BMWBLOG Styling Analysis: 2012 BMW 1 Series

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“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so the saying goes. And while opinions varied wildly on the web upon seeing the first official …

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so the saying goes. And while opinions varied wildly on the web upon seeing the first official photos of BMW’s new 1 series, a general consensus surfaced that its styling was polarizing at best, and downright unattractive at worst – a botch job, a misstep for the brand.

What a difference a day can make. Fast forward to BMW’s launch presentation for the new 2012 BMW 1 Series in Berlin and we found a sight for our sore eyes; the very hatch-back sedan that made them sore in photos. My first moments with the car went something like this: walk out of airport following arduous 11 hour flight toting gear and suitcase en-route to the BMW pavilion, a stone’s throw from the terminal. Finally, rubbing eyes, and enjoying a big yawn, lift head from asphalt to assess line of red cars to my left. Holly jumping schnitzels. It’s beautiful.

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Did they put something in the Kool-aid? No, in-fact they didn’t serve any Kool-aid and Germans are far too cultured to spike wheat beer. The truth is, and we’ll cut to the chase: BMW’s F20 1 series is a handsome car from most angles, gorgeous from some, and at the very least ‘clean’ from one other.

In all honesty, this was a big surprise, even after becoming acquainted in recent years to a line of BMW cars that appear far better in 3D than 2D. Initial complaints from the early photos were as follows: too much dead space to the lower medial area beside the head lights, a rather boring and uninteresting rear end, and according to some readers, “saggy head light fixtures,” “kidney grills too small in size,” and “overall poor proportions.” Well that pretty much wraps it up, no? But before you drag ‘Ol Yeller out to the back-yard shed and put him out of his misery, we urge you to lay your eyes upon this one in person. You will be surprised or our name is MERCEDESBLOG.

Styling, by definition, is a subjective topic, so of course personal opinion reigns supreme – but general consensus still holds its clout and at the end of the day, this largely determines which cars sell. Considering the importance of BMW’s 1 series for the brand in an ever-increasingly compact automotive world, the looks of this car are worth a few words of consideration.

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Let’s start at the front end. BMW has installed its aggressive and bold “shark nose,” which has a pronounced negative angle dropping down to the bumper. The grill at first jaunts out from the top, then folding each slat in on it-self, reclines into the bumper along a horizontal line. This horizontal line continues into the body work on both sides of the grill where it goes on to meet up with a diagonal line dropping down parallel to the lower aspect of the head lights. Another prominence in the sheet metal rises diagonally off the top edge of the kidney grill and runs closely parallel to the top aspect of the head light. This sculpturing in its entirety creates a folding “Z” design which splashes paint into your eyes no matter what angle you are viewing the car from. It’s bold, it’s aggressive, and we like it. The headlights look menacing in person and we can’t heap enough praise upon their edgy, aggressive look. We can picture a very intimidating M car based upon this front end’s look.

The horizontal elements housed in the lower fascia air-intakes add symmetry and balance to the car, and we like how they intersect the fog lights. In a stroke of homage to BMW classic design, the bonnet features stamped lines spreading like a bow wave from the hood roundel to meet the windshield at roughly the noses of driver and passenger. This long power dome is a tribute to the longitudinally mounted engines of BMWs since the brand’s inception.

Moving to the front three-quarter aspect, we note a sharp, short sideways “V” crease sitting low in front of the front wheel. This crease picks up behind the front wheel, runs parallel to the rocker panel along the bottom edge of the car and then swoops upward diagonally before reaching the rear wheel. As BMW designers on-hand explained, this accentuates the rear-wheel-drive layout and lends to bragging rights as the only power-drifter in the hotly competitive segment. We fell in love with this bulging-muscle rear fender flare which borders on M car proportions. The side mirrors now feature integrated turn signals for the first time on the 1 series thanks to European safety standards.

From the side, BMW’s new 1 series features the now common convex shoulder line running the length of the car below the window line, this time incorporating the door handles within its shape. This shoulder line continues on to tuck neatly into the rear tail light housing, cleanly closing the long, drawn-out surface. When viewed from the side, the proportions of BMW’s latest car appear sporty and more roadster than hatch-back. The hood appears very long, leading to a raked back windshield. The rear of the green house stops just in front of the rear wheel, with the apex of the Hofmeister kink pointing just behind the rear wheel’s roundel. It all lends to a rakish design that looks polished yet sharp, and very sporty for a 5-door. If you look quickly (and this is a bit of a stretch), the overall proportions almost lend themselves to the Z3 based M roadster of yesteryear, again, the long hood being the key factor here.

Our biggest gripe is found at the rear. It looks almost identical to the VW Polo. I noticed this while driving along the autobahn following another 1 series, which happened upon a Polo. As fate had generously prepared for this visual comparison, the Polo happened to be sporting nearly the same shade of orange paint, and it made for a double-take, head-shake moment. They really are nearly identical when viewed squarely from behind. Move a few degrees left or right and the broad rear wheel fenders of the 1er will immediately differentiate it – but nonetheless, when you’re paying a premium price for a premium car, you expect it not to look like a Polo from any angle.

