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Andrew*Debbie 11-13-2011 01:53 AM

I drove the new F20 1-Series
We stopped in at a BMW dealer in England and test-drove a new F20 116i 5-door hatchback.

I've driven US-spec 128i and 135i coupes. The F20 is a completely different car.


UK BMWs are sold by power train and base trim package. At launch the F20 comes as a 116i, 118i, 118d and 120d 5-door hatch. The standard UK trim packages are ES, SE, and M-Sport. The F20 adds two new trims, Sport and Urban.

Unlike US cars, base options don't change with power train. For example, a 116i SE and a 118i SE are the same except for power output and the speed rating on the tires.

To build a UK BMW, you first pick the power train and base trim. To that you can add equipment packages and choose from a huge number of a la carte options. On most BMWs the packages are discounts on groups of common al a carte options. On most UK BMWs you get considerable flexibility on options. The F20 is annoyingly different as some common options are only available as part of a package.

Production of the old e81 3 door hatch has stopped. The dealer we visited had 'punched' their remaining new e81s and was selling them as 'plated' cars in the used side of the store. A 3 door hatch based on the F20 is due to start production in March.

The Coupe and Convertible sold in the US are still in production.

The dealer had 3 F20s on the lot. All 116i's, one SE, one Urban and one Sport. Unusual for a mid-size UK dealer. One of each is more common. Makes sense though as SE is the trim most people buy and Sport and Urban are new.

Along with the F20, we looked at an e81 118i SE, an e87 118d SE and an e90 318i.

First Impressions

The F20 is a larger and better looking car than the e87. From the side the extra length avoids the pinched off look the of the e87. From the front, the car looks like a modern BMW and nothing like an Aztec as was suggested in another thread. The extra length does not make the car look like a wagon either.

The interior on the F20 is more modern looking than the e90. The e81/e87 look dated. The F20 has more room inside. The rear seat is actually comfortable. BMW has done a TARDIS. "It's bigger on the inside than the outside." The front feels larger too, at least it did until I drove the car.

Stay tuned. More after we get back from walking the dogs.

Andrew*Debbie 11-13-2011 06:07 AM

Trim Levels, Options and Packages

More comes standard on the F20 than the car it replaced. Not bad since the F20 retail price is a little lower.

Comfort Go (keyless start) is standard on all trim levels. Full Comfort Access is a 310 option. All trim levels also include a 'Drive Performance Control' with Economy, Comfort and Sport settings.

iDrive and a 6.5" display is included with SE, Sport and Urban trims. So is 6NH Bluetooth and USB audio.

Sport and Urban are primarily appearance trims with their own upholstery and interior trim choices. Urban is downright ugly with its white grill, odd looking half leather seats and white acrylic dash trim.

Sport is better, black with grey or black with red. Sport includes sport seats and decent looking rims too. Dash trim is brushed aluminum or high gloss black. If you want wood dash trim, SE is the only choice.

Option packages are annoying. For example cruise control is only available as part of a 500 package that includes unneeded options like Park Distance Control.

Navigation is in a 1,550 package with Assist and Voice Control. The price is too high as the car already has iDrive and the display.

Perhaps the most interesting option is 8TH, speed limit info. 8TH uses a forward looking camera along with the navigation database to provide real time speed limit display on the dash. The camera is suppose to catch temporary and variable limit signs. 8TH is sure to be on the F30 3 series too.


iDrive continues to improve. My favorite feature was the iDrive version of the owner's handbook. From the top level menu, I was able to find the diagram for somewhat confusing but highly adjustable manual sport seats. The F20 is the first BMW where I'd actually consider getting iDrive.

I Drove
Tested -- 116i 5 Door Sport. Sun Protection Pack was only option.

