BMW 1-Series

With small engines and a sharp body, the 1-Series was supposed to provide basic entry to BMW ownership - but the engineers simply couldn't stick to the brief...

The 130i will appeal to buyers who want the performance of BMW's 3.0-litre engine in a compact package. And with its fine chassis, excellent grip and raw speed, the 130i is a real junior M-car. Its hot hatch rivals may offer similar performance, but feeding power to the rear wheels gives the BMW an advantage that puts it into a class of its own on the road.

With small engines and a sharp body, the 1-Series was supposed to provide basic entry to BMW ownership - but the engineers simply couldn't stick to the brief...

When it comes to producing sporting flagships, the German maker has a near-obsessive commitment to developing genuine driver's cars when you least expect it. Even standard 1-Series models are engaging, but now the firm has added a new range-topping 130i.

And with the advantage of rear-wheel drive, the 1-Series, unlike most of its class rivals, should be more than capable of coping with a power hike - so BMW has squeezed the 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine under the bonnet. And the results are thrilling! Already used in the 330i, 530i and 630i, the powerplant has 265bhp - up 7bhp on its bigger brothers - thanks to the excellent airflow and cooling afforded by the 1-Series' bodyshape. What's more, there's 15Nm extra torque, so aside from the M3, the 130i is the most powerful six-cylinder BMW on sale.

Chrome slats in the kidney grille, 17-inch wheels and twin exhaust pipes separate the £24,745 130i SE from lesser, four-cylinder models - but an even racier version is also offered. Spend an extra £1,770, and you can buy the M Sport edition pictured here, which takes on a more aggressive look.

It gets a lower front spoiler, sculpted side sills and an aerodynamic rear bumper insert. Other features include 18-inch wheels and M Sport suspension, which result in tight wheelarch gaps that enhance the sporty look further. And the M-themed touches improve the interior, too, with sports seats, branded door-sill strips and a leather steering wheel. The supportive and comfortable chairs complement the excellent driving position, and the cabin feels as if it wraps around the driver. The controls are perfectly weighted and the six-speed gearbox offers a slick shift.

Which is just as well, as it matches the smooth nature of the 3.0-litre straight-six perfectly. The silky powerplant encourages the driver to hang on to each ratio all the way to the red line, delivering fantastic performance and impressive in-gear thrust.

Crucially, the 1-Series' chassis copes with the power, too. Offering excellent agility, delicate feedback and sharp steering, it's every inch the car BMW fans would expect, with improved body control over the four-cylinder models. It's also the first 1-Series to have the option of Active Steering - a unique speed-related ratio adjusting system.

The M Sport version does offer a handling advantage over the SE, and also demands little compromise in terms of comfort and ride quality. Both give big-car refinement at motorway speeds, and benefit from generous standard equipment, including a CD player, stability control, rear parking sensors and a multifunction steering wheel. Just don't expect value for money.

At £26,515, the 130i M Sport compromises the 1-Series' original aim of providing an entry point to BMW's range - although it's a fitting understudy to the firm's larger performance flagships. The SE model is better value, but still commands a £3,910 premium over the 120i. Only buyers with deep pockets will be able to swallow that difference.

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