One of the more interesting competitions in the premium hatchback segment has been the Audi A3 versus the BMW 1 Series. Reason being is that the 1 Series was the only hatchback in the segment to sport rear-wheel drive. So there was always a bit of hooligan in it, despite how premium it became. Now, though, BMW has come out with a new generation of 1 Series and it’s closer to the Audi A3 Sportback than ever before because, like the Audi, the Bimmer has switched to front-wheel drive.
This marks the first time in history that a 1 Series has been front-wheel drive and that makes it even more of a direct competitor to the A3. Though, like with the A3, most customers will opt for the 1 Series’ xDrive all-wheel drive option.
The 1 Series’ switch to a front-wheel drive-based architecture is interesting because BMW has been predominantly rear-wheel drive for a century. And the previous rear-wheel drive 1 Series was a big fan favorite among enthusiasts for its tail-happy, hooligan nature.
There will be a few different models, obviously. A typical suite of BMW three and four-cylinder engines, both gasoline and diesel (the latter of which won’t be available here in the ‘States). All of which are competitive with the Audi A3 Sportback’s engine options, in terms of power and efficiency.
Headlining the 1 Series model range, though, will be the BMW M135i. BMW’s naming system is one of the most confusing in the business but the M135i is an M Performance car and not a full-on M car. That means it competes with the Audi S3 Sportback, not the RS3. So it packs a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 306 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. That’s the same horsepower figure as the Audi S3 but more torque than the S3’s 295 lb-ft. BMW claims a 0-60 mph time of 4.7 seconds, which is the same claimed time as the S3.
In terms of looks, the BMW 1 Series isn’t a bad looking car by any means. In fact, it’s better looking than we thought it’d be. It’s a bit derivative but certainly not ugly. Personally, I like the Audi A3, especially the S3, a bit more but it’s not by much. Neither car is particularly pretty, as they’re both front-wheel drive-based hatchbacks. Still, the Audi looks a but more handsome and is a bit sharper, even though it’s considerably older.
On the inside, the 1 Series does have a leg up on the Audi A3/S3. While handsome, the A3’s cabin is seriously dated at this point. While the 1 Series has top-of-the-line technology found in ultra-premium luxury cars like the BMW 7 Series and 8 Series. It also features a fresh design pulled straight from the 3 Series and, if it’s anything like its older sibling, will have super solid build quality.
This new BMW 1 Series seems to be a great car on paper. Whether or not BMW can build a proper premium sporty hatch on a front-drive architecture is yet to be seen, as that’s not really the brand’s forte. As it stands now, though, it’s going to be a very difficult car for the aging Audi A3 to handle.