First thing I did was spend 5 minutes fiddling with the seat. The manual Sport seats have 5 or 6 levers. It takes a while to figure out what moves what. I never did get the seat adjusted to my liking.
The salesman had the fob in his pocket, so all I had to do was push the start button. Did I mention that keyless start is standard on all models? The new motor does not sound like a MINI even though it is based on the shared PSA/BMW MINI engine. Doesn't exactly sound or feel like a BMW either.
The clutch has a short travel compared to other BMWs we've driven. Shifter feel is typical BMW. As always a short shifter would help.
First gear is very low. Coupled to decent amount of low end torque the low gear makes the car very easy to drive in traffic. Still, 1st is stupid low. Unless you want to play find the rev limiter, you are out of 1st gear before you are halfway across an intersection. The lower gears are widely spaced. To get smooth shifts, I had to wait a bit for the engine to slow down to match the next gear. I doubt too many people will want to autocross a 116i, but I expect those that do will complain about the gearing.
The 116i is faster than our MINI Cooper. Not as fast as a Cooper S. Quick enough for here, but most Americans will want more.
Ride is comfortable and significantly smoother than the MINI -- This is in a Sport with 17" 45 Series tires.

3 minutes into the test drive, I didn't know where to put my left foot. I had a heck of a time finding the dead pedal. I think what has happened is they've moved the front passengers forward a few inches. That makes the tunnel wider and in a RHD car, that leaves less room on the left side. Wouldn't be a problem in an Automatic or in a LHD car. Eventually I figured out what to do with my foot but I never got comfortable. I need more time to play with seat adjustments before I know if this is something I can live with or a fatal flaw.

The car seems to handle reasonably well but as always a dealer test drive doesn't give a chance to get anywhere close to the car's limits.

Andrew*Debbie 11-13-2011 09:48 AM

Cost Reduced Interior

BMW had to make compromises to meet the price point. It shows in the interior. The places you come into contact with the most, like the steering wheel are still 1st quality. But secondary areas are cheap plastic.

Debbie said it reminded her of our Daughter's e36/5 318ti. If you've been in one you know what me mean. The glove box is one spot that stood out. Cheap plastic with a cheap feeling mechanism. The box on our MINI is nicer.

The Motor
Before the drive, my biggest concern was the new N13 motor. As discussed in another thread, this new petrol motor uses bottom end from a MINI Cooper S modified for longitudinal mounting. The top end has the latest tech and the new TwinPower turbo.

The turbo charger is at the top of the motor. It is about the first thing you notice when you pop the hood. That had to be deliberate. It is the only way to tell the engine is turbocharged. No lag.

Both power and torque are flat-rated. The torque curve is a flat line across most of the RPM range. In the 116i, torque is 220Nm from 1350 to 4300RPM! On the 118i it is 250Nm from 1500 to 4500. 116i is 136HP from 4400RPM to red line. The 118i is 170HP starting at 4800 and sticks there. Makes it hard to shift at the wrong time but flat-rating means we aren't seeing what the motor could really do. Big opportunity for 3rd party software mods.

The diesels are powered by BMWs existing N47.

llando88 11-13-2011 09:54 AM

Good review.

I've spent several weeks in the UK in rental 120d five doors of the current gen.

I would initially considered a 5 door if it was available in the states, but after driving and riding in one it is too small a vehicle.

AzNMpower32 11-13-2011 11:38 AM

What interior spec did your tester have? I was in one at the BMW SA dealership but that one was pretty optioned up with leather and the upgraded "Sport" interior trim with the red accent line. Even the "urban" line model had upgrades, so perhaps the 116i, being the bottom of the lineup, might have been a more basic trim? I do know that with the 1er, the standard trim and materials can feel pretty cheap.

I do miss the old-fashioned solid detent feel of the controls and buttons- this seems to be eroding away with each new iteration of vehicles. The climate control and radio buttons feel mushy when pressed, and the cruise control (if so equipped) roller is the same. But not everyone is OCD with details like me I guess......

I'm still bent on moving overseas, of course ;)

Andrew*Debbie 11-13-2011 12:00 PM

The demo car was a 116i Sport. Alpine White, style 379 wheels and Sun Protection package. Inside it was Anthracite/Red Highlight Track Cloth and black high gloss interior trim. Sun Protection pack was the only option. The track cloth is an upgrade from the base cloth. It has a nicer feel than the cloth in the e87 we looked at. Dunno what interior the e87 had.

