Does It Matter That It’s Now FWD?
The all-new BMW 1 Series is here, and it’s completely new from the ground up. The German luxury automaker’s sporty hatchback also happens to be a revolutionary model for the brand, but for reasons you probably didn’t expect. For one, humans are now actually able to fit in the back seats. Plus cargo volume is also generous for the class. However, in order to achieve these meaningful gains in interior space, BMW had to radically change the formula of the 1 Series. Whereas previous models were rear-wheel drive (RWD), this all-new model is now front-wheel drive (FWD). Does it even matter that it’s now FWD? Let’s find out by taking the 2020 BMW 118i Sport for a spin.
Since FWD vehicles utilize a transverse engine layout, the hood doesn’t need to be as long. This gives BMW’s engineers the opportunity to lengthen the cabin. Despite the shorter hood, the all-new BMW 1 Series still looks sporty as a BMW should be. What we have here is the base 118i Sport, which means it gets sporty front and rear bumpers along with various high-gloss black elements around the vehicle. 17-inch alloy wheels come as standard, along with neat LED headlights and taillights. Other cool party tricks from the 118i Sport include LED puddle lamps projecting the BMW logo and LED-lit door handles. In most circumstances, the all-new 1 Series looks like a shrunken X2, and that isn’t exactly a bad thing for me.
As with every BMW, the 1 Series’ interior is driver-focused. All the controls and screens are angled towards the driver for better usability. Build quality is also sublime, even the best in class for me since everything feels robust. The doors, for instance, emit a satisfying thud, and the interior parts don’t flex at all. Sure, the interior of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class may look nicer, but the perceived quality of the 1 Series’ interior is superior. In addition, this 118i Sport includes some interior niceties such as LED ambient lighting, synthetic leather interior, and a power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-person memory.
Drivers will mostly interact with the base version of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system. While it doesn’t have the digital gauges, intelligent personal assistant, and smartphone integration features of iDrive 7, it still remains to be one of my infotainment systems in the entire auto industry. Menus are logically laid out, plus the infotainment itself is very responsive.
As mentioned, the front-wheel-driven BMW 1 Series is now more spacious than ever. The rear seats can finally accommodate a 5 foot 10 adult like me. Plus there are a couple of amenities for the rear seat passengers. This includes rear USB-C ports and aircon vents. The increase in space is also reflected in the trunk. With 380 liters on offer, it’s bigger by as much as 20 liters over the previous model. This finally puts the BMW 1 Series on par with the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
Under the hood of the 2020 BMW 118i Sport is a 1.5-liter inline-3 turbocharged gasoline engine that produces 138 hp and 220 Nm of torque. This small but torquey engine is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) that lets this hatchback accelerate from zero to 100 kph in a brisk 8.5 seconds.
While the engine sure sounds small, it does pack quite a lot of punch. Torque comes in strong whatever the rev range, making this a very easy car to overtake with. This is the same engine that’s shared with the Mini Cooper and the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car. Under hard acceleration, the three-cylinder engine produces a satisfying, albeit muted engine note. It also helps that this tiny but strong powertrain is super frugal too, averaging at 11.3 km/l during my entire week’s use.
Speaking of its muted engine note, the all-new BMW 1 Series’ refinement is top-notch. I certainly am not emphasizing when I say that 100 kph feels more like 50 kph due to the sheer quietness of the interior at high speeds. There’s a tiny amount of tire roar entering into the cabin, but the lack of wind and engine noise is easy to fool your senses. Without looking at the speedometer, it’s easy to underestimate what speed you’re already doing.
As for the rest of the driving experience, does it matter that it’s FWD? Not at all! The 118i Sport attacks corners like there’s no tomorrow. When I drove the G30 BMW 5 Series last year, I felt that the steering is a bit disconnected compared to the previous generation F10 model. That made me worried that the all-new 1 Series’ steering would also feel diluted. But that is seriously not the case. This 118i’s steering is sharper than a scalpel and provides a lot of steering feel. As a matter of fact, I felt even more connected with this 1 Series than the previous RWD model. Sure, it doesn’t have the rotation you expect from an RWD car when coming out of a corner. But other than that, this FWD 1 Series handles like no other luxury hatchback in its segment.
Contributing to the sporty nature of the all-new 1 Series is its all-around independent suspension and its FWD platform that’s derived from the Mini Cooper’s. And hey, no one ever said that a Mini Cooper is a boring car to drive, right? However, because of its sporty nature, the suspension is on the firm side. It isn’t helped by the fact that it has run-flat tires like every other BMW. Though the firmness of the ride is not as harsh as what you would find in a body-on-frame Toyota Fortuner or Hilux, so it’s a compromise I’m willing to make for a sporty driving experience.
Lastly, the 2020 BMW 118i Sport also comes with a number of safety systems, such as front and rear parking sensors, reverse camera, and BMW’s Parking Assistant self-parking feature. This system works nicely, and it enables fully-automated parallel and perpendicular parking. It can even get out of a parking spot automatically if you want it to. However, if you want more advanced safety such as automatic emergency braking, you have to step up to the performance-oriented M135i xDrive.
Overall, the all-new BMW 1 Series is a much better hatchback than ever before. While it may not have the character you would expect in an RWD car, it’s still sporty enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face. In addition, the all-new BMW 1 Series is more practical and spacious than ever before. And on that metric alone, this 2020 BMW 118i should prove to be more appealing to a much wider audience.
Pricing and Rating
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★★
Space and Practicality: ★★★★★
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★★
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Overall: 4.4 out of 5