Review: BMW 1 Series

Compact, sophisticated and great to drive

08 Feb 17 Tim Barnes-Clay

Pros

  • Fun to drive

  • Strong performance

  • Well built

Cons

  • Limited rear-seat space

  • Smallish boot

  • Premium price

Our expert rating

The 1 Series is BMW’s take on the premium hatchback market, designed to go up against the Audi A3. It’s one of the more driver-focused offerings in its class. using a rear-wheel drive layout that’s more traditionally found on sports car and large saloons.   

New models are available as either three-door or five-door hatchbacks, which are visually identical apart from the doors. Second-hand models can get a bit more confusing, however, as older models also have a two-door coupe and a convertible version. These splintered off to form the 2 Series in 2014, leaving the hatchback models badged as the 1 Series.

There are also several different versions. A second generation model was introduced in 2012 and the model had a substantial facelift at the end of 2015.

Side of BMW 1 Series in white

Performance

There’s a huge range of engines available for the 1 Series. These stretch from small, tax-friendly diesels to a storming 3-litre turbocharged petrol unit, which offers true sports-car performance.

Models range from 116i to 140i, with larger numbers indicating progressively more powerful engines. Anything with a ‘d’ suffix means it’s a diesel.

All the engines in the range are reasonably economical for their output. The 116d Efficient Dynamics Plus is the greenest of the lot at 83.1mpg and just 89g/km of CO2. It feels quicker than the 10.4 second 0 to 62mph time would suggest and it’s impressively refined for a three-cylinder diesel.

The mid-range 120i and 120d models are perhaps the pick of the range. Their performance is virtually identical - 0 to 62mph in 7.1 seconds. Both can be upgraded with BMW’s excellent eight-speed automatic transmission if you wish.

The diesel in particular is a superb motorway mile muncher, offering bags of torque and a relatively frugal 65.7mpg.

While the rest of the range is exclusively rear-wheel drive, there’s now a four-wheel drive variant known as the 120d xDrive.

This provides added traction in wintry conditions, but sacrifices a few miles per gallon. It also add a fairly significant £2,555 to the price.

Interior of BMW 1 Series

Ride and handling

The open road is where the 1 Series really shines. It feels nimble and responsive, with sharp, well-weighted steering that reacts to the smallest of inputs. But there’s also an underlying sense of composure.

Body roll is well contained – particularly on the M-Sport models with their stiffer suspension – but not at the expense of comfort.

While the 1 Series adheres faithfully to the contours of the road it also manages to take the edge off each one. The result is that you feel in tune with the road surface, rather than pounded into submission.

The larger-engine models, in particular, feel genuinely sporting – something that’s enhanced by the coupe-like confines of the interior.

Interior and space

Admittedly, that coupe-like layout is somewhat less of a bonus when it comes to space. Drivers of all shapes and sizes should be able to get comfortable in the front, but it still feels rather snug.

The rear seats can be a bit of a squeeze for adults, plus access is quite tricky if you go for the three-door model. If you have kids then the five-door becomes a no-brainer.

The boot isn’t huge, but it’s competitive against most of the other up-market hatchbacks at 360 litres. For comparison, the Audi A3 365 litres, while the Mercedes A-Class is 341 litres. Fold the rear seats down and it expands to a quite useful 1,200 litres.

There’s a reassuring sense of solidity with the 1 Series, as befits a car that can easily stretch to £30,000.

There are three main trim levels to choose from. The entry-level SE model gets climate control, satellite navigation, DAB radio and a 6.5-inch multimedia display with BMW’s iDrive controller system. An extra £1,000 gets you into the Sport, which features 17-inch alloy wheels, sports seats and some nicer trim materials. Meanwhile, M Sport gets 18-inch alloys as standard, plus Alcantra upholstery, uprated suspension and a whole host of styling tweaks.

Safety-wise, the 1 Series gets a full five Euro NCAP stars. To be fair, you’d expect nothing less in this category.

Rear of BMW 1 Series

What to know before you buy

Good equipment, strong performance and that sought-after BMW badge mean that the 1 Series resists depreciation better than most hatchbacks. If you’re buying new, there’s also a three-year unlimited mileage warranty for added peace of mind.

Choose carefully if you’re buying second-hand, however, because the baby BMW is not without its foibles. These include:

  • incidences of coil pack failure on the petrol engines.
  • timing chain issues.
  • clutch judder due to failing dual mass flywheels on some of the diesels.

There’ve also been a number of recalls, including one for lose rear suspension bolts on the very early (2004) examples. One recall was prompted by the risk of fire in diesel models from 2008 to 2009.

Another recall for six-cylinder petrol models, produced between 2009 and 2011, that were going into limp home mode . A full list is available on the DVSA's website.

Alternative car to BMW 1 Series - Audi A1

What are the alternatives?

The 1 Series faces stiff competition from the Audi A3, the Mercedes A-Class and the Volkswagen Golf. Like the BMW, they all offer a strong blend of performance and economy. The Audi and the Mercedes give the BMW a run for its money when it comes to style and interior ambience. The Golf, meanwhile, is somewhat more affordable and offers a useful step up in interior space. None of them can match the BMW’s dynamics, however.

For those seeking a left-field alternative, the Volvo V40 offers a stylish slab of Swedish design. It can’t quite match the polish of its German rivals, though.

The MINI Clubman is also worth a look – technically it’s a compact estate, but it’s a similar size to the 1 Series both inside and out. It also has enough driver-appeal to compete with its BMW cousin.

Our verdict

With the 1 Series, BMW has managed to distil the brand’s core qualities into a fun-sized hatchback. It’s a class act, with build quality, refinement and driving dynamics that belong to vehicles the next size up.

If you’re a keen driver in search of a grown-up hatchback it deserves to be on your shortlist.

Expert rating

Performance

Reliability

Space & comfort

Running costs

Value for money

Overall