With tail lights on, the LED “L” shape design goes some way to compensate, the narrow and wide rear window looks imposing like a bunker gun slot, and the deeply concave horizontal sculpting of the rear hatch looks clean – but that’s the furthest we can go to compliment the rear end design. For our North American readers, this is not of much concern as BMW is not expected to bring this model State-side, but our European and Asian readers may find the rear styling more vexing. Or perhaps not – it’s your opinion that matters at the end of the day, before you sign the paperwork.

Two trim lines are optional when ordering BMW’s new 1 series. The sport line looks understated and focused with a blacked out grill and mirrors, larger 17″ wheels, and a 10 mm lower ride height. It is more to our sporting tastes, while the urban line models feature white mirrors, grill, lower front and rear central fascia lips, and bold, look-at-me white wheels.

When it comes to the interior, we can only offer praise. The 1 series’ inner confines are more reminiscent of the 6 series than any compact car’s interior has business being, and surrounds you in luxurious, upscale comfort. Thanks to increases in the 1 series’ dimensions to the tune of 85 mm in additional length and 17 mm of increased width, the F20 feels spacious for a car in this segment and now offers 21 mm more rear legroom. The luggage compartment has been expanded from 330 to 360 liters. With the rear seats folded down completely flat, luggage capacity is now expandable to 1,200 liters. The 40/20/40 rear seats lending to this added space are available as an option.

For us, the highlight of the interior design would have to be the striking blade-like front door handles. We learned from BMW’s interior designer that Asian calligraphy was of key inspiration for his design, and we can see the cutting edges of a samurai sword frequently throughout the interior and across the layered dash.

Thanks to its playful dynamics, our favorite angle to view BMW’s new 1 series is from behind the driver’s seat – and with turbos spooled we suspect most fellow road goers will view it from the rear. Truth be told, we enjoy viewing the new 1er from most angles – and the upcoming coupe and cabrio models will no doubt lend a kinder brush-stroke to the rear. But before you make your final pronouncements, see it in the flesh! We would hate to say, “I told you so.”

Stay tuned to BMWBLOG for our comprehensive coverage of the new 1 series coupe and cabrio versions upon their release.

41 responses to “BMWBLOG Styling Analysis: 2012 BMW 1 Series”

  1. Giom says:

    What a well written analogy. I really enjoyed the insights and honesty. About the One Series… I can’t remember when last I was this excited about seeing a car in the flesh… 2002 Seven Series, I think. Praise seems to be pouring in from world wide publications too.

  2. Anonymous says:

    yeah it is true most of us can save money on our car insurance by making few simple changes look online for “Auto Insurance Clearance” you will be amazed. In this stupid economy we all need to find ways to save.  With high gas prices where else can you save for travelling?

  3. Rolf says:

    Did BMW pay you for this article? I cannot understand how anyone could find the front end attractive. I can forgive them the polo-style rear, because it doesn’t look all that bad but the front end is severly messed up.

    • zumit says:

      There you are…sitting on one side of the pole :)

    • Anonymous says:

      it may shatter your beliefs in the world, but neither does everyone have the same taste as you nor are your tastes any type of world standard ;)

      You may not like the design, quite a few others have voiced that opinion as well, but others do, me as well and i’m sure many others don’t and do like it that have not written about it in any blog or comment section at all.

      Welcome to reality

      • Ramon Juarez says:

        EXCELLENT ANSWER.. nothing else I could possibly add (:

      • Nnnn says:

        “Welcome to reality” – I think you just contradicted your point about opinions.

        By the way, did you see the HUUUGE comments section when pictures showed up on this site?  That was not a split reaction at all.

        • Anonymous says:

          contradicted? why do you think that? the reality is, everyone has his/her own opinion and it isn’t necessarily the same any yours or anyones.

          also, the comments section of this site is not a depiction of everyones opinion around the world, it does not matter if it was split or not.

      • Rolf says:

        Let’s be honest, LOTS of BMW fans (myself included) do not like the design. Even E65 was less controversial (which I liked actually).

        • Anonymous says:

          i’m not disputing that, i’m just saying you should not be surprised that everyone is not having the same opinion as you or even as many others. (EDIT: which you just proved with the E65-example)

          Even thousands of people with the same opinion are just a small, a VERY small fraction of everyone around the globe. And believe it or not, the more people you put together the more likely it is that at least some have a different opinion. Let’s say 1000 people would comment on how they don’t like Design A, at 2000 people there may well be a few, dozen or even hundreds that DO like it.

          • Rolf says:

            Fine, there are people that actually like the design, I knew that. But if you look at the comments about f20 in this blog or any BMW forum, you will see lots of disappointed people, lot more than those who like it. Take for example e92, there are very, very few BMW fans that don’t like its design, it is probably the best looking BMW so far. I’m saying that some designs are just much more controversial than others, when I saw e9x I immidiately liked it, as did many other people. Have you seen photoshops of F20 with wider grille? Because that’s what this car should have looked like

          • Anonymous says:

            Sure, there are always designs that are more popular than others. But the way some people act (not you), as if a design that is not in their taste actually makes them physically SICK… i dunno, i find that funny if anything, certainly can’t take it seriously.

