BMW 1 Series spied at the Nurburgring in M135i guise

A lightly camouflaged M-Sport edition of the third-generation BMW 1 Series has been caught on camera lapping the Nurburgring

BMW’s new Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf rival has received a substantial rethink over the outgoing model. Following in the footsteps of its competitors, the mark-three 1 Series hatch has ditched its rear-wheel-drive layout in favour of a new front-wheel-drive platform, borrowed from the latest MINI.

This lightly camouflaged M135i mule is our latest glimpse of the model. The range-topping performance-focussed flagship will use BMW’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, with 302bhp and 450Nm of torque. It will feed its power through an eight-speed automatic gearbox to an all-wheel-drive system, making it a direct competitor for models such as the Volkswagen Golf R, Mercedes-AMG A 45 and Ford Focus RS.

• New BMW M135i xDrive prototype review

Other revisions for the M135i include a wider track, improved steering response, a more rigid body shell (with a ‘boomerang’ rear strut), a torque-vectoring limited-slip differential and a revised stability control system, all of which BMW claims will benefit body control and ride quality. Buyers can also spec sport springs and dampers across the new 1 Series range.

Our exclusive images preview how the new 1 Series could look, while spy shots confirm the new model will feature a more cab-forward design than the current car. As one of BMW’s biggest sellers, the German brand has evolved the hatchback’s styling rather than giving it a dramatic overhaul.

BMW 1 Series: engines and platform

The new 1 Series will be based on BMW’s FAAR platform, which is only compatible with three- and four-cylinder engines. Keen drivers will lament the passing of rear-wheel-drive, but the new underpinnings bring some big practicality benefits, including a larger boot (up from 360 litres to 380 litres), more interior space and a 20kg weight advantage.

Due to the adoption of front wheel drive, entry-level 118i models will be powered by the same 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol from the current MINI, with an output of 138bhp. BMW is yet to announce its performance specs but, thanks to its reduced kerb weight and new seven-speed DCT, it should improve on the old model’s 8.7 second 0–62mph time.

• New BMW 118i prototype review

Mid-range 120d models get BMW’s familiar 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, with 190bhp. Unlike the petrol model, however, it feeds its power through an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission via an optional four-wheel-drive system.

BMW will also use the next 1 Series to broaden its iPerformance line-up. An electrified 1 Series will eventually join BMW’s five other plug-in hybrid models, using a reworked version of the powertrain found in the MINI Countryman Cooper S E. Comprising a 1.5-litre turbo petrol and small electric motor, economy figures of around 100mpg and CO2 emissions below 50g/km are likely.

We expect the new BMW 1 Series will reach UK showrooms later this year, with prices starting at around £26,000. New versions of the 2 Series Coupé and Convertible will likely follow towards the end of 2019, with both adopting the same front-wheel-drive layout.

What do you think of the new BMW 1 Series going front-wheel drive? Let us know in the comments…