Ford Focus VS BMW 1 series
- Great chassis
- Surprising engine
- Optional advanced safety
- Better tyres would be nice
- Too many optional colours
BMW 1 series
- Rear-wheel drive
- Great engines
- Fun to drive
- Low on standard features
- Run-flat tyres
- Limited rear legroom
Ford's small hatch, the Focus, is criminally under-bought in Australia. The latest model is one of the best hatchbacks on the road and when you chuck in the decent price, impressive equipment and absurdly powerful engine for its size, it's a winner.
But you lot? You don't buy it in nearly the kinds of numbers it deserves. Partly because there isn't a bait-and-upsell boggo model to lure you in, partly because it's got a badge that is not exciting Australians any more and partly because it's not a compact SUV.
Or is(n't) it? Because alongside the ST-Line warm hatch is the identically priced and therefore technically a co-entry level model; the Focus Active. Slightly higher, with plastic cladding, drive modes and a conspicuous L on the transmission shifter, it's a little bit SUV, right?
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
BMW 1 series
If you think it’s a Mercedes-Benz A-Class you want or maybe an Audi A3 Sportback or even a Volkswagen Golf, then stop and read this first before making a purchase.
The BMW 1 Series alternative isn’t just another prestige little car, because there are some fundamental differences between this 1 and those others, and they could cause you to totally rethink your decision.
If you’re already keen on getting a 1 Series then you need to read this, too, not only to help you find the right one, but also to alert you to what might be a couple of uncomfortable truths.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Ten years ago, the idea that the higher-riding version of a hatchback would be a good city car would have been laughable. The Focus Active is pitched as a kind of SUV with its different low-grip driving modes, which you'll never touch if you stick to the city.
The Ford Focus is genuinely a brilliant car, no matter where you take it. The Active takes a terrific chassis, tweaks it for comfort but, ironically, doesn't lose much of the speed.
BMW 1 series7.5/10
I’m the first to say the 1 Series is kind of the ugly duckling of the BMW family, but those looks grow on you, especially when you consider that this is exactly what a BMW hatch should look like. That this is one of the only rear-wheel-drive hatches left on the planet makes it even more special – and of course engaging to pilot. The downside is the price and the lack of value from a features perspective, plus safety could be bolstered with more technology. Still, anybody who likes to drive will commend you on your choice of a BMW.
Is the BMW 1 Series better at doing the small prestige hatch thing than the A-Class or A3 Sportback? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
For a fairly conservative hatchback, the Focus came under fire for what some termed its derivative styling. I quite like it, and not just because the styling work was led by an Australian. The front end is very much family Ford, as long as it's the European arm of the family, fitting in with its smaller sibling, the Fiesta. The Active scores the usual black cladding, higher ride height and smaller diameter wheels, in exchange for more compliant, higher-profile tyres. All of that takes nothing away from a design that I think looks pretty good.
The cabin is well put together, with just that oddly angled touchscreen causing me a bit of a twitch. The design is a fairly steady Ford interior with a lot of switchgear shared with the Fiesta, but it's all quite nice. The materials feel mostly pleasant and the hardwearing fabric on the seats feels right for this kind of car.
BMW 1 series8/10
The 1 Series looks exactly how a BMW hatchback should. I know that sounds silly but what I mean is BMW could easily have designed something that was proportioned more like other hatches; that popular sort of bubble on wheels.
Instead, what you have is a hatch that retains BMW’s traditional attributes – there’s the long nose, the cabin set back, the high sides and the wheels placed almost at the very corners.
Seriously, look at the image of the orange 1 Series side on, now hold your out your hand and use it to cover just the windows – see, it looks just like a BMW 2 Series convertible. Does it look good? To me it does, right up until you get to the hatchback, and then it looks a bit awkward. But I do admire BMW’s designers for creating something unique looking.
That orange 120i ('Sunset Orange' is the official colour) is the most recent 1 Series I’ve tested. Those wheels aren’t standard, they’re 18-inch M ones and they are part of the optional 'M Sport Package', which also includes the body kit, complete with side skirts and the lower grille in gloss black.
The 1 Series is as affordable as BMWs get, but it’s still a real BMW. The cabin, for example, looks much like every BMW, only smaller.
There’s the large, slab-like dash with the display sitting atop, below are the air vents and below that is the radio and then the climate-control dials. It’s a stack that’s kept its familiar order and shape on nearly all BMWs for what seems like forever.
