When BMW decided to shove their 3.0-litre turbocharged N55 straight-6 into their smallest car, the 1 Series, it seemed like a match made in….well, it was a brilliant idea. It started with the E87 hatch, quickly making it a contender against the Ford Focus RS of the time as well as the Volkswagen Golf R(32).
After the excellent but limited run 1M Coupe, the 3/5-door configuration gained more notoriety with the subsequent F10 1 Series - a generally more well received design and a more capable chassis with the same engine tuned to produce 235kW and, of course, rear-wheel drive. Dubbed the M135i and in many markets undercutting some more powerful competitors such as the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45, it was coveted by both the media and the average petrolhead as a performance bargain, especially considering how good it was to drive.
That was circa 2012, and a full 6 years on the formula hasn’t changed all that much with the facelifted 1 Series and its flagship, the M140i, but that staying power belies a pregnant reckoning. Those same enthusiasts' apprehension in the upcoming replacement for the F20 is quite founded, it’s been known for some time that BMW intends to align the 1 Series with the MINI and its UKL platform, or rather its successor, (FAAR) Frontantriebsarchitektur. Crucially, it necessitates transversely mounted engines and front wheel drive.
The Munich automaker clearly sees the unique place its M-branded 1 Series has in the market, but despite this is proceeding with the FWD-ification of the model line. This has its advantages, of course, but none of them pertain to advancing the existing M140i as a product.
The third-generation 1 Series will likely be a more advanced and rounded vehicle for the majority of buyers, but it will inevitably change the nature of the high performance BMW hatch. In essence, it will more closely reflect the Mercedes-AMG A45, Audi RS3, and Ford Focus RS as they will both share a very key attribute: a four-cylinder turbo engine with all-wheel drive.
Unlike the current 1 Series which has power sent to the rear wheels first and only then, in those with xDrive specification, uses a transaxle to shove drive to the front wheels where grip is deemed necessary, its replacement will use a reversed configuration.
For 2019, according to Autocar, the range-topping 1 Series will reportedly be called the M130iX, with the X denoting its reliance on all-wheel drive as a standard feature, an unfortunate side effect of a transversely-mounted engine mounted directly above the front axle. The likely candidate here is a modified version of the B48 turbocharged four-cylinder petrol that’s widely used in BMWs today, heavily boosted to a level comparable to today’s M140i.
It would also need to remain competitive with the next-generation AMG A45, which is rumoured to have its output reach 300kW from an equal displacement of just 2.0-litres. With BMW’s collected know-how as well as the weight savings garnered from a more materially managed structure and more efficient packaging, the upcoming hot 1 Series will likely outperform its predecessor by metrics and lap times, but will it prove as involving behind the wheel?
However, despite the next-generation 1 Series due to make its debut in 2019, the range will be fleshed out with the more typical variants of Sport, Luxury, and M Sport grades first before a more honed M Performance version comes into play. This is expected to happen around 2020.