Front-wheel-drive 1 Series: all-new take on baby BMW

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Next-generation hatchback takes on A-Class and A3 with new space-saving layout.


BMW is getting ready to launch a radically re-engineered 1 Series hatchback, which is planned to go on sale in the UK in September following a public premiere at the Frankfurt motor show this year.


 Front-wheel-drive 1 Series: all-new take on baby BMW
Front-wheel-drive 1 Series: all-new take on baby BMW

A comprehensive under-the-skin revamp will see the third-generation model forgo traditional rear-wheel drive for a space-saving front-wheel- drive layout adopting the German car maker’s new FAAR platform. The versatile high-strength steel structure is already used by the latest BMW X1 and its mechanically identical sibling, the second-generation Mini Countryman.

The switch to front-wheel drive for the entry-level BMW comes 15 years after the original rear-wheel-drive 1 Series was launched in 2004. BMW’s internal studies have revealed that existing 1 Series customers are more concerned with factors such as interior versatility and accommodation than outright driving dynamics, which is behind the decision to follow the example of key premium-brand rivals such as the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

However, other factors are in play, too. Industry analysts suggest the new layout, which sites the engine of the new 1 Series transversely rather than longitudinally, is set to save BMW up to €660 per car in comparison to the rear-wheel-drive underpinnings of today’s model. That’s thanks to a simpler rear axle assembly and lack of a rear propshaft.

At the same time, it will draw on greater economies of scale through the sharing of components across a greater number of models, including the complete Mini line-up. With global 1 Series sales totalling 201,968 in 2017, this points to potential savings of more than €1.3 billion per year – money that high-ranking Munich sources have told Drive-My is earmarked for the development of further electric models and autonomous driving technology.

As fundamental as the switch to front-wheel drive is, though, it is not the first time BMW has committed a 1 Series model to such a set-up. The front-wheel-drive 1 Series saloon has been sold only in China since 2016.

The FAAR platform is a further-developed version of the UKL underpinnings shared across all Minis and BMW’s 2 Series MPVs. In addition to supporting petrol and diesel engines and a new petrol-electric plug-in hybrid drivetrain, it has also been engineered to accommodate electric drive. It could, therefore, follow the latest X3 and upcoming 4 Series in siring a pure electric model, possibly as an indirect replacement for today’s i3. Still, BMW is not abandoning 1 Series enthusiasts. A sporting M130iX model is planned to crown the new line-up, bringing with it a 302bhp version of BMW’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, standard four-wheel drive and a unique suspension set-up.

Sources at the firm claim that this will be the most powerful 1 Series offered at launch, despite it being 33bhp less powerful than the current car’s range-topper, the M140i. That nomenclature is reserved for six-cylinder models so, instead, the higher-performance focus will be on the rear-driven 2 Series. BMW dealer sources have revealed to Drive-My that the new 1 Series will be sold with the choice of up to five petrol and three diesel engines as well as a new petrol-electric plug-in hybrid drivetrain. Four-wheel drive can also be ordered on more powerful engine variants.

The petrol units start with an updated version of BMW’s compact 1.5-litre three-cylinder developing 138bhp and 162lb ft in the 118i. Above it is a quartet of four-cylinder models, each running a 2.0-litre engine in differing states of tune. It delivers 187bhp/206lb ft in the 120i, 221bhp/228lb ft in the 125i and 261bhp/280lb ft in the 130i. The diesels are all expected to run a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 148bhp in the 118d, 187bhp in the 120d and 228bhp and 368lb ft in the M135dX.

The new 1 Series will also line up with rivals by only being sold in five-door form. The changes to the new 1 Series are clearly apparent in its altered proportions, which are now more in keeping with its key hatchback rivals than at any time since its introduction.

Prototype images reveal the adoption of a transverse engine layout and front-wheel drive has enabled designers to provide it with a much shorter bonnet, with the A-pillars and front bulkhead repositioned further forward. In combination with a longer wheelbase and increased track widths, this change in packaging is claimed to provide the new hatch with a longer interior, larger door apertures and greater accommodation.

The switch to the front-wheel-drive FAAR platform and a decision to do away with the three-door hatchback are expected to allow BMW to pitch the new model at prices little changed from those of the outgoing rear-drive model, with the base 118i likely to cost close to £23,000 in the UK.

