It has 258 horsepower, and can sprint to 100 km/h in less than 6.2 seconds before reaching an electronically limited top speed of
250 km/h. It can lap the world-famous Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit in less than eight minutes and 35 seconds (which is very fast by any definition - a Porsche 911 GT3 can lap it in 7:57). These numbers don't come from the spec sheet of the latest featherweight sports car, but from the all-new BMW 130i compact hatchback.
Since its introduction in Europe last year, the BMW 1-Series has put a different spin on the Golf-sized hatchback segment by emphasizing driver enjoyment. It takes over the position of entry-level BMW from the 3-Series, and so far it's the only vehicle in its segment to feature rear-wheel drive. While some controversy remains over the vehicle's interior and exterior styling, the use of iDrive and the lack of rear
leg room and cargo space, praise has been universal over the car's perfectly balanced chassis and fluid handling.
Upon its introduction, BMW offered the 1-Series with a set of tiny, but advanced inline fours. The cheapest way of obtaining the keys to a Beemer was through the 116i, whose stripped-out specifications were matched by a frugal 115-horsepower inline-four. Moving up to the 118i meant a more powerful 129-horsepower motor, and with 120i scripted on the tailgate, a total of 150 restless ponies could be called upon. Though the '20' designation is used on the 1-Series, it should be noted that it is an inline-four, rather than the 2.2-litre inline-six, used in the North American 320i.
The other half of the 1-Series range currently consists of a pair of advanced common rail 2.0-litre inline-four turbodiesel
engines. The first of the two is badged the 118d, which makes 122 horsepower and 206 lb-ft of torque - a respectable amount for such a small car. Ironically (for a BMW), the 120d is the most powerful 1-Series currently available, with a whopping 163 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque. It's also the quickest of the lot, including the gasoline motors, taking just under eight seconds to reach 100 km/h.
Aside from the top-end 6-Series and 7-Series, the 1-Series seems to have been the odd member of the family, as BMW's famous, silky-smooth inline-sixes have not been available. While there are few complaints about the motors currently offered, many critics believe that the 1-Series' chassis can handle, and for that matter deserves, more power.
In previous news reports and rumours, it was reported that prior to its arrival in North America, the car would receive some sort of inline-six, perhaps the 163-horsepower unit
found in the 320i, or the 192-horsepower unit from the 325i. Surprisingly, then, BMW went the whole nine yards, installing their latest and most powerful inline-six powerplant.
The new motor, dubbed the R6 (not to be confused with the M54 currently found in the 330i) was first seen in the 630ci Coupe, which made its debut in July last year. Considered one of the most advanced six-cylinder engines in the world, it makes use of BMW's fuel-saving, performance-enhancing Double Vanos and Valvetronic technology, as well as lightweight internal components cast of magnesium and other exotic alloys.
The result is a 258-horsepower engine with 221 lb-ft of torque that redlines at 7,000 rpm, but is still capable of delivering 9.0
L/100 km (26.1 mpg) for a mix of city and highway driving (see automotive news section for Jul 5, 2004: BMW Debuts New R6 3.0L I-6 Powerplant in European-Only 630 Ci).
As the 130i is to be both the most powerful 1-Series, and the range topper, BMW has revised and increased its list of standard features. Standard equipment on the 130i includes run-flat tires with tire pressure monitor, and dual-stage brake lights which increase in intensity depending on the pressure applied to the brake pedal. To counter the additional power from
the new inline-six, the 130i also receives BMW's DSC stability control system, advanced anti-lock brakes with cornering brake control (CBC) and brake assist, as well as traction control.
Though the performance of the 130i is astonishing to say the least, there is very little to distinguish this super-spicy hatchback from other 1-Series. The 130i is much like the E36-era M3, using the element of stealth to surprise unsuspecting challengers. After all, how many people could readily pick out the plain-looking five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, twin-pipe dual exhaust tip and chrome rings around the car's dual kidney grilles at a distance?
On the inside, it's business as usual for the 130i. The standard, Z4-meets-5-Series layout has been fettled with
slightly, and includes a new set of instruments and sporty front bucket seats with supportive side bolsters. As with all other 1-Series, the 130i features a push-button starter and intelligent key, and is available with retractable navigation system, connected to the infamous iDrive system. Surprisingly, BMW will also offer their Active Steering system from the 5 and 6-Series, though the option won't be cheap.
When the 130i makes its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in a few weeks' time, BMW will sit at the top of the sport hatchback scene. It will have toppled the European powerhouses in the class, including the Volkswagen GTI, Audi A3
V6, Renaultsport Megane 225, and the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA. Pricing for this hatchback benchmark will be revealed closer to its release date, which BMW claims will be around summer, 2005.
To us in North America, the 130i is the biggest hope yet for the 1-Series arriving on our shores. With the new R6 powerplant on hand, it has successfully answered the public's cry for more power, and has done so in a way which sets the path for the competition to follow. While the 1-Series is only available as a five-door hatchback, spy photos have revealed that BMW is indeed working on alternative bodystyles.
four-door 130i sedan, or two-door 130i coupe, that would most likely be dubbed 230i in order to conform with BMW's new naming strategy, could truly put the fear of the blue-and-white propeller into the upcoming A3 Sportback, S40 T5 AWD and next-gen Golf R32, re-igniting North American passions for sporty, compact cars.