BMW 118i M Sport: long-term test review

First report: front-wheel drive makes the BMW 1 Series more practical and it's still great to driveVerdict4.5The new 1 Series has more space than its predecessor, and that makes the hatchback more appealing than ever to families like Pete’s. The fact the new BMW is still such fun to drive is just the cherry on top.

Mileage: 2,381
Economy: 33.1mpg

The new BMW 1 Series is a little bit controversial in the automotive world because, in a bid to match its key rivals for practicality, it has switched from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive. The purists were up in arms when the car was first revealed, but our early tests quickly discovered that it drives better than ever and it beat the outgoing Mk7 Volkswagen Golf and Mercedes A-Class when we tested them together in late October.

But is the latest model really any more practical? I’m running a 118i M Sport on our fleet for the next six months and I plan to find out if it can cope with the demands of family life. I’ve just returned the keys of a cavernous SEAT Tarraco, so the relatively limited amount of space on offer in the 1 Series is going to come as quite a shock, but my initial impression is one of pleasant surprise. I’m not one of the purists that bemoans the loss of rear-wheel drive, because the extra practicality of the front-wheel drive platform is welcome.

It’s still early days, but the 1 Series has been able to carry everything that I’ve needed so far. With my son having just turned two, I always have plenty of items that need to go in the boot. Sometimes it’s just a buggy and sometimes it’s just a few of his toys, but when we go away you can add a travel cot and a suitcase to the mix. It will be interesting to see if the 1 Series will still be able to cope just as well on those longer trips – something I plan to try out soon.

I’m not going to lie; I was sad to see the Tarraco go, but the jump up in quality in the 1 Series is immediately apparent, despite the limited time I’ve had to get to know it so far. The interior is superb, with no sign of scratchy plastics anywhere in sight, and it’s packed with kit, too, although so it should be, with more than £8,000 worth of extras bolted on.

Just two option packs make up £3,000 of that sum, adding adaptive LED headlights, a parking assistant, a head-up display, enhanced Bluetooth with wireless phone charging, a Harman Kardon surround-sound loudspeaker system and, most importantly for me, BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional.

The Live Cockpit Professional comprises a digital instrument cluster plus a 10.25-inch high-resolution central display, and both are crystal clear. I’m also looking forward to getting to know BMW’s new iDrive 7.0 operating system. I struggled to love its predecessor and felt Audi’s Virtual Cockpit always overshadowed it, but so far it seems the latest version is a big improvement. 

Our car also has the Comfort Pack 2, which adds a heated steering wheel, a powered tailgate, keyless access and electric front seats – all luxuries I’m not used to, having just stepped out of a mid-spec Tarraco.

The 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine produces 138bhp and 220Nm of torque. They’re not standout figures on paper and I found it wanting when going for an overtake on the motorway in my initial drive, but it has enough punch for regular city driving. The gruffness of the engine is still apparent, but I had to really concentrate to notice it, because it’s so quiet and far less than what I’ve experienced in other cars.

Unusually for a BMW, our test car is a manual, but it’s all the better for it. Thanks to platform-sharing, our 1 Series has a similar set-up to what you’ll find in a MINI and the gearchanges are quick and precise, although finding reverse can sometimes be a challenge. My colleagues tell me the auto version is great, too, so it’s hard to go wrong.

The way this car handles is really where it excels. Turn tightly into a corner, and it responds with plenty of grip, and body roll is barely noticeable. The 1 Series may not match the Tarraco for space, but I know I’m going to have a lot more smiles on my face driving the BMW around for the next six months. 

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

Key specs

  • Model: BMW 118i M Sport
  • Price: £27,230
  • Engine: 1.5-litre 3cyl turbo petrol, 138bhp
  • CO2/tax: 150g/km/£145
  • Options: Comfort Pack 2 (£1,500), M Sport Plus pack (£1,800), 19-inch alloys (£595), Technology Pack 1 (£1,500), Technology Pack 2 (£1,500), larger fuel tank (£50), lumbar support (£150), Driving Assistant (£1,000)
  • Insurance: Group: 20 Quote: £425
  • Mileage/mpg: 2,381/33.1mpg
  • Any problems?: None so far

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