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BMW 1 Series 2020 review: 118i and M135i xDrive

Does rear-wheel drive matter?
EXPERT RATING
7.4
The new BMW 1 Series has lost rear-wheel drive for the new third-generation F40 model, replacing it with more conventional front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. It’s also fundamentally a better car all round. Which part matters?

When the iPhone first appeared just over a decade ago, I can remember thinking a phone without buttons would be a giant pain in the neck. Until I used one, and now the idea of a keypad phone sounds akin to starting a car with a crank handle.

The new 1 Series is likely to offer most buyers a similar revelation, with its move from the BMW-traditional rear-drive layout to more conventional front and all-wheel drive. That is assuming you gave a damn in the first place, as I suspect it’s only hardcore BMW traditionalists that care about a rear-drive premium hatchback in 2020.

The BMW 118i. The BMW 118i.

And that’s not who is buying the 1 Series, with the Bavarian brand’s cheapest model intended to appeal to younger buyers who are more likely to care about connectivity, practicality and personalisation options than the excitement of losing grip from the rear. It certainly hasn’t stopped plenty of people from buying 1 Series-rivalling A-Class and A3s from Mercedes-Benz and Audi over the years.

The BMW M135i xDrive. The BMW M135i xDrive.

BMW 1 Series 2020: 118i M-Sport
Safety rating
Engine Type1.5L turbo
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5.9L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$42,990

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

Yes, that kidney grille is rather large. If you want everyone to know you drive a BMW, you’ll love it. If not, get used to it. The X7, recent 7 Series update and upcoming 4 Series suggest they’re only going to get bigger. 

 The kidney grille is rather large. The kidney grille is rather large.

Nose aside, the 1 Series hatch has always had a distinctive, long-bonnet profile, which has generally been attributed to the rear-drive layout. Despite the move to a transverse engine, the new one is actually very close in proportions when compared side by side.

It’s just 5mm shorter in overall length and 13mm taller, with body width being the most notable change at 34mm wider. 

The front and rear wheels have been moved further back into the body. The front and rear wheels have been moved further back into the body.

The key difference is that the front and rear wheels have been moved further back into the body, because of said engine layout change, and to make more back seat space in the rear.

Surprisingly for a model aimed at a younger demographic, the new 1 Series interior design isn’t quite the same step forward as the recent G20 3 Series.

The new 1 Series interior design isn’t quite the same step forward as the recent G20 3 Series (118i variant shown). The new 1 Series interior design isn’t quite the same step forward as the recent G20 3 Series (118i variant shown).

It’s a cut above the X1 and X2 SUVS the new 1 Series shares its underpinnings with in terms of the shapes used, but is still classic understated BMW. 

However its headline act is the Live Cockpit driver display on both models, which gives you fully digital instrumentation and replaces traditional analogue gauges once and for all.

The Live Cockpit driver display gives you fully digital instrumentation (M135i xDrive variant shown). The Live Cockpit driver display gives you fully digital instrumentation (M135i xDrive variant shown).

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

With my modest 172 cm height, I never had any trouble with the old model, but the new 1 Series is a bit more more spacious by all the important measures.

The new 1 Series is a bit more more spacious (118i variant shown). The new 1 Series is a bit more more spacious (118i variant shown).

The back seat base and backrest are a bit flat though, which is probably to help the backrest fold almost flat, but probably not very supportive during hard cornering.

There's also no centre armrest in the back or cup holders, but you do get bottle holders in the doors.

There's also no centre armrest or cup holders in the back (M135i xDrive shown.) There's also no centre armrest or cup holders in the back (M135i xDrive shown.)

You also get two ISOFIX child seat mounts and there’s two USB-C charge points in the back of the centre console, but there's no directional air vents unless you opt for the dual-zone climate control that comes standard with the M135i. 

The boot has grown by 20-litres to a pretty impressive 380 litres VDA which includes a very useful cavity under the floor instead of a spare tyre. An inflation kit is there for those duties. With the back seat folded flat, boot space expands to 1200 litres VDA. 

