Next to hydrogen, blogs about cats and rain clouds in July, the BMW 1 Series is the most abundant element in the universe. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but it is one of the most common sights on our roads today, having sold over 1.2 million cars since its launch in 2004.
BMW has decided it's time to update the 1 Series. The second-generation model boasts a tonne of improvements, including a larger, more comfortable interior, an array of styling tweaks that improve its looks and better technology, including a Web browser, sat-nav with Google Streetview, plus Twitter and Facebook apps.
We recently tested the diesel-engined 1 Series 120d to see how it stacks up against the compact luxury car competition. It starts from £23,205.
Sharp in the front, soft in the back
The new model is considerably more attractive than its predecessor. BMW's sharpened up the looks with a set of headlamps that give the front a more aggressive expression. The bonnet is sharper, too, thanks to a narrower, V-shaped central bulge. BMW's 'kidney' grilles have been made larger, bringing the car in line with the rest of the company's range.
Sadly, BMW hasn't fiddled too much with the shape of the 1 Series. It's still a fairly ordinary-looking hatchback, and quite uninspiring from almost any angle that isn't the front. Its looks are compromised even further if you customise the car with BMW's urban styling package, which includes some horrible white alloy wheels and matching wing mirrors.
Thankfully the car's interior provides far more to shout about -- it's larger, better looking and features a wealth of modern tech. The car is 8.5cm longer, 1.7cm wider and its wheelbase -- the distance between its front and rear wheels -- is 3cm longer.
Together, these tweaks provide a fair bit of additional space. The car has 2cm more legroom than before, so the rear is a relatively comfortable place to hang out, provided the driver or front passenger aren't Chris Tremlett-sized. The boot, meanwhile, provides 360 litres of storage -- 30 litres more than before -- and with split folding rear seats, this increases to 1,200 litres.
Tip-top cabin tech
The 120d's cabin itself is fairly understated, but it has a stylish, contemporary aesthetic with soft, upmarket materials, customisable coloured panels and a gorgeous 6.5-inch screen that protrudes from the top of the dashboard like a flat-screen TV.
This BMW ConnectedDrive display has more in common with a tablet or laptop than those typically found in cars -- both in terms of its functionality and appearance. In typical laptop fashion, the screen has a very glossy finish that's beautiful to behold, but is extremely reflective in direct sunlight, making it occasionally difficult to read.
When not blighted by the sun, the screen is absolutely stunning and lends itself very well to displaying ConnectedDrive's user interface, image and video playback and satellite navigation.
Maps, which are stored on an 80GB hard drive for faster route calculation, are rendered in a crisp, clear manner. The display's wider-than-normal aspect ratio lets you enjoy a greater amount of information than on displays of a more conventional width. It's possible, for example, to see an overview of your route on the left side of the display while the right side shows data from a totally separate menu or system function.