Shock news? Against both the Golf and AMG the BMW feels a bit stodgy and lacking in precision. That six-cylinder bark on start-up (prepare the flame throwers but there’s a hint of old-school straight-six Skyline about it) and sheer big-lunged punch the additional capacity brings mean it has an easy-going dollop of accessible performance where both four-cylinder cars need winding up. And with that eight-speed auto it’s never out of a sweet spot for long, crisp and rapid shifts from the tactile aluminium paddles allowing easy exploration of the engine’s broad and expressive power band.
So the powertrain is exceptional, especially at the money many seem to be actually paying to drive out of the showroom.
And up to about eight tenths the 1 Series feels mighty, the thuggish combination of big power, low-set seats and compact dimensions perfectly suited to flowing British B-roads. It even rides well, with decent suspension travel and excellent body control, easy sense of flow and accessible overtaking punch suited to disposing of dawdlers. It’s got the classiest interior too, if the most cramped.
But the fat-rimmed steering wheel doesn’t have much to say for itself and for all the charismatic power delivery and easy pace the BMW seems reluctant to deliver those final few percentage points of involvement you know must be achievable with these ingredients. In Sport Plus with the dampers stiffer and a degree of slip permitted there’s a sense of it but without a limited-slip diff the real magic of the engine and driven rear axle are either electronically curtailed or spun away. And this isn’t about fantasy journo land where every second gear corner is tackled on the lock-stops, more that the BMW prematurely calls time just as things get interesting.
Both the AMG and Golf have this self-imposed sense check but offer options beyond it. Attempt to push through it in the BMW and your only reward is a scrappy scrabble of unweighted inside wheel and/or flicker of yellow light on the dash.
Up to that point it’s close to sublime though…
Engine: 2,979cc six-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive (8-speed auto optional)
Power (hp): 320@5,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332@1,300-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.1 sec (auto 4.9 sec)
Top speed: 155mph
MPG: 35.3 (37.7 auto) (NEDC combined)
CO2: 188g/km (175g/km auto)
Price: £30,525 (before options)