The boot is a pretty impressive 380 litres VDA. The boot is a pretty impressive 380 litres VDA.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   6/10

For the F40 generation, the 1 Series range has been cut back to two variants from launch, with the 118i for volume sales and the M135i xDrive hot hatch taking aim at the new Mercedes A35 and the Audi S3

Both versions were priced $4000 higher than the equivalent models they replaced from launch, but have recently jumped a further $3000 and $4000 respectively. This puts the now-$45,990 118i beyond the starting prices for the equivalent Audi and Mercedes, and the $68,990 M135i xDrive is now nudging the A35’s list price.

Both 1 Series multimedia systems now come standard with wireless Apple CarPlay. Both 1 Series multimedia systems now come standard with wireless Apple CarPlay.

The launch prices were largely offset by extra equipment over the previous generation, but the more recent hikes have taken the shine of this somewhat.

Thankfully, both 1 Series models now come standard with wireless Apple CarPlay. The previous ‘one year free, the rest you need to subscribe for’ plan has been scrapped since we shot the launch video below in favour of free CarPlay for life. There’s still no Android Auto, but this is due to change in July

The 118i packs more standard equipment than before in general, including the M Sport styling pack, head up display, wireless phone charger and adjustable ambient lighting.

The M135i adds bigger brakes, a rear spoiler and 19-inch wheels, plus sport seats with leather trim, and Harman/Kardon audio among a few other things.

The M135i adds bigger brakes and 19-inch wheels. The M135i adds bigger brakes and 19-inch wheels.

You can get even more from the M135i with the $1900 M Performance Package, which drops the 0-100km/h claim by one tenth to 4.7s thanks to enabling engine overboost and lighter forged 18-inch alloys, which is signified by gloss black grille surrounds, intake elements in the front bumper, mirror caps and exhaust tips.

Other options include the $2900 Enhancement Package, which brings metallic paint and a panoramic glass roof. On the 118i, it also brings 19-inch black alloys. On the M135i, it also brings active cruise control with stop and go function. This package costs an extra $500 if Storm Bay metallic is chosen. 

The Comfort Package costs $2300 with the 118i and $923 with the M135i, and brings front seat heaters and lumbar adjustment for both front seats. On the 118i, it also brings proximity keys and electric front seat adjustment. On the M135i, it also brings a heated steering wheel.

The Convenience Package costs $1200 with either variant, and adds a powered hatch, modular storage system and cargo net and a ski port for the back seat.

The 118i can be optioned with the Driver Assistance Package, adding adaptive LED headlights with auto high beams. The 118i can be optioned with the Driver Assistance Package, adding adaptive LED headlights with auto high beams.

The 118i can also be optioned with the $1000 Driver Assistance Package, which adds active cruise control (plus 0-60km/h AEB), adaptive LED headlights with auto high beams and a tyre pressure monitor.

Beyond the 118i’s standard M Sport pack, it can also be augmented with the $2100 M Sport Plus Package. This brings sports front seats, a rear spoiler, M-coloured seat belts, a sports steering wheel and upgraded M Sport brakes.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

Both cars use versions of the three and four cylinder petrol engines from before, with the popularity of automatics leaving the previous manual option consigned to history.  The 118i’s 1.5-litre turbo three cylinder now produces 103kW/220Nm, with max torque available all the way from 1480-4200rpm. The 118i now uses the seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, as seen on Mini models that use the same engine. 

The 118i’s 1.5-litre turbo three cylinder now produces 103kW/220Nm. The 118i’s 1.5-litre turbo three cylinder now produces 103kW/220Nm.

The M135i’s 2.0-litre turbo has been tweaked to take the place of the six-cylinder M140i from the last model and now produces 225kW/450Nm, with max torque available all the way from 1750-4500rpm. Its auto remains a torque converter though, but now the transverse-mounted unit also shared with Mini models with the same engine and splitting drive to all four wheels via the xDrive system for the first time. The drive split is constantly variable, but the rear bias tops out at 50 per cent and the only limited slip diff is an electric unit on the front axle.

The M135i’s 2.0-litre turbo engine now produces 225kW/450Nm. The M135i’s 2.0-litre turbo engine now produces 225kW/450Nm.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

Official combined fuel consumption is a decent 5.9L/100km with the 118i, but the M135i steps up to 7.5L/100km) 2.0 litre four in the m135i. Both engines require premium unleaded. 

