BMW 1 Series review
The BMW 1 Series is more practical than before and gets more tech, but the fact that it’s no longer rear-wheel-drive might upset those who loved the way the old car drove.
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The BMW 1 Series is a high-tech family hatchback with eye-catching looks and a posh cabin. Just like the Mercedes A-Class and Audi A3, it comes with front-wheel drive as standard – a first for BMW’s smallest car.
Because of this, the new 1 Series doesn’t have a long, sweeping bonnet like the car it replaces, but it still packs plenty of angular creases to make sure it’s one of the sportiest-looking hatchbacks around. Well, at the back and sides at least, because the front is more snort than sport – just us seeing a pig’s snout?
Things are a little tamer inside, but the BMW 1 Series’ minimalist dashboard and 9-inch infotainment display look more modern than the equivalents in the old car’s cabin. It’s easy to get the hang of and comes with plenty of bang-up-to-date equipment too, including Apple CarPlay, optional gesture controls and BMW’s personal assistant system. The latter is similar to the A-Class’ ‘Hey Mercedes’ feature.
Less impressive are BMW’s optional digital dials for the driver which are darker and not quite as appealing as an A3’s or A-Class’s. All-told, the Mercedes’ system is the most impressive to look at, but BMW’s iDrive has the edge for usability. The same goes for interior quality – the 1 Series and Audi A3 are now battling at the very top in terms of their plastics, trims and switches.
Sending power to the front, rather than the rear, wheels means BMW has been able to redesign the 1 Series’ cabin to maximise room for passengers. As a result, there’s more space in all five seats than in the old car so you should be able to carry tall adults in the back in reasonable comfort. The driver benefits with loads of seat and wheel adjustment too. The BMW 1 Series’ boot is also bigger than in the old car, and more spacious than the load bay you’ll find in a Mercedes A-Class.
The BMW 1 Series might not be a looker, but it certainly stands out from the likes of the rather staid and sensible Audi A3 and VW Golf.
You can get the BMW 1 Series with a range of petrol and diesel engines; from the entry-level 1.5-litre 118i three-cylinder petrol that’s ideally suited to town driving to the 2.0-litre 118d version that’ll lap up longer motorway trips with ease. There’s a 265hp 128ti, which is front-wheel drive with an automatic gearbox, and which is a hoot. Finally, there’s a sporty M135i model that’ll sprint from 0-60mph in less than 4.8 seconds – although we’ve reviewed that separately.
As with the previous BMW 1 Series, you’ll be able to have the new car with a manual or automatic gearbox, and with optional four-wheel drive for a little extra grip in slippery conditions. There’ll also be the option of some high-tech driver assistance systems to help keep you safe and take the stress out of long drives and trips in heavy traffic.
The good news is that whichever BMW 1 Series you buy, it remains comfortable over lumps and bumps in town. That even goes for M Sport models with stiffer, lower sports suspension, and while adaptive suspension is available as an option, it isn’t really necessary. The 1 Series also has light, precise steering and decent forward visibility for easy urban manoeuvres. Rearwards it isn’t so good, but then, front and rear parking sensors are standard on all cars.
Happily, the 1 Series is comfortable and quiet on the motorway, but importantly it’s still great fun to thread along a country road, despite its move from rear to front-wheel drive. For some, the 1 Series’ high levels of grip and keen steering will never replace the feel of rear-wheel-drive, but it’s definitely possible to enjoy covering ground quickly in this 1 Series.
So, the latest 1 Series is good to drive, comes with some great engines and is high-quality inside. If you like its new looks and aren’t outraged by its driven wheels then you’ll love it. It’s a little bit more expensive than rivals, but why not check out our BMW 1 Series deals pages to see how much you could save? Or get offers for our recommended model by clicking the link below…
If you’ve not quite made up your mind yet, see how the BMW 1 Series compares with its likely alternatives – the Audi A3, Mercedes A-Class and the VW Golf – in our video review.
