Whenever there’s talk of awesome forbidden fruit European cars, people are quick to discuss wild Audi RS wagons and VW Group hot hatches, but I’ve always favored the BMW 1 Series hatchback. Turbocharged inline-six engines, rear-wheel drive, a manual gearbox and a hatch body? Sign me up. Unfortunately now you can’t, because the all-new 2020 BMW 1 Series lacks most of that stuff.
We knew the 1 Series as a small coupe here in the U.S. That model was replaced by the 2 Series coupe, but in other markets the 1 Series was a mechanically similar car that used a hatch body. But the completely new 1 Series dumps the rear- and all-wheel drive architecture for a primarily front-wheel drive Mini platform, same as the X1 and X2. (There’s also the China-exclusive 1 Series sedan, don’t forget that!)
Confused? It’s OK, but the big takeaway is the 1 Series is now much more like a Volkswagen Golf, an Audi A3 or a Mercedes A-Class than a weirdo performance hatchback that just happened to be rear-wheel drive. It also dumps the six-cylinder motors for a three- and four-cylinder engine range, which is not surprising given the Mini underpinnings. All-wheel drive is of course optional.
BMW says the 1 Series will launch with two gasoline engines and three diesels. Up top is the M135i xDrive, which has a 2.0-liter turbo four putting out 302 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. BMW says it’ll do zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. Regardless of drivetrain wheels, that sounds pretty fun. It does appear the only transmission option there is an eight-speed automatic, which fits with other recent BMW product decisions.
But in Europe and other markets—don’t count on this guy coming stateside—you’re probably more likely to run into the entry-level 118i or 116d on a daily basis, and those can be had with a manual gearbox.
Is it a bummer that this thing isn’t RWD anymore? Sure, but given demands for efficiency, what the rest of that segment looks like and the fact that buyers clearly don’t care, this was inevitable. At least it still looks pretty fun if you spec it with the right engine.