Testdrive If it’s a small luxury car you’re looking for, you should definitely consider the BMW1-series, writes Shapur Kotwal

With the rupee tanking in value, the economy slowing down, fuel prices rising by the day, carmakers in the Indian market are looking at various ways to push sales. For luxury carmakers, the hurdle of a slow moving market is even more challenging. So more of them are lowering the mark at which one can afford to own a prestigious brand’s car. After Mercedes-Benz’s A-class and Volvo’s V40 Cross Country, BMW’s 1-series is the latest entry-level luxury offering here in this segment. At Rs. 20.9 lakh - Rs. 29.9 lakh, it joins its rivals in a niche segment, one that offers all the trappings of a European luxury car in a much smaller, more manageable size. Our exclusive drive in India of BMW’s new baby reveals all.This premium hatchback is for the enthusiast driver.

The details and headlights are well-executed but the long bonnet and a very upright cabin give it some odd proportions, but the rear looks a little plain. The material quality and fit and finish on the inside are, save for a few bits here and there, top-notch. The layout of the dashboard looks a lot like that of its elder sibling, the 3-series, and it is very logical and functional. In fact, climb inside and you soon forget what you are driving, it feels so much like a 3-series in here. The large windows, low dashboard and slim pillars mean it’s very easy to see out, and the driver’s seating position is just perfect.

The top trims of the 1-series get sports seats that are electrically adjustable. They are very comfortable, with thick bolstering that is supportive; you can even extend the seat squab for added thigh support. The cushioning is a tad firm, but all the extra support helps when this car is driven hard.

The rear seat is best for two people only. This is because the rear wheel drive set-up and its large transmission tunnel running through the centre of the car comes in the way of legroom for a third passenger. Still, the overall legroom is decent and the headroom is surprisingly good, thanks to a scooped out roof section. The seat, however, is a bit low, thanks to a strangely scooped out seat back. This car has been engineered with the driver in focus and this is quite apparent as soon as you get behind the wheel. There’s a beautiful heft to the steering, despite it being an electric unit, and it instantly feels just right. Light enough not to be a chore, but feel-some enough to relay messages up from the front wheels, the steering keeps you abreast of goings on between the road and the tyre. And this gives the driver tremendous confidence.

There’s plenty of grip too. Wide tyres keep the car planted on the road and this allows the driver to carry lots of speed into corners. Of course, the fact that the car doesn’t roll too much helps a lot too, as this allows you to carry even more speed from corner to corner. What makes all the difference, of course, is the rear-wheel-drive set-up. Whereas a front-wheel-drive car has to both put power down to the road and steer the car via its front wheels, rear-wheel-drive cars like the 1-series split up these responsibilities. Here, the rear wheels transmit power and the front wheels steer the car.

The 118d diesel we’re driving here uses a slightly less powerful version of the 2.0-litre diesel motor we find in the 3-series and the 5-series. While the motor isn’t as spiky or punchy initially, it pulls all the way to 4,700rpm. So, performance is pretty effective as the engine is always pulling hard. The new 1-series is also pretty refined. The diesel seems to be smoother and the insulation of the cabin impressive too. The big surprise, however, is the ride quality. Bumps are ridden over silently, the whacks from the suspension don’t filter through and comfort levels in the cabin are very good. BMW says it’s all down to improvements gained from the run-flat tyres and the fact that the suspension has been slightly softened and raised for Indian conditions. Whatever the case may be, this could be one of the best riding BMWs yet.

Another thing luxury car buyers want is technology and equipment, and the 1-series does not disappoint on this front.

The petrol 116i is only available in the base trim, while the diesel 118d is additionally available in Sport Line and Sport Plus trims.

We are driving the top 118d Sport Plus and it gets all the bells and whistles. There’s keyless go, two-zone automatic climate control, rear air-con vents, electric front seats with memory, BMW’s iDrive onboard computer, audio and phone controls on the steering wheel and Bluetooth, aux-in and USB connectivity.

To help improve fuel economy, there’s a system that shuts off the engine when the car is stationary, and you can select from four different driving modes — Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Eco Pro — which alter the way the engine, gearbox and steering behave. Finally, on the safety front, there are six airbags, ABS and electronic stability control. But you still don’t get a spare tyre. If it’s a compact luxury car you’re looking for, this is one offering you should definitely consider seriously.

This car

has been engineered with the driver in focus. There’s a beautiful heft to the steering, despite it being an electric unit

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