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Not all test drive reports and reviews are created equal, and it’s to do with the vehicle(s) in question. Some are so fresh; so different; so ground-breaking, that the minute the car breaks cover (sometimes even before that) and hits your corneas, you’d give up a limb to know what it’s like to drive. Others, let’s very politely say, simply do not warrant the same kind of anticipation and excitement.

And so it is with facelifts. Some are so major, that platform aside, they’re pretty much all-new models. Others stick on LED DRLs, new wheels, new colours and new seat fabrics, and then sit biting their nails hoping you won’t see past the disguise.

Well, BMW recently gave us a glimpse into its facelift world in Lisbon, Portugal, where we sampled the refreshed 1 Series in 120d and M135i forms. You may already have formed your own opinions, but nevertheless, join me as I dig deeper to see if this is the wheeled equivalent of Caitlyn Jenner, or your hairdresser who’s changed the colour of her nail polish.


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We start on a rather poignant note. You see, as the 3 Series put on the pounds over the years, it slowly lost touch with the Flower Power era’s compact ‘New Class’ (the most arguably famous member of which was the 2002) it was originally meant to succeed.

So the 1 Series’ birth in 2004 was a breath of fresh air – on paper, of course, it was a sensible, economical family car, but enthusiasts recognised and revered to which wheels it sent its power. BMW knew that all too well, and duly responded with driving gems we still fondly remember today, like the 135i and 1 Series M Coupe of the E-generation, and the M135i and M235i of the F-generation.

Why were they driving gems? Well, I’m sure we all know – or can at least imagine – what pumping hundreds of horsepower into the rear end of a small, lithe body feels like.

And soon, we won’t be able to do that any more, for UKL is here. BMW’s front-wheel drive revolution, led by the 2 Series Active Tourer and Gran Tourer, has finally converted an existing model: the X1. And inevitably, the 1 Series is next. So, in the name of space, efficiency and cost, we finally come to the very last rear-wheel-driven 1er.

Once you’re done drying your tears, let’s look at what’s changed. Yes, it still looks like an F20, but better. A larger kidney grille with 3D-effect slats is flanked by slimmer headlamps with nicer-looking corona rings (at least they’re in one line now!). Below them sits a new front bumper with larger intakes, and at the back are new L-shaped tail lamps with double L-tubes that now eat into the tailgate.

By the way, regarding lighting, LED DRLs are now standard; full-LED headlamps, LED cornering fog lamps and LED High Beam Assistant are available as options. You get LED tail lamps on every variant, too. The interior hasn’t changed much, but definitely benefits from classier-looking materials, and a lot more kit is offered as standard.

These include auto air-con, auto lights and wipers, a tyre pressure indicator and a 6.5-inch Radio Professional with iDrive. Amongst the new options are an 8.8-inch Navigation Professional system (which now talks to the eight-speed auto, influencing gearchanges) with the bigger iDrive Touch, adaptive cruise control with Stop&Go and Enhanced Parking Assist (auto parallel and perpendicular parking).

In addition to base trim, there are Advantage, Sport, Urban and M Sport equipment lines. Advantage gives you steering wheel buttons, Bluetooth, USB, fog lamps, cruise control, reverse sensors and a sliding armrest, while Sport, besides making things like the tailpipes, grille bars and decorative bits either red or black, adds 16- or 17-inch star-spoke alloys, ‘Corner’ fabric sports seats, ambient lighting and a red-stitched sports leather steering wheel.


Urban (left) and M135i interiors

Urban, the Jekyll to Sport’s Hyde, features a classier mix of colours including silver, gloss black, pearl grey and chrome. You’ll also find 16- or 17-inch alloys, but in a V-spoke design. Inside, there are ‘Path’ fabric/leather seats, a sports leather steering wheel, switchable orange/blue ambient lighting and black or white acrylic glass interior trim.

You all know M Sport – 10 mm lower suspension, 17-inch twin-spoke M alloys (18s optional), bodykit with bigger intakes and rear diffuser insert, plus Individual High-gloss Shadow Line trim. And of course, you can have the body in Estoril Blue here.

Jazzing up the interior are Hexagon fabric/Alcantara sports seats, M leather steering wheel, gear lever and footrest, anthracite headlining, switchable orange/white ambient lighting, Aluminium Hexagon interior trim and accent strips in Estoril Blue or gloss black. Options offered on all variants include adaptive suspension, M Sport suspension (for non-M Sport cars, obviously), M Sport brakes and variable sports steering.

It’s under the bonnet where most of the changes lie – firstly, the 116i now gets a 109 hp/180 Nm 1.5 litre three-cylinder engine. The pre-facelift 116i’s 136 hp/220 Nm 1.6 litre four-cylinder now goes to the 118i, and the pre-facelift 118i’s 177 hp/250 Nm version of that engine is now used by the 120i. The 125i keeps its 218 hp/310 Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder.