Other BMW models due to adopt the new FAAR platform include the second-generation 2 Series Active Tourer and a new 2 Series Gran Coupe – conceived to rival the second-generation Mercedes-Benz CLA with a coupé-like profile and four frameless doors. Rumours out of Munich suggest the existing 2 Series Gran Tourer will not be replaced, though this has yet to be officially confirmed.

In a bid to satisfy the enthusiast crowd, BMW plans to retain rear-wheel drive for the 2 Series coupé and cabriolet, which are set to use a short-wheelbase version of the CLAR platform developed for the fourth-generation Z4.

Although not planned to be made available until 2020, details of BMW’s new petrol-electric plug-in hybrid drivetrain have been leaked following a recent presentation to dealers. Set to be offered in a new 125xe-badged model, it comes with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with 138bhp and 162lb ft and an 87bhp electric motor. The combined output is a claimed 225bhp, while an 11.6kWh battery is said to provide an electric range of up to 50 miles.

A sporting BMW M130iX model is planned to crown the new line-up, bringing with it 302bhp and four-wheel drive.

Prototypes reveal a shorter bonnet and a longer wheelbase. Outgoing 1 Series will be the last to feature rear-wheel drive.

“BMW 1 Series customers are more concerned with interior versatility than outright driving dynamics”


FAAR AND CLAR:

MEET THE MODELS BUILT OFF BMW’S TWO NEW SMALL CAR PLATFORMS

FAAR

BMW 1 SERIES

Five-door hatchback Saloon (China-only)

Proposed i3 replacement

BMW 2 SERIES

Gran Coupé

Active Tourer

CLAR

BMW 2 SERIES

Coupé

Cabriolet

Prototypes reveal a shorter bonnet and a longer wheelbase.


OXFORD COULD BUILD THE 1 SERIES

HILTON HOLLOWAY

It’s looking likely that Brexit will go down to the wire and BMW is one of a number of UK-based car makers that has brought forward its summer shutdown to the end of March in case the UK leaves the EU without a formal deal.

However, Drive-My has heard two separately sourced suggestions that this move at Plant Oxford could be part of the preparation for a significant reshuffle of its output over the next few years.

The first hint was that BMW’s number-crunchers – enabled by the data generated from the company’s many thousands of PCP-financed Mini sales – are expecting a noticeable downturn in UK demand for the entry-level Mini hatchbacks, possibly as early as this summer.

The second hint is that BMW may consider building the new 1 Series hatchback at its UK plant. The new entry-level BMW will be based on the front-wheel-drive FAAR platform – a further-developed version of that which currently underpins the Mini – so could theoretically also be manufactured at Plant Oxford.

The 1 Series has always sold relatively well in the UK, occasionally appearing in the top 10 best-sellers chart.

Building the car in the UK would be made easier because engines could be sourced from BMW’s Hams Hall factory near Birmingham and exterior body panels from Swindon. UK production could also boost domestic sales of the new 1 Series.

Interestingly, BMW’s pressing operation at Swindon applied for outline planning permission for a new industrial building in August last year. Although BMW’s application insisted that it was not necessarily going to invest in Swindon, the proposal is for a substantial 12,880-squaremetre building. It currently employs nearly 900 people to produce the exterior panels for the Mini.

Although overall Mini production remained very healthy in 2018, there was a shift in fortunes among models, with sales of three and five-door hatchbacks down by 7% in the first six months of the year. As a result, the Nedcar factory in the Netherlands, which makes Mini models under contract, had to cut around 1000 jobs from its 7000-strong workforce.

While the hatchbacks were the biggest sellers, at 90,962 units, the more profitable models such as the Countryman saw demand leap to 48,691 – up 40% compared with the first six months of 2017. Clubman sales dropped by 21% to 23,622 and the Convertible by 3% to 18,154.

Falling sales of the cheaper (and much less profitable) Mini hatches is likely to accelerate because plans for the major reskin of the car are rumoured to have been shelved while BMW considers a partner for a future new-generation Mini.

The upshot is that it makes sense for Plant Oxford to build the more profitable models such as the Countryman and the upcoming electric Mini. Producing the new BMW 1 Series would further bolster Plant Oxford by at least 50,000 units per year.

Even so, the huge cost pressures now faced by car makers was further underlined by recent rumours that BMW and Mercedes may join forces on engineering a new compact platform for the 2025 1 Series and A-Class. Making cars profitably in western Europe is getting harder by the year.

BMW’s Oxford site could shift its focus to more profitable models.


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