The centre console has a similar layout as the one in a 3 Series or 5 Series or any Series, with the shifter and rotating media controller. Even the doors have the same design as those cars higher up in the BMW family, with the big moulded pockets and large pull handles.
That steering wheel is part of the M-Package too, but the leather upholstery is a separate option.
The signs that this isn’t a more expensive BMW are the manual handbrake, the compact instrument cluster with analogue dials, the small dash-top display and the fact that there’s a lot less real estate to be covered by trim pieces and material, which doesn’t have the same high-quality feel as those fancier models.
The Focus is quite roomy compared to other cars in its class. The rear seat has good leg and headroom, with the feeling of space accentuated by large windows. Annoyingly, though, all that work put into making the rear a nice place to be is ruined by a lack of amenities like cupholders, USB ports or an armrest.
Front-seat passengers fare better with two cupholders, a roomy space at the base of the console for a phone and a wireless-charging pad. The front seats are very comfortable, too.
The boot starts at a fairly average 375 litres - clearly sacrificed for rear-seat space - and maxes out at 1320 litres with the seats down. While you have to lift things over the loading lip and down into the boot, it's one of the more sensibly shaped load areas, with straight up and down sides. Ironically, the smaller Puma has a noticeably larger boot.
BMW 1 series7/10
The 1 Series’ boot has a cargo capacity of 360 litres, which is more than the boot space of the Audi A3 Sportback (340 litres) but less than the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class’s 370 litres of luggage room.
What does that mean in real-world terms? It’s not a lot of space, and you might struggle to get a pram in, so check that beforehand if you have small ones. That said, there was enough room for two carry-on sized bags, a computer bag and a scooter when my wife and I went on a weekend away with our four year old.
Space in the second row is also limited. Headroom isn’t too bad, but at 191cm tall I can’t sit behind my driving position without my knees digging into the seatback. I can just fit back there in the A3 and I have even more room for my knees in the A-Class.
Room up front is good with plenty of shoulder, head and elbow room for somebody my size.
Storage could be better: you’ll only find cup holders up front (two of them), the centre-console storage bin is small and so are the door pockets in the rear, but all is not lost because the door bottle holders in the front are massive, the glove box is a decent size and there are nets on the backs of the front seats.
It’s good to see directional air vents in the second row and a 12V power outlet, but there aren’t any USB ports back there – if you want to plug in a device there’s only one and it’s up front, along with another 12-volt outlet.
The rear doors appear large from the outside but the aperture to get in and out isn’t huge – again look at the images to see what I’m on about.
Price and features
The Focus Active wears a $30,990 sticker but the several people I know who bought one haven't paid that much, so Ford dealers are obviously keen to do deals. Even at that price, it's got a fair bit of stuff. The Active has 17-inch wheels, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto LED headlights, LED fog lights, sat nav, auto wipers, wireless hotspot, powered and heated folding door mirrors, wireless phone charging, a big safety package and a space-saver spare.
Ford's SYNC3 comes up on the 8.0-inch screen perched on the dashboard, which weirdly feels like it's facing away from you slightly. It has wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, DAB+ and also looks after various functions in the car.
The panoramic sunroof is a stiff $2000 and includes an annoying perforated cover rather than a solid one.
BMW 1 series7/10
So, it’s a little BMW, does that mean the price is little? Nope. It’s like asking if a little Rolex is cheap. it might be cheap for a Rolex, but not for a watch in general, and it's the same for the 1 Series.
The 1 Series range starts at $39,990 for the petrol 118i, while its 118d diesel twin is $44,990. Both come with the standard Sport Line package, which adds 16-inch light alloy wheels and LED headlights, while in the cabin it brings cloth upholstery, sports seats and a leather sports steering wheel, high-gloss black trim and BMW scuff plates. Other standard features include a 6.5-inch display, with sat nav, reversing camera, six-speaker stereo, a digital radio and air-conditioning.
For another $7000 you can get into the 120i grade, which lists for $46,990 and comes standard with the Urban Line package, which fits 17-inch alloy wheels in the double-spoke style, adds front and rear bumpers with matt finish air intakes, plus dual chrome tail pipes, while the cockpit gets leather upholstery, and gloss-black and pearl-effect trim.
Along with the Urban Line gear, the 120i has all of the 118i’s standard features and adds more of its own, including front and rear parking sensors, LED fog lights, dual-zone climate control, the interior lights package, plus smart phone connectivity with voice control.
