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Volkswagen Golf vs. BMW 1 Series: which is better?

BMW's smallest hatchback goes up against the evergreen Volkswagen Golf – but which is better for you?

on the left is a red volkswagen golf front and on the right is a yellow bmw 1 series front

Putting the BMW 1 Series up against the Volkswagen Golf is like the day you come to replace your favourite mug.

You know you like it, but it’s been around for so long that you feel a change is in order. 

But no matter how much you try, the older mug still does a great job, so choosing one can be incredibly tricky – much like the Golf and 1 Series.

You can find plenty of used Volkswagen and used BMW models at great prices as well.

But which is better suited to you? 


on the left is a volkswagen golf's wheel and on the right is a 1 seres M135i's badge

With both hatchbacks being sensible German cars, don’t expect any crazy styling – these are sophisticated and mature designs to appeal to the wider audience. 

The Volkswagen Golf has slowly been updated over the years to maintain its family car appeal.

Newer models feature a sleek design, modern touches as seen with the headlights and compact proportions following Volkswagen’s evolutionary design trend. 

The BMW 1 Series has changed quite a lot since its inception, with newer models shipping with a larger front kidney grille and more aggressive-looking headlights.

Models from 2019 onwards are only available with five doors, though previous generations came with a three-door option – as with the Golf. 

If you've got your heart set on an earlier design, finding a used BMW 1 Series from pre-2019 is the best way to go.

What are they like to drive?

on the left is a grey volkswagen golf driving on a road and on the right is a yellow bmw 1 series driving on a country road

Just because these are two very sensible family hatchbacks doesn't mean that are numb and boring to drive. In fact, they’re far from it. 

As soon as you hit the open road in the Golf, you’ll instantly feel like you’re in something that’s considered much more fun to drive.

This is thanks to its direct steering and clever suspension that manages to blend comfort with great handling.  

There's also a wide range of engines on offer, including a petrol, diesel, hybrid, as well as the all-electric e-Golf.

No matter which engine you opt for, you won’t be disappointed by the performance available and the fuel economy on offer. The Golf can be very fun yet very frugal when you want it to be. 

The BMW is very similar in that it’s a seriously fun car to drive. It’s a hatchback you can expect to offer good handling and refinement, a firm but well-judged ride, and steering that actually lets you know what’s going on in front of you.

It’s so good, in fact, that you can feel some bumps in the road through the steering wheel – pretty impressive for a small family car

Like the Golf, the 1 Series is also available with a solid selection of engines, ranging from a petrol to diesel.

They're very efficient and give you enough poke to have fun on a country road, while also being a breeze on the motorway

Interior and technology

on the left is a volkswagen golf's steering wheel and on the right is a bmw 1 series' interior

Step inside the Golf and you’ll be greeted by a very grown-up interior – one that has remained a constant across all the iterations of the model over the years.

Newer versions of the Golf feature two large displays – one for the infotainment system and one that sits in front of the driver displaying the dials.  

The infotainment system itself has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, with most models from 2016 featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. 

BMW has always been known for playing it rather safe when it comes to interiors, and the 1 Series backs this up.

It has a very well-put-together cabin that features premium materials and lots of bells and whistles. As standard, all cars come with a sat-nav, parking sensors and auto LED headlights.

Higher trims (Sport and M Sport) add climate control, electric seat adjustment, leather and carbon fibre. 

Most recent iterations also come with Apple’s and Android’s smartphone connectivity and the option of an uprated 16-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system to blast all your favourite tunes. 

Choosing a used VW Golf or BMW 1 Series can be a handy way to secure higher-spec options that are much pricier when brand-new. Consider a used option if you want more bang for your buck.

Bootspace and practicality

on the left is a red volkswagen golf rear and on the right is a yellow bmw 1 series rear

There’s a reason 'Volkswagen' means 'people’s car' in German.

There's plenty of room inside the Golf, making it an ideal car for small families or businesspeople who drive a lot.

The boot measures in at 380 litres and there are plenty of storage solutions throughout the cabin, including cupholders and cubbyholes. 

Like its rival, the 1 Series also has 380 litres of boot space and offers very similar cabin storage.

Both cars are fundamentally very similar because they’re both trying to serve the same purpose and attract the same kinds of people – so practicality is equal across the board. 

Read our in-depth car reviews:

Safety and reliability

With both hatchbacks being modern German vehicles, there's very little concern regarding reliability.

All the engines on offer are really solid options, and both BMW and VW know how to make a great car – they have been making them for around 100 years, after all.  

As for safety, both cars scored full marks in their most recent Euro NCAP crash tests, ensuring its adult and child occupants are safe and well-protected in the event of a collision. 

It's worth noting that repairs and maintenance on BMW and VW models can be more expensive, as you're paying for high-quality parts and might want to visit a brand specialist. This does mean that repairs should last longer and be less frequent.


Volkswagen Golf

Length: 4284mm

Width: 1789mm

Height: 1458mm

Boot space: 380 litres 

BMW 1 Series

Length: 4319mm

Width: 1799mm

Height: 1434mm

Boot space: 380 litres

Verdict: Volkswagen Golf vs. BMW 1 Series: which should you buy?

We’re sure you’ve come to your own conclusion after reading our comparison review of the Golf and 1 Series, but here’s a quick verdict in case you need a little nudge. 

You’re better off opting for the Golf if you have kids you need to get around or need a car that can do it all.

Not that the 1 Series can’t do that, but the VW is a more grown-up version of it and offers a really comfortable overall experience. 

However, if you’re someone who likes a sportier ride and is out to impress, then look no further than the BMW.

Its youthful looks and stylish interior are sure to woo anyone who steps inside. It has a great selection of fruity engines and is really quite quick down a British country road – especially in sporty M135i spec.  

Read more about buying a used car online: