BMW TRIMS ITS 6 SERIES RANGE AND DROPS ITS 1 SERIES DIESEL, WRITES DAVID LINKLATER
Speaking at the launch of the facelifted 1 Series and 6 Series in Australia last week, a BMW spokesman referred to the two ranges as bookends for the brand.
The 1 Series is BMW’s entry-level model, available solely in five-door hatchback form.
Ignore the numbers and it also provides the base for the 2 Series coupe and convertible models. So it’s a bookend that occupies a fairly substantial part of the shelf.
At the other end we have the 6 Series, BMW’s flagship coupe.
It’s not technically BMW’s flagship model overall, because there’s also the 7 Series sedan. But the coupe is, in BMW’s words, the place where sporting character is fused with top-level luxury.
The addictively fast BMW 135i .
According to the BMW brand book, there’s actually no such thing as a facelift. Why use one simple word when you can create an acronym? So these are LCI (Life Cycle Impulse) models.
Same thing though, and the same philosophy has been applied to both ranges: more emphasis on the models with sporting credentials and a serious rationalisation of the rest.
This is not the forthcoming front-drive 1 Series we’ve been hearing so much about. That’s still to come with the next full model change, probably in 2018.
So the current 1 Series is still no relation to the 2 Series Active Tourer, which is a front-drive machine based on the Mini platform.
It’ll all come together eventually.
The new range has mildly made-over exteriors, with larger kidney grilles and new headlights, as well as new tail lights that extend across the tailgate.
The 1 Series has two jobs to do. The first is to maintain an attractive entry point for the premium brand. The former 116i has become the 118i and at $48,500 it now features satellite navigation and reversing camera as standard, but our advice would be to avoid rushing in: the initial launch phase retains the 1.6-litre turbo-four engine, but in the second half of the year the 118i will switch to the excellent 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine from the 218i Active Tourer and Mini Cooper — but with an eight-speed automatic instead of its siblings’ six-speed gearboxes.
Power and torque will be the same at 100kW/220Nm, but fuel economy is vastly improved from 5.7 to 4.8 litres per 100km.
The 118i three-pot will be the new efficiency star of the range because the diesel model has been dropped. (BMW makes outstanding compression-ignition engines, but small-car customers are sticking with petrol.)
And the second job for the 1 Series? To be a hot-hatch competitor, a serious rival for the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST. That’s the job of the $59,900 125i.
The new-look BMW 125i is intended to compete with the Golf and the Focus.
The 125i’s arsenal includes a 160kW/310Nm 2-litre turbo engine and rear-drive — although BMW executives are not putting too much emphasis on the importance of the latter, in light of the 1 series’ future configuration.
To truly turn the 125i into a hot hatch, you need to spend another $5000 on the M Sport package, which brings a body kit, special interior trim, 18-inch wheels, sports suspension and a more powerful braking system.
For the first time, BMW is also offering an M Sport package for the entry-level 118i — albeit with smaller wheels and sans the big brakes (which can be added for a further $1500).
The addictively fast, slightly ridiculous M135i continues at $81,900, with a 5kW power increase and some extra equipment such as adaptive LED headlights. Its 3-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder engine makes 240kW/450Nm, propelling it to 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds.
The M135i remains something of a superhatch, but all that power does sometimes feel like it might overwhelm the chassis.
Enthusiastic drivers will revel in the involvement, but in many respects the 125i feels like the more satisfying and better-balanced package.
It’s still a rapid machine, getting to 100km/h in 6.2 seconds. Handling is sublime thanks to the rear-drive chassis and it has serious stopping power with the M Sport braking package fitted.
The 125i M Sport is $1000 cheaper than the VW Golf GTI Performance and line-ball on both the 0-100km/h sprint (0.2 seconds quicker) and combined fuel consumption (6.5 litres per 100km versus 6.4).
The sweet-looking BMW 650i Gran Coupe.
What of the 6 Series? The visual changes are even more minor, with a revised grille, bumper and LED headlights now standard.
The most significant aspect of the 6 Series LCI is the range rationalisation. It has gone from six variants to just two. No more 640d turbo diesel, no more 650i convertible and — here comes the surprising bit — no more 650i coupe.
The $229,500 650i Gran Coupe — the four-door version of the 6 Series and arguably the best-looking thing BMW makes at the moment — has outsold every other model in the range by at least two to one. So it stays and the rest go.
Tough at the top.
Mechanical changes to the 650i are few, but it has gained a more interesting soundtrack.
Click the button to put the powertrain into Sport mode and the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 now puts on much more of a growl. Best of all, the noise is all natural, with no sound enhancement whatsoever, according to BMW.
The Gran Coupe is definitely a luxury express. But that might be express-with-a-capital-E, for it can rocket to 100km/h in just 4.6 seconds.
The chassis features Adaptive Drive, which has technology to reduce body roll in corners and suspension that automatically adjusts to the driving conditions.
The track-ready BMW M6 sports coupe is a wild ride.
Another surprise: the next best-selling model is the hard-core M6, which continues in its most focused two-door form (the M6 convertible and M6 Gran Coupe have been discontinued). This $269,900 track-ready machine is the flagship of the local M-car range — although curiously, not the fastest or most powerful.
The M6 LCI makes 412kW/680Nm and blasts to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds.
But the sister M5 model, which gained BMW’s Competition Package as standard last year, now makes 423kW.
You can match that in the M6 by spending another $16,000 for that same package, bringing the power upgrade, revised steering and suspension, a different style of 20-inch alloy wheel and larger tailpipes with black chrome finishers.
Either way, the M6 is a wild ride. After all, the M-division wrote the book on high-performance BMWs.