We also sat in the Mineral Grey 116i SE in the showroom. That car had Oyster Dakota leather and Fineline Stream wood trim. As far as we could tell this is the same Dakota leather as a 3er. We both wish the wood trim was available in the Sport Trim. If we get a Sport, I am going to ask if we can get the wood trim as a special request. Of course I can get the trim parts and put them in myself but that is really expensive.

The Urban trim car was painful to look at. We didn't ask them to open it up for us.

Andrew*Debbie 11-13-2011 12:05 PM


Originally Posted by AzNMpower32 (Post 6438594)

I'm still bent on moving overseas, of course ;)

It is getting harder and harder to move to the UK. They keep tightening controls on non-EU migrants.

llando88 11-13-2011 12:20 PM


Originally Posted by Andrew*Debbie (Post 6438639)
It is getting harder and harder to move to the UK. They keep tightening controls on non-EU migrants.

Beside the fact it's bloody expensive. VAT is what, 20% now?

AzNMpower32 11-13-2011 12:50 PM


Originally Posted by Andrew*Debbie (Post 6438639)
It is getting harder and harder to move to the UK. They keep tightening controls on non-EU migrants.

My idea? Work for a Europe-based company in the US, then transfer or rotate overseas. My language skills don't hurt either.

Funny, I've visited quite a few European countries but not the UK. I haven't even transited thru LHR. That said, if I ever travel to the UK, rest assured that I am competent in RHD as I drove in South Africa.

thumper_330 11-13-2011 01:23 PM


Originally Posted by Andrew*Debbie (Post 6438639)
It is getting harder and harder to move to the UK. They keep tightening controls on non-EU migrants.

But with the machinations of the UK government in recent months, I'm sure there are plenty of Brits who would gladly trade identities with a US citizen to get the hell out ;)

Hey, as an ex-pat myself (and still EU and British citizen) I still have the right to make fun of the government over there :D

On topic; god I hope they bring the 5-door over to the US. I and many of my friends would be all over this car. Sure, I recently purchased a 135i coupe, but I am quite aware its practicality will be... limited.

Killjoy 11-13-2011 04:46 PM


Originally Posted by Andrew*Debbie (Post 6437987)
From the front, the car looks like a modern BMW and nothing like an Aztec as was suggested in another thread.

I think that was me :) And my comment wasn't "it looks like an Aztec" it was more along the lines of "it looks as bad as an aztec." Maybe the coupe will look a bit better though?

Andrew*Debbie 11-13-2011 10:47 PM


Originally Posted by Killjoy (Post 6439102)
I think that was me :) And my comment wasn't "it looks like an Aztec" it was more along the lines of "it looks as bad as an aztec." Maybe the coupe will look a bit better though?

Sorry about that. Some Pontiacs do look somewhat like a BMW. . . If the F20 reminds me of any GM product, I'd have to say it is the current Opel Astra. But that is a stretch.

Better get used to the front end. The front of the F30 3 series is similar.

I think the current coupe is going to be with us for a while. I wonder if the new coupe is going to be on the shared front wheel drive UKL platform???

Andrew*Debbie 11-13-2011 11:28 PM


Originally Posted by Llando88 (Post 6438673)
VAT is what, 20% now?

Yes. :(

We didn't feel the rise on most purchases. Fuel, where VAT is charged on the per liter duty as well as the fuel, went up. Car prices did too but many manufacturers introduced incentives that canceled out the tax rate increases.

For the F20, BMW UK are offering 3.9% finance on a 116i Sport. Incentives like that are unheard of for a BMW that has only been out for a month. Over a 4 year loan, that's a significant incentive. Interest rates are higher here. Typical BMW UK incentive finance rates are 7% and a typical bank car loan is 12.9%

Andrew*Debbie 11-14-2011 03:03 AM

This video I found on YouTube shows the 8TH, speed limit info option as well as the drive modes and the features on the high spec Professional Navigation option.

The red key fob is unique to Sport trim. Same for the red highlights on the gauges.