Fuel tank sizes vary across the two models also, with the 118i measuring 42 litres and the M135i managing 50 litres, despite its need to package rear drive components somewhere under there also. 

This results in a decent theoretical range between fills of 711km for the 118i and 666km for the M135i. 

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

The new 1 Series comes with most of the important safety gear, but like the X1 and X2 SUVs and 2 Series Active Tourer that the new 1 Series shares its platform with, you still can’t get proper auto emergency braking unless you opt for active cruise control.

Both versions do offer partial automatic braking, which confusingly was enough to earn the new 1 Series a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating according to 2019 standards, but we feel this is not good enough and is worth considering before you put your money down.

The new1 Series scored a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating according to 2019 standards. The new1 Series scored a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating according to 2019 standards.

Aside from the options packages mentioned  above, active cruise control with AEB (up to 60km/h) can be added to either version for $850, but when it’s been a standard item on something as cheap as a Mazda2 since 2017, it’s not a good look. 

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   6/10

BMW is yet to step up to the five year warranty offered by most mainstream brands and now Mercedes-Benz and Genesis, continuing with the three year/unlimited coverage matched by Audi. 

As always, BMW describes the service intervals as condition based, and the car will alert the driver when a service is due. This will occur at least every 12 months though, but individual intervals will vary based on how the car is driven. 

This can all be bundled into five year/80,000km service packs though, with the Basic pack costing $1465, but the Plus pack adds brake pad and disc replacement to regular fluids and consumables for $3790. Assuming 12 month intervals, these prices are about average for a premium branded product. 

What's it like to drive?   8/10

For a brand with a marketing slogan of pure driving pleasure, this is the important part, particularly given the new 1 Series has lost its rear wheel drive USP. 

Why do some of us love rear wheel drive? It tends to be more fun when you're driving on the limit, and generally makes for nicer steering because you're only using the front wheels to turn corners.

So how does the new 1 Series drive? That depends on which version. 

The 118i is quite a nice package really. It rides a bit more gently than what I remember in the A-Class and generally feels more like a premium product. It also feels a step ahead of the 2 Series Active Tourer it shares its underpinnings with, which is a good thing.

The 118i  rides a bit more gently than what I remember in the A-Class. The 118i rides a bit more gently than what I remember in the A-Class.

The three-cylinder engine is quite smooth for a fundamentally unbalanced triple, and it makes enough power to get you out of trouble. 

Do you miss rear wheel drive? Not really, as you can only tell the difference when you're going real fast, which let's face it, is not somewhere 118i drivers are likely to go very often. 

The M135i is a vastly different beast, as you'd expect. Aside from being real quick, it's that much tighter everywhere, but still definitely on the more comfortable side than what we expect the future full house M version to be.

Aside from being real quick, the M135i that much tighter everywhere. Aside from being real quick, the M135i that much tighter everywhere.

The continuously variable xDrive all-wheel drive system does a great job of putting its power down, but the rear bias maxes out at 50 per cent, which is probably spot on for chasing lap times, but means you miss out on the tailiness of the old one altogether. 

So it’s not as classically fun as the old M140i, but it’s easily faster, and that's what will probably matter most to most buyers. 

Verdict

To answer the question of whether it matters that the new 1 Series is no longer rear-wheel drive, I say no it doesn’t. It may not be as romantic on the absolute limit, but it is better in every measurable way, and still feels distinctly BMW despite moving to the conventional layout of its rivals. 

Be sure to check out Mal’s video review from the 1 Series launch last December:

Pricing guides

$55,990
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$42,990
Highest Price
$68,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
118i M Sport 1.5L, ULP, 7 SP AUTO $45,990 2020 BMW 1 Series 2020 118i M Sport Pricing and Specs
118i M-Sport 1.5L, ULP, 7 SP AUTO $42,990 2020 BMW 1 Series 2020 118i M-Sport Pricing and Specs
M135i Xdrive 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $64,990 2020 BMW 1 Series 2020 M135i Xdrive Pricing and Specs
M135i Xdrive Pure 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $63,990 2020 BMW 1 Series 2020 M135i Xdrive Pure Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.4
Design8
Practicality8
Price and features6
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption8
Safety7
Ownership6
Driving8
Malcolm Flynn
CarsGuide Editor

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Pricing Guide

$42,990

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

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