You won’t be able to buy one in the U.S., but as we covered back in March, the third-generation 1 Series is an important model for BMW. This newest iteration may be primarily front-drive, with xDrive optionally available, and no six-cylinder engines to speak of, but performance stats and design speak for themselves in terms of BMW’s newest effort in the incredibly competitive hot hatch segment. The 1 Series hatchback also offers previously unavailable insight into the upcoming 2 Series Gran Coupe, which will debut at the LA Auto Show in the fall, and subsequently go on sale for American customers some time later.

BMW’s first 1 Series joined the model portfolio for the 2004 model year, and a lot has changed since then. While the first two generations were built atop rear-drive platforms, both of which could be had in hatchback form with a powerful six-cylinder engine, the F40 1 Series uses the same primarily front-drive UKL architecture as the X1, X2, and soon to be 2 Series Gran Coupe. Going with front-drive, or xDrive in the case of select models which either come standard or can be optioned with it, makes sense for the latest 1 Series.

Americans have a tough time understanding the value proposition—a great all-rounder with serious cargo capacity—of a luxury performance hatchback that ends up costing as much as something more elegant and conventional. Meanwhile, the hot hatch segment, which thrives in Europe, is almost completely made up of front-drive competitors, some of the most powerful of which can be had with all-wheel drive to cope with the inherent torque-steer.

And in the case of the M135i xDrive, which is powered by the same potent four-cylinder as the X2 M35i, standard xDrive will most certainly be appreciated when it comes to making practical use of the more than 300 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. Actuator Contiguous Wheel Slip Limitation, or ARB, BMW’s marketing term for a for a limited-slip, torque vectoring front differential, will also be on hand to ensure power is put to pavement as efficiently as possible. Another piece of electronic wizardly at work is BMW Performance Control, or yaw moment distribution, which can precisely modulate braking in the midst of a turn to more efficiently make use of the area beneath the slip threshold, making for neutral steering feel.

Interestingly enough, a six-speed manual transmission will be available in the new 1 Series. As you may have expected, however, it is reserved exclusively for more economical models, such as the 116d, 118d, and 118i. Perhaps even more interesting than a manual option, however, is a seven-speed dual-clutch Steptronic unit, which can he had in place of the six-speed manual. News of a new, or perhaps reoriented (for transverse mounting and front-drive) dual clutch box is quite interesting, as it seems like future M cars will be using specialized versions of the torque-converter ZF eight-speed that has found its way into almost everything besides Mercedes-Benz vehicles these days. The M135i xDrive will come standard with an eight-speed sport automatic.

The specifics of what will make it into the U.S.-bound 2 Series Gran Coupe and its performance model remain to be seen, and nothing will be confirmed until the model is unveiled in the fall. Whatever the final production specifications end up being though, they better be good, as the segment at which 2 Series Gran Coupe is aimed is one of the most competitive in the automotive marketplace. Entry-level luxury is exploding in terms of growth right now, and while cars like the 3 Series, C-Class, and A4 previously dominated, a new generation of front-drive newcomers such as the CLA and A3 have given BMW challenge.

If the upcoming 2 Series Gran Coupe takes heed from the all-new 1 Series hatch, and other recently introduced front-drive models such as the X2, it is likely to be a success. As we’ve seen with the X7, there seems to be pent-up demand for models that BMW has waited a generation or two before introducing. With everything known so far, it seems like an entry-level 2 Series Gran Coupe, accompanied by an M Performance model, would be an excellent foray into the still relatively new front-drive entry-level luxury realm.

Without delay, BMW has also announced a full array of M Performance parts for the new 1 Series. These include the usual carbon fiber and gloss black pieces, interior accouterments, and graphics, along with eighteen- and nineteen-inch wheels to house what look like a large set of M Performance sports brakes with aluminum four-piston calipers used on the front end.

We can’t wait to see how everything with the new 2 Series Gran Coupe pans out.—Alex Tock

[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]



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