BMW was one of the last of the big German manufacturers to enter the compact car sector but the continued strength of its small car sales means it’s here to stay. Buyers looking at the smallest BMW – the 1 Series – might like that it offers BMW quality and performance in a compact body but, if its likely to be a squeeze next time you’re packing for your holiday, you might be better off in the marque’s compact SUV – the X1.
So, if you’re looking to acquire the BMW image for the least amount of money, we’ve compared the 1 Series and X1 to see which is the best to buy.
The 1 Series offers nine different engines while the X1 only offers six. However, the X1 does offer more flexibility by offering four-wheel drive on a wider choice of engines compared to the 1 Series.
All the engines available for the X1 (20i, 16d, 18d, 20d and 25d) are all available on the 1 Series but due to the X1 being a heavier, taller, wider and overall less aerodynamic machine than the 1 Series, it’s noticeably less economical. For example, the 18d engine in the X1 with rear-wheel drive and a manual gearbox returns 57.6mpg on the combined cycle where the 1 Series starts at 65.7mpg. The 20d engine in the X1 returns 57.6mpg where the 1 Series returns 62.8mpg. These figures drop dramatically on the X1 when the engines are mated onto the four-wheel drive system.
Equally, due to the X1’s size, not only is it less economical than the 1 Series with the same engines fitted, it’s slower too.
Interior and practicality
Being at the bottom of their respective line-ups, neither has as plush an interior as their more expensive and higher numbered family members. However, they both still come with good interiors with the 1 Series just sneaking an edge over the X1 in terms of perceived quality.
The 1 Series’ interior mimics that of the bigger 3 Series saloon, but just doesn’t quite match it on the quality front, as you’d expect being the cheaper machine. Nevertheless, reviewers are very impressed with the 1 Series saying it’s a giant leap ahead of the previous generation model.
The X1 is slightly different. If you sit inside the X1 having previously owned cars from Hyundai or Kia, the X1 will impress. But, if you’ve sat inside other BMWs, it’s slightly disappointing. Reviewers have said how cheap the dashboard feels with lots of hard plastics lying around. They do say it has a simplistic design, however, and is therefore easy to use. It also has lots of storage cubbies lying around.
Considering the X1 is larger than the 1 Series, it’s definitely the more practical of the two. The X1 has 60 more litres of boot space with the seats in place and 150 litres more with them folded down. It’s more spacious on the inside too, providing more head-, leg- and elbowroom than the 1 Series in both the front and rear of the car. It’s also worth noting that even though the 1 Series is less capacious, it provides a lot more space than the previous generation model, especially in the rear.
BMWs have always been great in this regard, the brand even claims to build the ‘ultimate driving machines’. Good news is – neither car disappoints when it comes to driving. Both cars are the sharpest to drive in their respective classes thanks to being rear-wheel drive. This completely changes their driving dynamics from front-wheel drive cars and thus makes them a more interesting proposition. Just be sure to have a set of winter tyres ready when the weather turns.
Critics praise the body control and smoothness of both cars but say, at slower speeds, the X1’s road manners become less composed where the 1 Series is as equally relaxed at slower speeds as it is at higher speeds.
Critics have also said the steering in the X1 is overly heavy and so recommend you don’t regularly drive in town because your arms start to ache. There are no such problems with the 1 Series.
The 1 Series received a mid-life facelift and got a new set of more angular, less ‘droopy’ headlights with LED daytime running lights, a new design for the ‘kidney’ grill and a slimmer design for the rear LED taillights. These changes brought it back in line with the rest of the BMW range.
The X1 has a similar philosophy. It’s based on an older platform underneath, however, so looks a little more dated than the 1 Series. It’s handsome, but to our eyes, the 1 Series is the more aesthetically pleasing thanks to its facelift.
Which should I buy?
Of the two, the X1 is the more practical machine with more space for luggage as well as more room for occupants to get comfortable. It’s also the one with a choice of four-wheel drive on more than one engine. This’ll make it more suited to UK roads thanks to our famously terrible weather and, at normal speeds, it’s just as good to drive as the 1-Series. So, for those looking for practical, fun family transport, the X1 might be the one to have.
All of the above is most certainly true, but the X1 commands an extra £3,455 over the five-door 1 Series. In the real world, on the daily grind and doing the weekly shop, the 1 Series is perfectly capable of doing all that’s required of it without breaking a sweat. It’s also the most economical, arguably the better looking, and the best to drive out of the two. So, if you can fit into a 1 Series, it’s the compact BMW to have.
Which would you have?
Let us know in the comments section below which would get your vote. Take a look at our aggregated reviews for the BMW 1 Series and BMW X1 and check out their main rivals – the Audi A3, Mercedes A-Class, Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA. Take a look at our car configurator to see how much you could save on your next car and our deals page to see our latest discounts.