The F40 1-Series ditches rear-wheel drive, but still looks promising.
BMW unwrapped its newest 1-Series, also known by its chassis code as the “F40.” It’s very unlike a Ferrari supercar.
The third-generation 1-Series is moving to a new FWD architecture, one that will likely proliferate among the BMW Group’s lineup. We’ll learn more about such plans at the BMW Group’s NEXTgen presentation, to be held at the BMW Welt next month. Until then, we’ve got this soft unveil of the 1-Series.
BMW’s signature kidney grilles have molded into a single mass here, increasing in size along the way. This is the first time a 1-Series has sported the fused grilles, and an indication that BMW’s entire lineup is moving this direction (just take a look at the new 8-Series or the new X7). Otherwise, the new 1-Series looks tidy. Even handsome. In profile, there’s a high beltline and swooping shoulderline. The hofmeister kink is present (and thankfully, still safe). There’s a wedge-like chunk to the body, which is unlike most of the rounded hatchbacks on the roads today. We dig it.
The interior appears business-as-usual for the Bimmer. Aside from a pair of funky seats and door cards on the top-level trim, there’s not much beyond BMW’s agreeable corporate interior: A single horizontal center screen, iDrive knob, chunky steering wheel. Next to Audi and Mercedes, BMW’s setup has felt nicely pared-down, but stodgy in recent years. Hopefully new materials and what appears to be a tidier console can elevate the 2-Series. We’ll withhold judgement until we see the interior up close.
Enthusiasts will bemoan the loss of RWD from the 1-Series; a vehicle that, when it was released in the US in 2007, felt genuinely like BMW was getting its mojo back. That tidy coupe ticked all the right boxes with inline-six power, RWD, a manual transmission, and slightly-gawky proportions that bordered Neue-klasse nostalgia. So why the switch?
Generally, FWD cars are cheaper to manufacture, and BMW is still chasing its mission to become the worlds largest-selling luxury automaker. It’s a title the company snatched from Mercedes-Benz in 2010, but then ceded over the last three years. Seizing and maintaining that crown is tough, and cheaper cars are one way for BMW (and Mercedes, with its CLA and GLA) to make that math work.
The switch to FWD will also free up more interior volume, mainly for rear passengers and luggage. BMW claims the rear seats are more accessible than the outgoing model, based on increased headroom and knee space. Elbow room and width are increased throughout the car. It seems this will be the largest 1-Series to date.
The move to FWD wasn’t unexpected. As a probe, BMW’s built its first FWD car, the 2-Series Active Tourer a few years ago. Sales have been stout in Europe. Again, BMW is chasing volume. But all is not lost for the traditionally-RWD brand.
Of particular interest is the M135i xDrive. Though BMW’s nomenclature creep has continued (the ’35i’ in M135i — or in any BMW — used to indicate inline-six power, now the moniker represents a four-cylinder mill), the ingredients look right. There’s a 306-hp turbocharged four, Torsen limited-slip differential, and launch control that utilizes all of the available 332 lb. ft of torque routed through the first two gears of the 8-speed Steptronic Sport transmission. Given how well hot MINIs have driven recently, we’re excited to see if BMW can integrate some of that spunk into the new 1-Series. Or if the car will end up feeling more common than commodity. Either way, we’re waiting with bated breath to drive the thing.
But will we get to? Traditionally, the American market has received the 1-Series coupe, and gazed upon the hatchback version from across the pond, with jealousy. The F40 will only be manufactured in a hatchback body style this latest generation, so we’re unclear whether the new 1-Series will make it our way. Seems we may have to wait for that NEXTgen presentation in June. Fingers crossed.