The BMW 1 Series was a car I loathed when it rolled out of Munich back in 2004. I felt that BMW was now headed to making a car for every kind of person, and that's not good. Even worse, one of my best friends had one for college and we used it for carpool. It had beautiful looks, but when the LSD and MDMA would wear off, you'd notice that it looked like a dog - and it wasn't a very cute one. The engine wasn't very good either.
A vacuum cleaner could've propelled the car much better than its 1.6 liter engine, and let's not get into the topic of space - because there wasn't any. The interior was dead and filled with more plastic than your colleague who's secretly eyeing your job. If there were a redeeming factor, it was the chassis. And fine, the manual gearbox was decent. Overall though, it was a disappointment. BMW was now in the business of selling their badge and no longer their cars.
"There aren't many cars that you can hop into and identify its maker by using all of your senses, except your eyes - a BMW is one of the few, which you can."
Seven years after, BMW rolled out their all-new replacement model for the 1 Series. If the previous 1 Series was a dog, this new model looked like its dinner. It's a tad bit more handsome, except it resembled a bug-eyed mongrel with a rear that was stolen from a Volkswagen Polo. Why on Earth would I spend almost thrice as much for a BMW Polo? However, unlike the first generation, this one actually had some redeeming qualities. Quite a lot, if I'm honest.
By this time, BMW already had their cutting edge TwinPower Turbo diesel engines. They also massively upped their game in the interior, which was a rather lovely place to be in. The car also grew on all sides, which meant that human beings could now fit. I suppose it wasn't the most beautiful thing, but at the very least, it felt like a BMW should. The car was categorically good and there was no questioning how it handled on the road.
"This has one of best chassis in any car on sale today, period."
Now they've released a new one. In BMW language, this is a Life Cycle Impulse (LCI) or in plain English, a refreshed model. So what are we looking at? Well, for starters we are looking at quite a handsome little thing. BMW may have taken the word facelift quite literally. The eyes have been pulled and snipped, providing a more youthful gaze. They've ditched the Volkswagen tail lights in exchange for classic BMW L-shaped rears, which I have to say, look wonderful.
It also looks the part in Sport line trim. The interior remains virtually untouched to the old car, apart from the climate control display and the updated iDrive system, which is still the benchmark for any on-board computer system in a car. Everything is sophisticated, ergonomic, and intuitive as one would naturally expect from a BMW. There aren't many cars that you can hop into and identify its maker by using all of your senses, except your eyes - a BMW is one of the few, which you can. Feel and listen.
"I'd buy artificial sweetener from BMW if they sold some. I'm certain it would look and taste like plain white sugar."
As a car to drive, it must be said that this has one of best chassis in any car on sale today, period. No corner was too tight and no change of direction was too sudden. It held the line on the corners so gracefully and so flat that I'd end up laughing when I'd look at the rearview mirror and see a boot and space for three more at the rear. It really does corner like it's on rails. Thank goodness it was equipped with Adaptive LED lighting. Those lights pierced through the darkness like a UFO in Roswell.
I drove it for a week, and in as much as I would love to say that it was a revelation - it wasn't. I already knew it was going to be great, but I certainly wasn't expecting this. You still get to choose the driving mode the best suits you, but my favorite by far is the customizable Sport setting. I set the chassis to Sport, but leave the drivetrain on its standard setting. What I get is a car with superbly weighted steering like the BMW's of old. I know that it's all artificial, but BMW has it licked. In fact, I'd buy artificial sweetener from BMW if they sold some. I'm certain it would look and taste like plain white sugar.
"This gasoline engine never runs out of puff until you smash the red line."
A part of me did miss the diesel engine, and for two reasons only: the low end torque and the sensational fuel economy. Finishing the fuel on a 118d is one of life's best struggles. On the upside, this gasoline engine never runs out of puff until you smash the red line. You'd be hard pressed to believe that the size of its heart is no bigger than the free bottle of Coke you get when you order a large pizza. Even more so, it only has three cylinders. Three! What kind of sorcery is this?
The TwinPower Turbo engine propels the 118i to punch well above its weight class. If I am honest, I am very much in love with Volkswagen's Golf GTI. I knew from the get-go that there wouldn't be any competition since the car from Wolfsburg packs 220 horses, while the one from Munich only has 136, but there's so much more to it than power. Yes, the GTI will destroy it on a straight line and as far as noise is concerned, there is no competition, but in the twisties and mountain passes, the BMW is alive - and you are too. I can't say the same for the other car.
"It is about efficiency without shooting down the pleasure of driving."
I was able to blast through 402 kilometers of mountain passes, highways, and bustling urban streets with a returned combined fuel cycle of 10.4 km/L. This 118i's efficiency doesn't make me miss the diesel power plant anymore. Its free-revving characteristic is much closer to the BMW's I've loved since I was a child. It is a pocket full of joy. And rightfully so, because JOY is the core of BMW's global brand communication.
It is about efficiency without shooting down the pleasure of driving. It is about having your cake and eating it too. JOY IS AND, not IS OR. It is the marriage of staggering efficiency and ultra focused driving dynamics, and at this point, no car shouts about it better than the youthful and charming 118i. Ultimately, what you are really looking at, is the 1 Series as it should have always been in the first place.