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Now, the diesels. The 116d and new 116d EfficientDynamics now get a 116 hp/270 Nm 1.5 litre three-cylinder engine (previously 114 hp/260 Nm 1.6 litre four-cylinder), while the 118d, 120d and 125d get a 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine in 150 hp/320 Nm, 190 hp/400 Nm and 224 hp/450 Nm states of tune. All engines are direct-injected and turbocharged, and are mated to either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed auto.

Lording over it all is the M135i, whose 3.0 litre straight-six gets a small 6 hp boost to 326 hp, while retaining its 450 Nm of twist. The rear-wheel drive version gets from 0-100 km/h in 5.1 seconds (manual) or 4.9 seconds (auto) before topping out at 250 km/h. Like the 118d and 120d, the M Performance model can be specified with xDrive. So equipped, it does the century sprint in 4.7 seconds.

The M Performance car is decked out in a special bodykit with huge, fog lamp-less intakes and a rear diffuser holding the sports exhaust system’s black chrome twin tailpipes. You also get Ferric Grey mirror caps, 18-inch twin-spoke M alloys with 225/40 front and 245/35 rear rubber, M Sport suspension and brakes, plus variable sports steering.

Enter the car to auto dual-zone air-con, a short-travel manual gear lever, an M leather steering wheel, anthracite headlining, sports seats and M-specific interior trim. ‘M135i’ lettering features at the bottom of the instrument panel – not that you’d ever need reminding of the beast that lies within.

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The day began with the five-door 120d Urban, fortified with xDrive all-wheel drive and the eight-speed auto. It was a lot like meeting an old friend, but without familiarity breeding what they so often say it breeds. For the yet-unparalleled steering, the quick, telepathic gearbox and the manner in which it changes direction are all still there, keeping the baby Beemer amongst the best to drive in its class.

With 190 hp at 4,000 rpm and 400 Nm between 1,750 and 2,500 rpm, the 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbodiesel is no slouch, propelling the 120d xDrive to 100 km/h in 6.8 seconds (two-tenths of a second faster than the rear-wheel drive version) and onwards to a 222 km/h top speed. Fuel consumption is claimed to be between 4.3 and 4.7 litres per 100 km (3.9-4.3 for RWD).

Thrust is more than adequate and sufficiently linear, flattered all the more so by timely gearchanges. You also generally don’t hear too much of the engine, although wind noise rears its ugly head past 100 km/h or so. The ride appeared supple enough without being floaty; then again, the tarmac at our disposal was nothing short of perfect. It may well be a different story in Malaysia, as it often is.

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But of course, it was the M135i that just took the cake. Now, I first drove the ultimate 1er in Munich nearly three years ago, and I can so clearly recall what an absolute hooligan it was. So much so in fact, that I’m almost certain it could bring out the hooligan in a librarian, even before she gets out of the car park.

Many cars are fast, but considerably fewer feel fast. Because of the 1 Series’ smallness and relative lightness, there is very little inertia, so you feel every little twitch, let alone full-bore acceleration, hard on the brakes or flinging it into corners in search of those Gs. If M stood for mad, manic or mental, this would be the undisputed flagship of BMW’s go-faster arm.

The 326 horses are in full gallop only between 5,800 and 6,000 rpm, but the healthy 450 Nm of twist is available from 1,300 to 4,500 rpm, and I had all the purest ingredients to squeeze out every last ounce of enjoyment there was: rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual.

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Power delivery is very linear, and it’s accompanied by a soundtrack that must be heard to be believed. The gearchange is a tad too notchy, and the lever a bit of a reach from the steering wheel, but I’m really nitpicking here – engage DTC, grab the thick M Sport wheel, throw it in and punch the throttle to dance. It all happens gradually, predictably, and the catch-back almost instinctively. Quite magnificent.

But the truth is, the Golf R is just as athletic, very probably more dynamically capable and, although a lot less engaging, significantly more spacious inside. The A 45 AMG is just as mad, but also wanting in rear-seat space, so we know who the all-rounder is. Unless you want to go sideways all the time…

So, the BMW 1 Series facelift. A lot more kit as standard, a marginally more upmarket interior, a range of new, more efficient engines and perhaps most crucially, a face that’s much easier on the eye. And while aft-drive will be missed, if the MINI and 2 Series Tourers are any indication, we’ve no doubt the next 1er won’t lose too much of this generation’s sparkle. The Malaysian launch is very close indeed, so stay tuned!

120d Urban xDrive five-door auto


M135i three-door manual

116d EfficientDynamics, 118d, 120d and 125i on display

1 Series facelift official on-location photos