Most BMW fans hold a soft spot in their hearts for the first-gen BMW 1 Series hatchback. The idea of a rear-wheel drive, straight-six-powered hatchback is flat-out lunacy in today’s era of automobile. However, even in its day it was a bit of a rare bird, different from every other hot-hatchback. Though, was that as good of a thing as we remember? In this retro three-way comparison from Top Gear, we get to see how the BMW 130i took cars like the Audi S3 and Volkswagen Golf R32, both of which were front-wheel drive-based, all-wheel drive hot-hatches.
Reading this is a good way to remember what the rear-drive 1 Series was actually like in its time, rather than just remembering it through rose-tinted specs.
Let’s check the specs of all three cars, before we get into which was deemed best, shall we? The BMW 130i used a 3.0 liter inline-six, paired to a six-speed manual, that made 261 horsepower and powered only its rear wheels. The Audi S3 used a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which also made 261 horsepower and was also paired to a six-speed manual, but it powered all four wheels. Lastly, the Volkswagen Golf R32 used a 3.2 liter naturally-aspirated V6, making 247 horsepower and using a six-speed manual, and send power to all four wheels.
As we look back on the cars like the BMW130i, its hooligan layout seems like so much fun compared to its more sensible competitors However, back in the day, that hooligan nature and rear-drive layout were actually detriments to both its performance and its fun-factor. In this old test from 2007, the BMW 130i came dead last when compared to the Audi S3 and VW R32, simply due to the fact that it felt too sketchy to drive on the regular.
This test featured both hot laps from the Stig and a long road trip from the TG editorial staff, to see how each car handled the full gamut of performance driving. Being a UK-based test, the roads were cold and wet most of the time, which didn’t much help the Bimmer. Still, the point of hot-hatches is that they’re supposed to be usable everyday, in all conditions. In the slippery stuff, which is part of life, the Bimmer was just a bit too nervous to feel fun.
So while we might remember cars like the first-gen 1 Series hatch for being special unicorns, they weren’t always thought of as such back when they were new.
[Source: Top Gear]