The BMW 1 Series is a hatchback of two halves. The version made up to 2019 is rear-wheel drive, while its replacement sends its power to the front wheels. While this has the potential to alter the way it drives, both models are great to drive and come with a good choice of engines. They are equally at home commuting between your home and city office, or loading the kids and all their bags in for the school runs.
The Mk2 and Mk3 BMW 1 Series eschew their predecessor’s bug-eyed features in favour of a more cohesive look. The model made up to 2019 comes with 3 or 5 doors, while the newer car is 5-door only, making it easier than ever to get child seats in and out. Both are handsome things, comparing favourably in a class filled with other lookers, such as the Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the Volkswagen Golf.
Whether you opt for a three - or five-door model will depend on how often you carry passengers in the rear seats. If you’re a regular mum or dad taxi, your offspring and their friends will thank you for opting for the latest model, which is more spacious.
Your offspring and their friends will thank you for opting for the latest model, which is more spacious.
What’s it like to drive?
BMW is well known for making cars that are enjoyable to drive, and the 1 Series is no exception. Expect good handling and refinement, a firm but well-judged ride and steering that actually lets you know what’s going on beneath the front wheels.
The latest model switched from rear- to front-wheel drive (more powerful models are four-wheel drive), which actually made little difference to how the 1 Series performs, despite purists being aghast.
The entry-level petrol engine (the 118i) is a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder unit. It can get the 1 Series from 0-60mph in around 8.0sec, so you can imagine just how good the M140i and the (later) M135i are. There’s nothing sloth-like about the diesel engines, either.
BMW is well known for making cars that are enjoyable to drive, and the 1 Series is no exception.
From the driver’s seat, it doesn’t matter which version of 1 Series you end up choosing – you’ll get a well-built interior that’s going to stand the test of time. The newest version brings a more stylish dashboard with more technology and digital instruments (on more powerful versions). Even those made up to 2019 features the sublime iDrive multimedia set-up that gets a rotary dial to control the central screen.
As standard on the older 1 Series, you get Bluetooth connectivity, USB sockets, a multifunction steering wheel, DAB radio and air-con. The newer models give you sat-nav, all-round parking sensors and auto LED headlights. Higher trims (Sport and M Sport) add climate control, electric seat adjustment, leather and carbon fiber, and a larger infotainment screen. It’s all rather nice no matter which 1 Series you choose.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available on the most recent cars, as is a Harmon Kardon upgrade to the audio system, which bumps up the speaker count to 16 – wind down the windows and blast out your favourite Meatloaf song for all to hear.
Front occupants have plenty of room to get comfortable. Rear legroom in the older 1 Series is at a premium for tall adults, with room similar to that of a budget airline. The newer car’s switch to front-wheel drive allowed BMW to free up more than an inch (33mm) of extra legroom, although headroom back there is still a little tight for the tallest. phone plan.
The 1 Series has room ahead of the gear lever for your phone, while there’s space for bottles and larger cargo in the door bins and glovebox, plus a cubby between the front seats – so you’ll have a spot for everything.
The rear doors have narrower bins. There are nets on the backs of the front seats, while boot space is par for the class at between 360 and 380 litres, depending on model – that’s enough for several bags of shopping or a family trip to the beach. The split rear seatbacks (60/40 on the earlier 1 Series and 40/20/40 on some of the newer cars) fold to expand the boot to a maximum of 1,200 litres, which isn’t the best in class but isn’t far off.
Running costs and reliability
Of the petrol engines, the 118i is perky yet will average 47.1mpg, according to the latest WLTP figures. The 120i and 125i are four-cylinder engines and drink and emit more, with the M140i and later M135i dipping into the low 30s if you take things easy. The 116d, 118d and 120d are different-powered versions of a 2.0-litre engine and will return average economy of up to 61.4mpg.
What we love
We love how BMW’s smallest non-EV hatchback is every bit as fun to drive and has the same quality interior as its larger siblings, the 3 Series and 5 Series. In fact, if passenger-carrying isn’t a priority there’s no reason why you shouldn’t choose the 1 over them.
Both versions of the 1 Series have maximum five-star ratings from crash safety experts Euro NCAP, which makes them ideal for young families, commuters and couples.
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Town and country drivers
The BMW 1 Series is proof that family hatch backs can be fun to chuck around when you’re in the mood yet can also be grown-up and refined when you need to take Aunt Maude and her trunk back to the train station.
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