            Yes i’ve seen the photoshop, it does look a BIT better, but for me it’s not a world-changer. I like the design as it is now, though i’ll reserve my final judgement until i see it live. I would have no problem with staying in the minority if people stick with disliking it, taste is a personal thing, everyone has different reasons for liking / disliking something, sometimes it’s not even something tangible, just a feeling, which makes it hard to really UNDERSTAND why someone likes / dislikes something.

            My reaction when seeing the E92 (M3 version) for the first time wasn’t that positive, at least in regards of the part below the front lights / grill… other than that i warmed up to it, but overall i wasn’t blown away personally… but then again I’m not that invested in car designs one way or the other, the F20 will be my second car ever after the A Class i had a few years back (didn’t need a car for the last ~4-5 years, now i’m getting this one as a company car)

    • Bmwgreen says:

      Bearing in mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder anyone’s opinion needs to be respected. I can add that I have bought the white sportline 116d (delivered 2weeks ago) & forked out more hard earned Euros to upgrade it with privacy glass + front w/shield dark grey visor + front Xenons (4 corona circles type) including the rear LED light strips. I have only done about 220 kilometers of sheer blissful driving pleasure. As for the front end appearance I only fully admired & appreciated its lines once I saw the car in person.
      I am fully satisfied & strongly believe it s good value for money. I believe that it is bound to make a resounding success   

  4. Anonymous says:

    When E90 was presented many screamed it looked like an old Nissan from behind, and that would kill the sales of the 3er. Did that really happen? No. And so the quick F20 rear resemblance to VW Polo won’t hurt F20 sales either. I doubt that will be a deal breaking issue at all – perhaps in a few sporadic & isolated cases. After all: Polo rear looks good & when putting together E87, VW polo & F20 it’s obvious the F20 rear looks much more like E87 variation than a copy of Polo’s rear.

    The fact Hyundai presented i30 with a rear VERY similar to E87 didn’t hurt E87 sales either (“Who would buy a BMW looking just like a Hyundai from the behind?!”):


  5. zumit says:

    Well a very good review indeed…this should calm down a lot of people on their opinion about the new 1 (including me) & yes it will take time to get used to the design as well. About the tail lights, yes it does feel like Polo but I guess even the polo somewhat borrowed (inspired) it from the present 3 which maybe went unnoticed (well…just my take). Anyways looking forward to launch here in India :). BMW are you listening.

  6. La Ma says:

    sorry, the front end is still ridiculously bad.  I always said the rest of the car is oke, the front is butchered and still agree.

    Last time I puked on a car was the 2002 7 series BMW ala bungle and then the 2006 E60 also ala bungle.

    this is better then both, but the front end is still very ugly.

  7. Alex F says:

    I’ve slowly gotten used to the looks of the F20, still not a fan but im not a hater anymore. I saw the design sketches for this car and those did look amazing so I can understand why the design was chosen, I’ll just have to wait till I see the car for real.

    • PrivateJoker says:

      That’s the point – you have to see it for real. :)

      Everytime I see the car these days on the street, I love it more.

      I think there are some really good photos and thougts in this article above.

  8. Tom says:

    I can’t see the similarity between the Polo and 1 Series rear. I think BMW could have done a much better job than the present styling, it is not fair to compare it to the Polo.

    • joeybuttafuco says:

      It’s funny how you defend the styling of the new 1er in part by comparing it the the Z3 M-Coupe, one of the butt-ugliest cars of the past two decades.

  9. ChinaRule says:

    What can you say? Now car makers are all about attracting younger customers with all kinds of new design language. BMW is even so. After having owned few BMWs, not so sure I will continue the path because how it looks and how it DRIVEs. If you test drove 2011 5 series, you sure understand how soft BMW has become.

  10. Faust says:

    You can’t analyse a turd…

  11. joeybuttafucco says:

    I find it funny that you defend the styling of the new 1er by comparing it to the Z3 M-coupe, one of the butt-ugliest designs of the past two decades.

  12. Anonymous says:

    That it looks better in 3D should have been expected – no surprise.  One hallmark of Bangle.

    The E36/8 M Coupe pictured above is actually a coupe not a roadster as identified.  In any event, the F20 & E36/8 do not share the same “P” of “PSD”; they possess different DNAs.  Notice the added length of the E36/8’s hood and, especially, the relationship of the H-point to the rear axle line.  It will become more obvious when we see the 3-door variant of the new 1 Series.  

  13. Brett says:

    And we thought Bangle was bad. This car is just ugly. There is absolutley no way to get around it. I give the car two years before sales flop and the 1 series disappears from the US market.

  14. Please, BMW NA — 5-door 1-series hybrid in the USA!!!

  15. Jsuf Auvinen says:

    i solved this. how to make this look even decent in front.

    down eyelids ofc! check the link! :)

    -ultimate photoshopx skilzz

  16. BMWdrvrsince79 says:

    Like all BMW’s you need to see them in the flesh. Hope they have them here by May when my lease is up!

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