The era of the rear-wheel drive BMW 1 Series is drawing to a close, and its replacement, based on the FAAR platform, an update to the UKL underpinnings of the 2 Series Gran Tourer and all current-generation MINIs, has been groomed for the past few years to succeed it. As it undergoes final testing, the German automaker discloses more details about the new range.
In terms of styling, the car will roughly occupy the same footprint as it had before, but now feature a longer front overhang and a shorter bonnet thanks to its shift away from longitudinally-mounted engines. The rest of the car, seen here in camouflage, does show faint cues from other BMWs as well as its predecessors, but there isn’t much to truly discern until after there has been a full unveil.
Sure, rear-wheel drive is gone, and even during the era of the F20 and E87, it was somewhat of an anomaly. In its place, the new 1 Series will be primarily front driven save for higher performance and sub-M variants gaining the xDrive all-wheel system. BMW says that, regardless, the new model will “set new standards” in terms of driving dynamics.
It sure doesn’t want for competitors, though, especially because the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class never bothered with an exclusively rear-drive chassis anyway. But now that the 1 Series also omits a driveline, the car can now really compete in terms of interior space and packaging in a way that was just not possible before.
The new platform and shift to a FWD layout also frees up more options for electrification technology, and indeed the new 1 Series’ roadmap does include multiple plug-in hybrid and mild-hybrid permutations. There are also weight advantages at play, which will place it in better standing for efficiency and handling from the outset.
To these ends, the automaker is also building in advanced traction control into all - if not most - variants of the new 1 Series. Actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation (or ARB for short) uses the extra processing horsepower of the ECU instead of the stability control module to promise much quicker response times and more agile driving experience. This works in tandem with the torque vectoring system, which can passively apply braking to the inside wheel, for example, to improve corner entry speed and direction changes.
Final testing has been conducted at the Miramas proving ground in southern France, where the prototype cars have been subjected to multiple types of stresses and road conditions to simulate accelerated real-world abuse.
Sadly, because the 1 Series now utilises transversely mounted engines, the soulful six-cylinder motors available in cars like the M140i are now off limits. In its place, the new high performance entrant will now be dubbed M135i xDrive, which develop 228kW from its turbocharged four-cylinder. Top end and torque is down on its predecessor, true, but BMW says that its lower weight and all-wheel drive grip means that cornering and acceleration are significantly improved.
This variant is meant to go head to head with the Mercedes-AMG A35, a premium performance hatch that also offers all-wheel drive and nearly the same power output - watch out for that dogfight. Potentially, an even more potent range-topper will emerge further into the new 1 Series’ life cycle, but will regardless feature a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol.
In more docile versions of the car, BMW’s more usual spread of 1.5-litre three-cylinder and 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines will be on offer, with most carried over from the outgoing F20, and should be arranged across the line-up in much the same way.