak torque of 332lb/ft to give a 0-62mph time of just five seconds, but still returning 35mpg. It’s not a full-blown M version, but it has been considerably tweaked to get the most from the three-litre engine. I loved the lively performance and its sure-footedness around the bends bolstered by a beautiful rasp from the large twin exhausts at the back end.
At the other end of the scale the new 116d EfficientDynamics Plus model has reduced C02 emissions to just 89g/km.
The 118i and 120i are both powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine with 136hp and 170hp respectively and acceleration of just 7.2 seconds to 62mph in the 120i and with fuel consumption of just 52mpg in the 118i.
There are five new diesel engines with impressive economy and low CO2 and most versions are fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. The 120d xDrive has the more refined eight-speed Steptronic gearbox as standard. It has improved efficiency, longer ratios, a vibration damper and a clever predictive shift strategy, which works in conjunction with the navigation system – even when route guidance is not active – to ensure that gear changes are timed precisely for the driving conditions.
Next month a new three-cylinder 136hp petrol engine will join the line-up in the 118i with economy of 56mpg and CO2 of 116g/km.
Standard equipment for the new BMW 1 Series includes a SIM card embedded in the car, as a mobile phone connection is required to make use of the Intelligent Emergency Call and BMW TeleServices functions, as well as the optional internet-based services.
The updated Parking Assistant now has 12 rather than the previous ten sensors to help the driver get into parking spaces not only parallel but also at right angles to the road.
Prices start at £20,245 for a three-door 118i SE and £20,775 OTR for the five-door version. Although across the range there’s been a slight increase, BMW say that each model gives added value because of the extra equipment – and residual values have gone up by around 5 per cent.
It’s still seen as the entry level car into the BMW brand and around 65 per cent of sales come from drivers moving from other makes.
These latest changes are a mid-life update to the Series 1 – and they’re going to give German competitors Audi and Mercedes something to think about.
PRICE: £31,370 (£40,195 as tested)
POWER: 3.0 -litre 6-cylinder petrol. 326hp, 332lb/ft
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 155mph (governed) 0-62 mph 5.1 secs
economy: 35 mpg combined
CO2 EMISSIONS: 175 g/km