BMW 1-series review - more engaging than the competition - Ride and Handling
A wonderfully rear-drive premium compact hatchback
Ride and handling
BMW makes no apology for developing the chassis of the 1-series for those that enjoy driving; it's key to the company's core message. The front-engine, rear-drive layout is unusual in cars of this size, but it endows the 1 Series with genuinely engaging dynamics - even in the slowest model available. It helps, of course, that the layout enables a near perfect 50:50 weight distribution.
On top of that the front wheels are freed up to focus purely on the steering. It's a shame then that the power steering system hasn't a little more feedback at the rim. Using the centre console mounted toggle switch to choose the Sport settings only reduces power assistance, without really aiding communication between the front tyres and your palms. Nonetheless, there are enough messages coming up through the chassis for the driver to enjoy the experience and at least the steering is free of slack.
Some will find the suspension a little firm and jittery at low speeds, especially if tempted to go for one of the larger alloy wheel options, but the trade-off is iron-fisted body and wheel control when pushed a little harder. The 1 Series can get a little out of shape if challenging mid-corner bumps are followed immediately by more of the same, but otherwise it tracks true and exits corners delicately balanced like only a rear-drive car can.
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It's even better when fitted with adaptive damping, but not many buyers splash out on that. The more powerful models (petrol or diesel) have enough torque to momentarily unstick the rear tyres, but with an open differential on all cars the most likely scenario is a little wheel spin on the inside wheel. The M140i does have a limited slip diff available as a dealer fit option however, should you want to have a more playful 1 Series.
The stability and traction control systems work smoothly and quickly, but they can be disabled if experienced drivers feel they're a little too protective and they'd like to take responsibility for themselves. The 1 Series flows better in the dry like this, though even the least powerful versions can easily twitch at the rear when there's a scarcity of grip. Buyers that don't like that feeling can opt for the four-wheel drive 120d xDrive.
Unfortunately, if you're a fan of the rear-drive chassis of the 1 Series, then you better get yourself down to your local BMW showroom sharpish, as strong rumours suggest that the next generation of the baby BMW will send its power to the front wheels by default - presumably with more xDrive four-wheel drive variants in the line-up.
While this won't affect a large proportion of buyers that value the BMW image and the efficiency of the 1 Series above all else (and it should mean better packaging), keen drivers will rightfully mourn the loss of rear-wheel drive adjustability from this part of the market. It doesn't bode well for the next M140i, for example. That means the current version is increasingly looking like a future classic in the making.