Review: BMW 1 Series

A great to drive and pretty inexpensive to run

10 Jun 15 Tim Barnes-Clay

Pros

  • Powerful engines

  • Amazing to drive

  • High quality build

Cons

  • Cabin space is limited

  • Small boot

  • Larger engines are costly to run

Our expert rating

The BMW 1 Series was a divisive car when it was first launched in 2004. It took the place of the German automaker’s 3 Series Compact as the most affordable small BMW car.

Its looks certainly didn't appeal to all at first, though. In spite of this, used 1 Series cars are now massively sought-after because they are great to drive and pretty inexpensive to run.

Performance

Steering, acceleration and braking are simply outstanding, delivering an authentically sporty feel. The models with the most potent engines are clearly the most exciting, but even the economical diesel powered 120d gives good pace.

Most early cars, come with a six-speed gearbox, which further eggs on eager driving.

Side of BMW 1 Series in white

Ride and handling

The BMW 1 Series is a rear-wheel drive, front-engine car, and some vehicles with this set up can have problems maintaining their levels of rigidity. This is never a problem with the 1 Series, which feels as tightly stretched as a guitar string at all times, giving plenty of encouragement behind the wheel.

All variants have oodles of personality and, while the 1 Series is fine dawdling around city streets, it persistently strains at its lead to stretch its legs on the open road.

Interior space

The 1 Series is not particularly spacious. If anything, it is a tad cramped. The front seats provide decent comfort, but rear seat passengers are not as well catered for.

The boot is small, too. This doesn’t make the BMW 1 Series especially family-friendly.

Interior of BMW 1 Series

What to know before you buy

The BMW 1 Series has been officially recalled on five occasions. The first was announced as early on as September 2004, because of the risk of the rear suspension working itself loose. In November 2006, the car was called back again because of concerns over brake wear, while airbag and seatbelt issues meant yet another recall in June 2009.

The following one happened in October 2011, the car was recalled for an electrical short circuit in the fuel filter heater.

Then another recall in July 2012 looked at potential steering power assistance failure. All the curative work should have been sorted on used models at dealers, but it is worth being 100% sure, especially if you are buying privately. If there is no proof from the vendor that the car has had the work done, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) publishes information of all safety recalls.

In addition, the BMW 120d model’s turbocharger has been known to stop working. The most telling sign that it has failed is bluish-grey exhaust smoke.

Check your rear mirror when you accelerate and if the smoke starts to puff out of the tailpipe then  something is wrong.

Rear of BMW 1 Series

In addition, the BMW 120d model’s turbocharger has been known to stop working. The most telling sign that it has failed is bluish-grey exhaust smoke.

Check your rear mirror when you accelerate and if the smoke starts to puff out of the tailpipe then  something is wrong

Alternative cars

The BMW 1 Series’ main rivals on the used car market are the Audi A3, and the Mercedes A-Class. The VW Golf should also be looked at. All are worth checking out because their build quality, drivability and comfort are right up there with the best executive saloons.

Alternative car to BMW 1 Series - Audi A1

Overall verdict

The BMW 1 Series still occupies a relatively distinctive niche within its segment, offering an inimitable and rewarding blend of agile, exact handling. Now the initial first-generation 1 Series hatchback is over a decade old, it is becoming an ever more reasonably priced used buy, with prices from only £3,000 for high mileage models.

So, if you want a compact “premium” car that turns every drive into an event, the BMW 1 Series could well be the ideal secondhand choice for you.

Expert rating

Performance

Reliability

Space & comfort

Running costs

Value for money

Overall