BMW 118i 2019: First drive review

Two BMW 1181 cars parked on the beach

Greg Hill

Posted December 22, 2019

Greg Hill takes the all-new BMW 118i and M135i xDrive models for a first drive.

BMW has taken a bold step into the third-generation of the 1 Series premium-grade five-door hatchback. This is more than just an all-new model, it’s a change of philosophy with a move away from the traditional rear-wheel-drive configuration to a new front-wheel-drive architecture.  

While the mere thought of this may not please the purists, the reality is that the new entry-level 118i, with the help of advanced electronics and an excellent suite of advanced driving assistance features, is ideally suited to the segment of the market in which it competes. At the other end of the scale, the high-performance M135i is aimed at the sporting enthusiast, with BMW employing its xDrive all-wheel-drive system in a 1 Series for the first time on the Australian market.

Bolder styling gives the 1 Series a smart and distinctive new appearance, but it retains a familiar BMW family resemblance.

BMW 118i interior, steering wheel and dashboard
BMW 118i leather seats
Rear of BMW 118i

What do you get for the price?

BMW has released two model grades, the 118i and the M135i xDrive, which are aimed at quite different buyers.  The 118i leads the charge at $42,990 plus on-road costs and then there’s a big jump up to $63,990 (plus on road costs) for the M135i xDrive. Other models will likely follow to bridge the gap, but nothing has been confirmed, yet.

Even though the smart-looking 118i is an entry-level model, it is dressed to impress with the M Sport package and a generous list of features fitted as standard. In a first for this class, an innovative Reversing Assistant stores steering movement for up to the last 50 metres when travelling under 36km/h and then in reverse can control the steering to retrace the path – an excellent feature for backing out of a difficult driveway, for example.

Justifying the M135i xDrive’s substantially higher price is an impressive performance-focussed mechanical configuration. It’s also kitted out with a blend of luxury appointments and sporty styling cues. There are also plenty of extra cost options available to further dress up both versions if you want. 


How safe is it?

The 1 Series has a 5-star ANCAP rating and comes with a comprehensive suite of advanced safety features.


What’s it like inside?

New front-wheel-drive architecture provides a little more space and greater versatility in the cabin layout. The most noticeable gains over its predecessor are 33mm of extra knee room, 19mm more rear headroom and an extra 67mm width in the luggage compartment.  This additional space will no doubt be appreciated by rear seat occupants, but the 1 Series remains a compact car.


What’s under the bonnet?

As part of the front-wheel-drive architecture, the 1 Series engines are now transversely mounted.  BMW’s proven 1.5-litre, three-cylinder TwinPower turbo engine, which produces a handy 103kW and 220Nm, is paired with a seven-speed double clutch Steptronic automatic transmission to drive the front wheels in the 118i.   

Propelling the performance-focused M135i xDrive is BMW’s most powerful four-cylinder turbo-charged engine. Replacing the previous generation’s in-line six-cylinder, it produces an impressive 225kW of power and 450Nm of torque. This is well supported by a slick-shifting eight-speed automatic.  The 1 Series xDrive  primarily drives the front wheels, with the system constantly monitoring slip and seamlessly transferring the appropriate amount of drive to the rear wheels when required.

Both models also feature BMW’s innovative ARB wheel spin-limiting technology from the i3 electric vehicle to significantly improve traction on take-off, when cornering and on wet roads. 


Grey BMW 1181 driving on road

Is it efficient?

Official ADR fuel consumption for the 118i is a creditable 5.9L/100km with CO2 emissions of 135g/km.  Naturally, the M135i is a little thirsty at 7.5L/100km and 171g/km, but given the M135’s performance potential, the fuel consumption is likely to vary significantly depending on the way it’s driven.


How does it drive?

The 118i hatch is a refined everyday drive. The 1.5-litre turbo delivers ample performance for a relaxed driving experience, and there’s enough in reserve for safe passing when required.   

Nimble handling, good steering feel and reassuring cornering grip are backed up by a comfortably-firm, well-controlled ride.

At the other end of the range, a basic launch drive in the Yarra Valley was enough to show that the M135i xDrive will put a smile on the face of most enthusiasts. Comfortable leather-trimmed sports seats and an information packed cockpit layout set the scene. On the road, strong responsive performance that’s smooth and progressive, with rapid acceleration when required, teams with a well-sorted chassis, steering and suspension. Add to that the extra traction of AWD and the M135i xDrive is an involving and enjoyable driver’s car. 


Should I buy one?

In keeping with tradition, the 1 Series is primed to go head-to-head with Mercedes’ A-Class models and Audi’s A3 range. BMW’s 118i five-door hatch provides the prestige small car buyer with a high-quality, well-rounded package that’s well-suited to everyday use. Those looking for a small premium hot hatch need to give the M135i xDrive serious consideration.