AzNMpower32 11-14-2011 11:21 AM

The Speed limit and sign-recognition camera has been around on BMWs for quite a few years, debuting with the F01 7er a few years back and finding its way onto most higher-end BMWs. Many other German automakers also have the same technology now, even something like a Opel/Vauxhall Astra has it as an option.

More than likely, this option is not going to be available in the US, as our road signs are different from those in the rest of the world.

Andrew*Debbie 11-15-2011 07:35 AM

1 Attachment(s)

Originally Posted by AzNMpower32 (Post 6440365)
The Speed limit and sign-recognition camera has been around on BMWs for quite a few years, debuting with the F01 7er a few years back and finding its way onto most higher-end BMWs.

Didn't know that. I don't pay much attention to the 7er. Didn't realise sign recognition was available on the Astra. I have looked at an Astra. Base price on an Astra SRi is over 20,000 and an SE is 21,200 before options. The new Astra is a nice car but for 20K+ I'd rather have the F20. (GM has a more reasonable price for Navigation but I doubt we'd get it on either car)

Is the US Spec F30 on the website yet? That would answer the 8TH question.

I've finally worked my way through the brochure, price and order guide and the ETK for the F20.

The German first aid kit and warning triangle are now included in the base car. They used to be a dealer added option or something you bought at the parts counter before going to Germany. Both are under the boot floor next to the battery. The F20 has no spare tire, just a mobility kit or optional RFTs.

Many of the options from the 6 and 7 have trickled down. Reverse Camera, Lane Departure, Parking Assistant (why?), some of the silly internet connectivity.

Specing all of the above, the required option Packages, DAB and the better speakers gets you a 28,345 116i with unheated cloth seats. Add in a sunroof and leather and the car is 30k

One of the more interesting items I found in the ETK is the WiFi hotspot snap-in. I'm sure this has been available in the 6 and 7 for awhile. It uses the car's antenna and your GSM SIM to provide a local WiFi and BlueTooth internet connection. Not for everyone but potentially very useful for a few.

AzNMpower32 11-15-2011 09:19 AM

Yeah, I saw the Wireless Internet as an option/accessory for the X3 as well, not completely new in the 1er.

The 1er does have slightly more usable cargo space and rear seat room when I sat it in at the dealership. Like I said, I'd have to drive one to make final judgments but at least in appearances it does appear to be much better. Then again, I like the Astra and Golf a lot as well. Clearly, spoiled for choice in Europe when it comes to frugal and fun hatchbacks.

Andrew*Debbie 11-16-2011 05:34 AM


Originally Posted by AzNMpower32 (Post 6442233)
Then again, I like the Astra and Golf a lot as well. Clearly, spoiled for choice in Europe when it comes to frugal and fun hatchbacks.

That is one of the advantages of living over here.

I want to look at the A3 as well as the current Golf. All of these cars are about the same price as an F20. So is the MINI Clubman. The F20 is an easy win against the Clubman.

Skoda has a car that is more or less a Hatchback version of the old Jetta. Debbie doesn't like it.

Peogeot and Citroen have hatchbacks that use the engine shared with the F20 and MINI. Citroen DS 3 is the most interesting. A DS-3 is about 5K less than a F20/A3/Golf. The DS 3 is good car to be a passenger in and can be had with some wild styling. The standard DS-3 isn't a driver's car though.

I haven't looked at the hatches from Seat, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, or Lancia. Might look at Alfa for fun next time we are in England.

Subaru sell mostly the same cars as they do in the US. We liked them in the US, but 1.36/litre petrol means we don't want one here.

There are also Korean and Japanese brands we won't be looking at. Probably won't look at MG but who knows.

Andrew*Debbie 11-16-2011 05:43 AM

UK Ford Focus now has sign recognition and a parking autopilot. At this rate, people are going to forget how to drive on manual.

SilverX3 11-16-2011 11:27 AM

I can't reverse without beep beep any more

david in german 11-16-2011 01:05 PM

I love my e87 118i. I have been beating the crap out of it this week and still have been averaging 32-33 mpg (US mpg) . My service advisor last week told me I have not been driving it aggressive enough and I will experience a stutter at crushing speed if I don't step on it a bit more because some filter in the emission system is building up dust or something.. LOL

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