The 125i is only a tempting $3000 above the 120i at $49,990 and it comes standard with the M Sport Package, which is what our most recent test car was fitted with (see the images of the orange 120i). The M Sport pack adds 18-inch light-alloy wheels and the tough body kit, the M Sport steering wheel and aluminium trim to the interior.
Apart from the M Sport package, also standard is an 8.8-inch screen with a DVD player and, somewhat disappointingly, cloth and Alcantara seats. Sure, they look nice, but how did the 120i get real leather and the 125i didn’t?
Still the 125i comes with more impressive performance hardware than the grades below, such as sports suspension, variable steering, M Sport brakes (inner vented rear discs) and blue calipers.
At the top of the 1 Series range is the M140i and while it’s getting into pricey territory at $59,990 (don’t forget that’s not including the on-road costs), you are getting what I’m predicting will be a sought after car in years to come. And possibly even a collector's item.
The M140i isn’t a fully fledged M car – it’s a diet version from the M Performance section of BMW, which gives cars a bit of a taste of the hardcore world of beasties like the M2 and M3, without costing as much or being quite as brutal to drive.
I’ll talk about the high-performance parts more in the sections on driving and engines, but briefly, you might like to know the M140 gets adaptive suspension and a six-cylinder turbo petrol engine – yes in a tiny hatch. Powerful.
The M140i also has the standard features of the 125i and adds its own, such as the 18-inch alloy wheels, black chrome tail pipe, adaptive LED headlights, leather upholstery, keyless entry, power front seats and a Harmon/Kardon 12-speaker stereo.
So, is the 1 Series good value? The price is bang-on compared to rivals such as the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3 (click those to see my reviews of them, too), but the 1 Series gets less in standard features compared to the Benz (such as Apple CarPlay) and about the same level of equipment as the A3.
If you’re a fan of black and white, you might be relieved to know these are the only two colours you won’t have to pay for. The rest, including Sunset Orange (see the images), Seaside Blue, Melbourne Red, Glacial Silver and Mineral Grey cost $1190.
Engine & trans
Ford does an excellent range of small turbo engines. The "normal" Focus range (such as it is, now the wagon has disappeared from the market) comes with a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Bucking the SUV-this-size trend (yes, I know it's not really an SUV), this punchy little unit delivers an impressive 134kW and 240Nm. They're both very decent numbers for such a small engine.
The big numbers continue with the transmission boasting eight gears, a number you don't often find in a hatchback. It's a traditional torque-converter auto, too, so those of you who have bad memories of Ford's old PowerShift twin clutches should worry no more.
Power goes to the front wheels only and you'll get from 0 to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds.
BMW 1 series8/10
As you step up through the grades the engines become more powerful. The entry-grade 118i has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol making 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque, while its diesel twin has a 2.0-litre turbo-four making 110kW and much more torque at 320Nm.
The 120i has a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder and an output of 135kW and 270Nm. Then above that is the 125i, which is getting into performance territory with its 2.0-litre turbo four petrol making 165kW and 310Nm.
But all hail the M140i and its beautiful 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-petrol, with 250kW and 500Nm that it wants to share with you.
All cars are rear-wheel drive and all have an eight – hang on, that’s important: all cars are rear-wheel drive. Do you know how many other hatchbacks are rear-wheel drive? Try next to none – not the A-Class, not the A3, not the Golf. Rear-wheel drive is favoured for performance cars because it offers better balance and better acceleration thanks to the weight shift to the rear of the car. BMW has long claimed that RWD is one of the keys to its "sheer driving pleasure".
Now let me finish the sentence... all have an eight-speed automatic, and it’s a beauty – a little slow, but smoother for driving than a dual clutch, and way more fun than a CVT.
But wait, because there’s a manual gearbox, too. It’s a no-cost option and you can get it on any variant apart from the 125i.
Ford's official testing for the big window sticker delivered a 6.4L/100km result on the combined cycle. In my time with the Focus, I got 7.2L/100km indicated on the dashboard, which is a pretty solid result given the Focus spent a good deal of the time on suburban or urban roads.
With its 52-litre tank, you'll cover around 800km if you manage the official figure, or just over 700km on my figures.
BMW 1 series8/10
The diesel unit in the 118d will use 4.2L/100km. Let that sink in for a moment – petrol engines are becoming so fuel efficient that they’re rivalling diesels, which have long been lauded for their frugality.
So don't just buy the diesel just because it’s more efficient, because you may never recoup the extra money you paid over the 118i.
