Second-generation BMW 1-Series.
Second-generation BMW 1-Series.

The difference is under the bonnet

IT FEELS familiar behind the wheel, but the new 1-Series is very different under the bonnet.

There's an instant familiarity to the second generation 1-Series - and it all starts with the seating position. Snug, supportive pews and an easily adjusting steering wheel make it easy to get comfortable, while there's decent head and leg room for those up front.

That familiarity is carried through to the road, too, where the 1-Series has long been the dynamic benchmark for entry-level prestige hatchbacks. Driving the rear wheels helps endow it with inherent balance that translates to a reassuring poise through corners.

Fluid steering and accurate controls ensure there's a driver-focused flavour to the five-door hatch that punches hard now it's priced from $36,900, plus on-road costs.

t also hangs on brilliantly in more challenging situations, using its 17-inch tyres to good effect, all the while keeping passengers reasonably comfortable. An orange light flickers on the dash when the stability control lends a helping hand, although it's well modulated.

Only with larger mid-corner bumps does some unexpected floatiness pop its head up, although it's quickly contained. It's a hint that BMW has opted more for comfort over sporting control, which makes sense given the car isn't likely to be driven in anger often.

Not so excusable is some mild rattling over corrugations; while it doesn't impact the control it doesn't scream the level of refinement expected in a BMW.

It is perhaps a little telling that there were none of the entry-level 116i models to test at the Australian launch, leaving us without he opportunity to experience the price leader - and the slowest model.

So instead it was a jump to the $42,800 118i, which uses the same 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, but tuned for more power and torque (125kW versus 100kW and 250Nm versus 220Nm).

While the engine lacks some aural zing, it makes up for it with a flexibility that would have required extra cylinders only a few years ago. It's all thanks to a turbo that boosts the all-important mid-rev range, meaning effortless urge from low revs.

The 118i belies its compact four-cylinder layout in the way it easily climbs hills and generally builds speed.

It's helped by the eight-speed automatic ($2693 more), which slinks between gears elegantly, helping make the most of what's on offer. Only during more adventurous driving did it occasionally dart down to a lower gear when almost the same result could have been achieved by relying on lower revs.

The diesel is a tad more gruff but still well muted for its prestige duties. The hefty 320Nm of torque makes itself instantly known with a meaningful shove in the back on take-off. The auto changes gears sooner to make better use of the low-rev ability, which makes for above average acceleration.

Fuel use is also impressively low, hovering under 6.0 litres per 100km in regular driving. There's also a Eco button to alter things such as the auto transmission's shift points, with the dynamic mode holding gears more regularly for better response .

The auto stop-start function is OK, although there's a grumble when you lift off the brakes as the starter motor refires the engine.

Inside, the new BMW 1-Series evolves the Teutonic BMW look. The basic layout of buttons, instruments and orange illumination remains, but sharper detailing and refinement of some surfaces modernises the look.

Cloth seats on base model cars are classy enough, while leather adds $2000 to the bill.

The rear seats are still tight. To be fair none of the 1-Series's rivals - primarily the Audi A3 and Lexus CT200h - have much in the way of rear seat space. But four adults will struggle to be comfortable in the 1. Instead consider the rear pews as best left to the little ones.

There are some other minor oversights; the front rear doors are quite short and the window switches located too far rearward for easy operation.

The boot, though, is more useful with a luggage net to stop smaller things rolling around.

It all adds up to a convincing package and one that should reinvigorate the entry-level luxury segment.

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