BMW’s MINI Cooper is microsmall, and the 3-series gets bigger with each new iteration. This leaves a nice meaty spot in the market for the BMW 1-Series, which has been plying European roads since 2004. With the baby Bimmer’s early-2008 U.S. arrival date nearing, we headed to the U.K. to get a taste of what’s in store.
We drove the top-spec version, the 130i M Sport. It’s motivated by a slightly more powerful version of the 3.0-liter in-line six from the now-departed 330i, although the1-series weighs some 250 pounds less than the bigger sedan. This combination makes for a very quick car: its 0-to-60-mph time sits on the good side of six seconds, and BMW had to fit a speed limiter to keep the 130i from powering past 155 mph. Even more impressive is the steering–it’s accurate and linear, and it communicates exactly what the little BMW is doing at all times. The only letdown is the lack of a limited-slip differential.
Like most BMWs, the 1-series is an impressive driver’s car, but how well does it work day to day? Its stiff suspension and run-flat tires make the 130i very fidgety, and it rides roughly on anything other than ultrasmooth surfaces. It doesn’t win a gold star for packaging, either, what with a longitudinal straight six and rear-wheel drive in a car the size of a Volkswagen Rabbit. As a result, rear-seat room and luggage space are severely pinched–and that’s in the four-door hatchback. The upcoming coupe and convertible, the only two body styles coming our way, will obviously suffer even worse in this respect.
Practical issues aside, after driving the 130i M Sport, we’d say the coupe version will help BMW recapture buyers looking for an affordable, six-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive performance car–something the ever larger, heavier, and pricier 3-series has not been for quite some time.