Thirstier but still super-efficient is the 2.0-litre in the 120i. BMW’s claim is 5.9L/100km. During my week with the 120i I put 413km on the clock and used 15.57 litres doing so (measured at the pump), which comes to 7.7L/100km. The car’s computer said 7.8L/100km.
That’s great fuel economy, even if it is higher than the claimed figures. The 125i’s official fuel consumption is also 5.9L/100km.
It’s not surprising that the M140i, with its 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, is the least fuel efficient but its official figure of 7.1L/100km is still low.
Despite the very mild off-road pretensions, if it's a comfortable city ride you're after, the Active is the Focus to have. While the ST-Line isn't uncomfortable - not by a long way - the Active's more compliant tyres and higher ride height (30mm at the front and 34mm at the rear) iron out the bigger bumps without sacrificing much of the sportier car's impressive dynamic prowess, even with the low-rolling-resistance tyres.
The cracking 1.5-litre turbo is responsive and well-matched to the eight-speed auto. The big torque number pushes you along the road and makes overtaking much less dramatic than a 1.5-litre three-cylinder has any right to.
Ford's trademark Euro-tuned quick steering is also along for the ride, making darting in and out of gaps a quick roll of the wrist, which has the added benefit of meaning you rarely have to take your hands off the wheel for twirling. That darting is aided and abetted by the engine and gearbox, with the turbo seemingly keeping the boost flowing with little lag. It's almost like they planned it that way.
You have good vision in all directions, which almost renders the fact that the blind-spot monitoring is optional acceptable. Almost. It's very easy to get around in, easy to park and, just as importantly, easy to get in and out of. Compared to, say, a Toyota Corolla, the rear doors are very accommodating.
BMW 1 series8/10
If I could run into a showroom and take whichever 1 Series I wanted it’d be the M140i – and not just because it would give me the best chance of outrunning the police after they discovered the break-in, but because the thing is so much fun to drive.
It’s also the most expensive, of course, but it’s worth it for that screaming straight six and for its agility.
You’ll have fun, though, in every grade of the line-up – they’re all engaging to pilot with great driving positions, good pedal feel and that eight-speed auto is smooth in traffic yet will shift hard when you have your race face on.
You might find the 118i, with its three-cylinder, a little under powered, especially with five people and their bags on board. If you’re keen on this grade, then consider the diesel, which will give you more torque. Our 120i test car proved to have enough oomph for overtaking and moving quickly when needed.
The 125i is less tame, with its throatier exhaust note, firmer ride and better handling thanks to the M suspension.
If you plan on choosing the M Sport Package for, say, the 120i keep in mind that you’ll lose the comfortable ride these cars have on their standard tyres.
Our 120i had the pack and while the body kit looks tough, the 18-inch alloy wheels shod in low-profile rubber (225/40 R18 Bridgestone Potenza 5001s front and 245/35 R18 at the rear) meant the ride was overly jarring on bad roads.
Given that Sydney was my test bed for the 120i and its roads are shocking, the ride was less than comfy. The M-sport suspension will only make the ride less comfortable, but in return you’ll have a 120i with better handling.
Run-flat tyres are common on BMWs and you may have heard of a few issues surrounding noise and a harsher ride. While that can be true, it's the price you pay for having a tyre you won’t immediately have to change if you get a puncture. Only the 120i and the M140i don’t have run-flats as standard.
The Active has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (low speed with pedestrian avoidance and highway speeds), forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, speed-sign recognition and active lane-keep assist.
Annoyingly - and I can't for the life of me work out why this is a thing - despite some advanced safety features in the base package, you have to pay $1250 extra for blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert and reverse AEB, which are part of the Driver Assistance Pack. No, Ford is not the only company to do this.
The back seat has two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The Focus scored five ANCAP stars in August 2019.
BMW 1 series8/10
The BMW 1 Series has the maximum five-star ANCAP rating, but this was awarded in 2011 and a lot has changed since then – particularly expected levels of safety.
BMW has updated the advanced technology to keep up with AEB (city) with pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning standard on all grades. It would be good to see more safety tech in the form of blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and lane-keeping assistance.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points across the rear row.
A spare tyre is not something you will find – all apart from the 120i and the M140i have run flats, while those two have puncture-repair kits.
The first five services cost $299 each and also include a free loan car and a 12-month extension to your roadside assist membership for up to seven years.
BMW 1 series6/10
BMW offers two service packages, which cover the car for five years/80,000km: the Basic is $1340 and the Plus costs $3550.