There's a kind of automotive law whereby a car gets bigger with each generation, so, sooner or later, a smaller model has to come in underneath it. As BMW's 3 Series got bigger, another car filled the void. Europe has had the 1 Series (codenamed the E87) in four-door hatchback guise since 2004, replacing the 3 Series Compact. True to BMW form, it's rear-wheel-drive, has MacPherson struts up front with a trapezoidal-link rear axle, comes bristling with driver-aiding technology, and sports yet another of those funny BMW designs.
BMW didn't give the car a spare tire, choosing run-flat tires instead. Which was a bit of an issue. Early models didn't combine well with early run-flat tire technology, giving a hard ride. Hopefully, this has been resolved.
When the 1 Series comes to North America as a 2008 model, it will have a two-door coupe body style (E82), at least initially, with BMW's wonderful straight-six 230-hp, 3.0-liter gasoline-powered engine (the 128i) or its equally impressive 300-hp 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged six-pot in the 135i. No diesel or hatch versions are planned, but if diesel fuel takes off in the US the way we're expecting, BMW would be crazy not to offer one of its highly respected oil-burners. Oh, and rumors of an M version should not be dismissed as pie in the sky. No prices announced yet, but expect something around or below $35,000.
Hard To Get
The petition starts here. We know for a fact that Audi will be building the A1, a MINI competitor, for 2010. What is still up in the air is whether Audi has plans to bring it to the US. If anyone knows, they're probably a couple of suits over in Ingolstadt. OK, there's enough anti-American feeling in the rest of the world right now, but wouldn't withholding this little beaut be a punishment too far? Rumors have a hot S1 version with 200 hp and all-wheel-drive, while there might even be hybrid and convertible versions in the pipeline.
La Dolce Vita
Fiat doesn't sell cars in the US. Hasn't done for ages. Mainly because it had such terrible product. But now it sees a chance to get back in the game-with one car at least: the new Fiat 500. The original 500 (or Cinquecento, in Italian) was to post-war Italy what the Mini was to London's Swinging '60s. Fifty years on, this retro-chic, modern riff is turning heads and getting people interested in Fiat again.
It's cute, affordable, pretty good fun to drive and has way more personality than anything from the East. And it can be personalized from a long and comprehensive options list. Whereas the old car was rear-engined and could only take a couple of children in its rear quarters, the new one is bigger (though staying as faithful as possible to the original's proportions), front-engined, and can hold a couple of adults in the back-for a short trip.
Engines are currently 1.2- and 1.4-liter gasoline-powered units, or a 1.3-liter diesel. With a revitalized confidence, Fiat expects to bring the 500 to the US in 2010.