Early 2000’s were a magical time for hatchbacks. Romanticism and craziness of Group B fever, came back as a flashback with everyone’s confusion because apparently, future arrived. And yet, considering Madonna’s “Music” reaching the top of charts not as much changed. Clock was broken, new millennium, a blank first page on the next chapter of our history and we already see patterns coming back. In a good way at least. President of United States came back to Vietnam for the first time since the war. Under it all, some well-tailored artistic madness still persisted with premiere of “American Psycho” and “Battle Royale”. Thematically, second one, containing lots of plain picturing of sacrifice that others make for those they love, seemed to have succeed. BMW 1 series is the last survivor from that era, the one whole world forgot about, only for it to come back and become the best hot-hatch in the world. In 2003, buying a car like this wasn’t an easy task. VW Golf itself had enough engine choices to keep you awake at night. There was a traditional GTI variant with 1.8l turbocharged four-banger pushing 150 or 180 horsepower, VR5-powered one in about the same power range, 2.8l VR6 model cracking 200hp and final incarnation – the mighty R32, with over 240hp, four-wheel drive and option of the world’s first mass-produced dual-clutch transmission. It’s still only a one car we’re talking about here. List goes way deeper. Through Alfa Romeo’s 147 packed with a 3.2l V6 and even a mid-engined rear wheel drive V6 Renault Clio! BMW saw this trend, especially unexpected hype R32 Golf produced, which could be one of the reasons why, top of the line 1 series E87 also joined the 3 liter club. She wasn’t just a new kind of luxury hatchback, but also, quite freaking fast. 6 seconds to 100kph. Better looking too. E46 compact was an atrocity. I know, stats are plentiful, boring and confusing. Hard to ignore them bastards, given the rapid progress we’ve made.
You can walk out, now, get into most BMW dealerships driving away in, probably blue, city car that’s (on paper) supposed to win a drag race with V8-equipped E92 M3. Sounds good, doesn’t it? What it’s like then? Damn good. Arguments about fast German cars usually get way out of proportion when presented with a price but not here. Expensive it is, sure, but I would never expect a premium hatch packing twin-turbo straight six to ever drop lower than this. Haggle a little, and for a model without xDrive you’ll maybe even get it to the price-point of fully optioned out Focus RS. And tons more elegant, although design rating depends on your expectations. I love it. Stands quietly next to other modern cars. Place it next to a Lexus and it looks even subdued! Red paint doesn’t make it shouty. Park it near the curb and only few people are ever going to care, even less after de-badging. Rear doors are a bit short down low, what makes for a terrible fight with your friends to ride shotgun – you’re in a hellish triangle, that blonde bitch’s wearin’ brand new, pansy purple Norman Hartnell-looking dress and there it is, before there’s time to comment the other equally-drunk redhead comes your 1-series Uber Edition diesel.
When inside, it isn’t so bad, four people can sit down without losing dignity. Or virginity, whatever, reputation of easily attainable luxury-looking boxes turned the reputation of 1-series into a bit creepy corner. There we have, freshly recruited gender studies post-graduate Junior Administrative Sales Representative working in one of the biggest buildings in the city for a company specializing in teaching people how to act busy without doing anything, getting well-paid Facebook overtime. He/She took this white, baseline 1 series 5-door hatch for a 8 year-long lease without any intention of buying it. Because it looks good. And it’s a BMW. People like them create peaks on sales figures for the same reason schoolgirls overpay for Vans Slip-on’s. Because it’s very overlooked point, when people actually have enough. They either stand, imitating confidence, shattered by closed posture and arms crossed stating they’ve had enough, look sadly saying they don’t have enough. And just enough? Sounds like an exam at high-school you barely passed with a quarter of a point saving the day. M140i’s like an offer just barely above your ability presented like its second nature and you shouldn’t worry. Because it is HARD to break this cars’ barrier. Engine sounds wonderful, steering’s trustworthy, grip never lets you down. Only thing that can shatter, is yourself. Slow-car-fast is a good example of what I mean. Take an under-powered car, redline every up-shift losing it mid-corner drifting around on thin tires and 50kph on speedometer. Then, you have fast-car-slow – think early 90’s E500 Benz. Big, powerful car able to crack Autobahn speeds, coming last out of the bendy mountain road. This red little sprinter is a perfect combination of a fast car actually feeling fast. You’re down low, light, nimble and powerhouse out front makes 340 horsepower, all of which you can feel. The chassis is rigid, of course it’s a street car so thankfully ride’s bearable, comfy even. Wrap hands round M-package steering wheel, feel the leather, adjust the position and blast off.
First right-hander getting to the inside with too much braking. Blimp of the throttle explodes it forward. Steering rack tightened up, every muscle reflex will change direction of the car. Only thing I had in mind going into narrow s-es of a racetrack was “DON’T CRASH”. Couldn’t tell yet if the rear wheel drive, front weight bias are both planning some terrorist attack on my life. Push the pedal all the way in and you already have to lift it, only to realize tenth of a second later that engine braking ain’t enough. Track’s short and narrow. Another lap. Faster. Another lap. The more I drove it, the more I wanted to keep on going, and buy it. Learning curve of the suspension set-up makes it for a great first hi-power car. Point and shoot, it’ll get there every time. Engine is proven, toque comes from the very bottom. My style of daily driver. Blends in, comfort mode makes DCT shift early and quiet. And when out-of-town – put it in sport mode opening up butterfly valve in the exhaust every time going past 3000rpm. Surprising everybody passed by.
Many thanks to BMW dealer Dobrzanski based in Krakow, Poland. It was the first time for us to work closely with a dealership, and one of two cars we got to drive on that day. Second one, being more of a breeze of luxury.