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VW Golf vs BMW 1 Series: which one is best for you?

January 20, 2023 by

Torn between these two excellent hatchbacks? Our guide can help

The Volkswagen Golf and BMW 1 Series are two popular hatchbacks of similar size and with desirable images.

It is quite possible that if you are in the market for one of these cars you have considered the other, or perhaps you find yourself torn between the two, and could do with a little analysis and comparison by our road-test experts to help you come to a decision.

Well, you’ve come to the right place,

Exterior styling and colours

The Volkswagen Golf was first introduced in 1974, with the current, eighth-generation model launching in 2019. The current Golf does without the understated and clean lines of the previous seventh-generation car, with some finding the front end a little bluff. There are no such complaints at the rear.

Volkswagen offers the Golf in grey as standard, with optional paints starting at £410, and rising to £1,150. Available colours include red, yellow, white and blue.

The BMW 1 Series first arrived in 2004, with the current model also having been around since 2019. As with the Golf, the 1 Series’ styling caused a little controversy thanks to the prominent nose, which could be considered snouty.

The Golf’s cabin is nice enough, but it’s not as nice as the BMW’s

The 1 Series is available in white or black as standard, with all other colours £595. Orange, red, turquoise and blue are among the options.

The Golf comes as standard in Life trim, with Style bringing more equipment, and R-Line aimed at making it sportier to look at and drive.

The Golf GTE, meanwhile, is a performance-orientated plug-in hybrid, the GTI a hot hatchback in the best sense, the GTD a diesel hot hatch, while the 315hp Golf R is astonishingly powerful and quick.

The 1 Series comes as standard in SE trim, with Sport bringing more equipment, and M Sport making the car look more aggressive, and drive in a more focussed manner. A 128ti hot hatch model competently rivals the Golf GTI, while there is also a potent 306hp M135i, which rivals the Golf R.

Interior and infotainment

The BMW 1 Series has a clear advantage here: its cabin design is neater, the build quality is higher and the materials chosen are generally superior to the Golf.

The BMW’s interior is made from nicer materials

BMW’s excellent iDrive infotainment system also shines though, with the VW system being at times fiddly to operate thanks to the capacitive buttons that control things like the heating and stereo volume, and which aren’t backlit at night.

Boot space and practicality

Things are much closer here, with the BMW’s 380-litre boot being just one litre shy of the Volkswagen’s. Rear space is decent/average for the class in both: two adults can travel quite happily back there, though they might wish for more legroom, as you would find in the Skoda Octavia.

Ride comfort

How you configure these two cars will have a big impact on how they ride. The BMW is offered with alloy wheels that range from 16 to 19 inches in diameter, with larger wheels making the ride firmer. M Sport models get slightly stiffer suspension, while adaptive dampers that can stiffen or soften the suspension are also offered.

The Golf has a similar roster of options, with 16, 17 and 18-inch wheels offered, and adaptive dampers also available.

The 1 Series has long been designed with driver involvement in mind, and the current car is no exception. The steering is nicely weighted and intuitive, the car remains unruffled in corners, pedal weights are good and the overall sense is that this is a rewarding car to hustle down a country road.

The Golf is perhaps not quite as engaging as the 1 Series, but it remains a hugely impressive car. Pedal and steering weights are perfectly judged, the suspension offers a good blend of comfort and composure, and refinement is excellent on both smaller roads and motorways.

Engines and performance

The Golf’s entry-level engine is a 1.0-litre 115hp petrol unit, with a 1.5-litre 130hp the next step up, and an upgrade you’ll probably be glad of if you spend a lot of time on the motorway.

There’s also a 150hp version of the 1.5-litre engine, plus a 1.4-litre plug-in hybrid is also offered, and a 150hp 2.0-litre diesel engine. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic optional. The diesel engine officially returns an impressive 62.8mpg, while the petrol engines all hover around the 50mpg mark.

The 1 Series comes as standard with a 1.5-litre 136hp petrol engine, with BMW branding this the 118i. Various other options are offered, including three diesels of increasing power (the 116d, 118d and 120d). A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, with an eight-speed auto optional.

Aside from the blisteringly quick M135i, performance is decent in all versions, though the 118d is probably worth going for over the 116d if you can stretch to it. The diesels officially return mid 50s mpg up to 61.4mpg, while the 118i is mid to high 40s.

Safety and reliability

Both the BMW and Volkswagen come with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty. This is industry standard, and nothing to write home about when Kia provides a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty, and Toyota’s warranty can be extended to up to 10 years/100,000 miles if the car is serviced within the dealer network.

Both cars were awarded the full five stars when assessed for crash protection by Euro NCAP.

Pricing and running costs

The Golf’s starting price is £25,765 as of January 2023, while the BMW’s is £27,825. Clearly the Golf has a price advantage here, though the BMW gets a more powerful engine as standard.

Fuel costs will be comparable for both cars, with servicing packages available from both manufacturers, allowing you to budget accordingly – though the 1 Series will likely be a little pricier to service. The BMW also sits in higher insurance groups, though, so will be pricier to run on that basis.

Golf vs 1 Series: which one should you get?

If you’ve made it this far, the best thing to do is organise a test drive of both cars and see which you prefer. It’s a close run thing (we scored both cars 8/10), but the Golf is arguably more relaxing to drive, and the BMW more engaging; the Golf will be a little cheaper to buy and run, though, while it is also offered with a wider range of powertrain options, including a plug-in hybrid version.