It's recognizable as a BMW, but this second generation of the compact 1 Series is quite a departure from the first, at least for Americans accustomed to the coupe and convertible versions. Europeans have had five-door variants of the 1 Series from the outset, but hatchbacks in general have never been received as enthusiastically on this side of the Atlantic as they have in the Old World, despite their high levels of practicality.
This fall, 2012 BMW 1 Series – the only rear-wheel-drive car in the premium compact sector – will go on sale in Europe, following its official debut at the Frankfurt auto show in September. BMW describes the new car – based on the same platform as the 3 Series – as "significantly more comfortable and spacious." The body is wider by just over half an inch, so that means a smattering of extra shoulder room. The wheelbase is also around an inch longer, which bodes well for rear legroom and overall ride quality.
Initially, the biggest gasoline engine will be a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing that produces 170 horsepower. The top diesel version, the 120d, is a turbocharged diesel four-cylinder that churns out a healthy 280 lb-ft of torque with average fuel consumption of around 50 mpg. In either case, fuel economy gets a boost from an optional eight-speed automatic transmission and a stop/start engine function to save gas while idling.
The 2012 1 Series also offers plenty of gadgetry, not just in terns of driver aids such as intelligent cruise control or adaptive headlights that dip themselves when they sense oncoming vehicles, but also things like internet access and real-time traffic updates.
Now the bad news: BMW has no plans to bring this version over to the US just yet. "The current range will continue as is," said Monty Roberts, spokesman for BMW of North America. There may be a few minor changes here and there, but the first generation 1 Series will soldier on in the United States for the foreseeable future.