Good: classy interior, handles like no competitor.
Not so good: no more efficient than more powerful 116i, expensive options.
According to a recent Cartell.ie survey Irish buying habits have shifted of late. Traditionally, 1.4-litre engines have been the powerplant of choice (on average), but since the switch to emissions-based tax our engines have actually grown, with 1.6-litre units now being the most popular.
This means that, for the past week, my test car has been distinctly below average - or at least it is to those that judge an engine size by the badge on the boot. You see, despite wearing a '114i' badge the entry level BMW 1 Series is actually powered by a 1.6-litre engine. BMW has long done away with the numbers on the boot denoting what you are packing under the bonnet, as the numbers now (in a roundabout sort of way) relate to power output. The 114i uses the same 1,600cc engine as the 116i, but in a detuned state, meaning it produces 102- rather than 136hp.
This power deficit does mean the 114i is not as spritely as its ‘bigger’ brother, taking a relatively laborious 11.2 seconds to hit 100km/h (against 8.5 seconds), and despite being bereft of over 30 horsepower, the annual tax charge is still the same at €280 (Band B2). And yet, we still quite like the baby of the baby BMW line-up - due to the way it drives.
While the next generation 1 Series will be offered in front-wheel drive, at the moment all BMW models (bar the four-wheel drive xDrive versions) are rear-wheel drive. This has an undoubted benefit for the balance of a car and the way in which it handles. No other car in the premium hatch segment can compete with how the 1 Series feels on the road. That is not to say the Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Volvo V40 etc. are bad - far from it - but in pure driving terms the 1 Series is just that little bit more enjoyable. BMW has long done away with the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ tagline but it still applies. You may have to work the underpowered 114i to thoroughly notice it but the 1 Series is a thoroughly agile and engaging machine. The optional Driver Comfort package fitted to our test car adds Servotronic steering that weights up at speed, but it is exceptionally light at slow speeds making for easy manoeuvres.
While we have tested the 1 Series before this is our Irish review of the sportier looking three-door model - a car that looks even more like the Z3 M Coupé than the five-door does. The styling is still something of an acquired taste but the long bonnet, sloping roofline and angled windows have grown on us and despite being a three-door we had no issues loading children into the back of the car - and that includes a two-year old who has to be strapped into a booster seat.
The combination of driver-orientated dashboard and the low slung leather seats of our Sport specification test car have a cocooning effect and further add to the appeal of the car. I just wish I could become so accustomed to iDrive; despite repeated attempts I still get lost doing the simplest of things and quickly crave an Audi MMI system.
So the big question: would we recommend a 114i? Eh, no. Not only is the road tax the same as that of the more powerful 116i, so is the fuel consumption of 5.7 litres/100km (49.6mpg), which leaves little reason to plumb for it over the car with extra power. There is a €2,000 or so price difference between the two but when you are struggling to complete an overtaking manoeuvre due to the lack of power you will curse yourself for not asking the bank manager/finance company for that little bit more.