Common BMW 1 Series Questions
What’s the difference between BMW 1 Series Sport and M Sport?
Sport sits below M Sport in the BMW 1 Series model hierarchy yet, on the face of it, there isn’t actually that much difference between them. Both come with the same equipment and are available with the same engines.
What marks the M Sport out is its sportier styling, featuring bigger 18-inch wheels, more aggressive bumpers and big rear spoiler. The suspension is firmed up for a sportier drive, too.
What is the best BMW 1 Series to buy?
The BMW 118i M Sport Steptronic automatic is the pick of the range. Why? The 118i’s 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine provides a good compromise between performance and economy. With 140hp, it sprints from 0-60mph in 8.5s and has enough power when you need to overtake. It returns 44mpg and emits 145g/km of CO2, so first-year road tax is only £215.
The M Sport model’s styling and driving experience are as sporty as you’d expect of a BMW and it comes equipped with everything you need including sat-nav, air-con and leather seats.
Adding the optional Steptronic automatic gearbox box bumps the price up, but it’s worth the extra. Gearshifts are smooth and the auto doesn’t affect performance and has little impact on fuel economy. Automatic BMWs are always worth more than the equivalent manual come resale time, too.
What does BMW 120i mean?
The BMW 120i badge denotes a 1 Series powered by a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, naturally aspirated petrol engine. The 120i was the largest ‘mainstream’ petrol engine available in the 1 Series; models with bigger engines were more overtly sporty. It was available in the first two generations of the BMW 1 Series – the first launched in 2004, the second in 2011. The 1 Series is now into its third generation and the 120i model has been dropped and replaced by the 118i, powered by a 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine.
BMW 1 Series design
The new BMW 1 Series is front-wheel drive, rather than the rear-wheel drive set up of the old one. That actually affects the car’s styling. The new car has a shorter bonnet than the previous version thanks to its engine now being placed sideways into the car rather than lengthways. So with its shorter front end the BMW 1 Series doesn’t look quite as unique as before. Still, to make up for that it has a large front grille, though not quite as big as on other new BMWs these days.
BMW 1 Series SE design
The basic SE model looks a bit plain. The grille is made up of black strakes and there’s a broad black air intake with built-in foglights.
From the side the 1 Series looks more like a conventional hatchback than before and SE cars come with 16-inch alloys. All models get thinner and broader brake lights that makes the 1 Series look wider. SE cars have a colour coded rear bumper insert.
BMW 1 Series Sport design
Sport cars have the same grille as SE, but adds glossy black trim to the outer, topmost edges of the lower intake insert. They sit on 17-inch alloy wheels and the rear of the car has a gloss black lower section.
BMW 1 Series M Sport design
The BMW 1 Series M Sport unsurprisingly looks the sportiest. It has chrome grille strakes, a thinner lower central intake with an extra vertical slit under each headlight and a more heavily sculpted lower bumper. It has 18-inch alloys and lowered side skirts and at the rear it has a taller gloss black insert with integrated red reflectors and fake diffuser ribs.
BMW 1 Series 128ti design
The 128ti looks very similar to M Sport cars. It has got a few red trims around the air intakes and on the side skirts, as well as some ti badging under the back doors. You also get 18-inch alloy wheels, dark-coloured mirror caps and grille inserts.
BMW M135i design
The M135i is also very similar to the M Sport, but at the front it loses the foglights and adds silver trim under each headlight. It has 18-inch alloy wheels, but a different design to those on M Sport cars. At the rear the M135i gets the same M Sport upgrades but comes with a different rear spoiler and 10mm larger exhaust pipes.
Ditching the old car’s rear-wheel-drive layout has helped make this BMW 1 Series the most practical ever, but alternatives have more spacious back seats and slightly roomier boots.
The new BMW 1 Series is much more spacious than the car it replaces. Unlike the old model, it now comes with front and rear doors as standard, and tall passengers will have no trouble getting comfy behind a fairly lofty driver.
The front seats and steering wheel come with a decent amount of adjustment as standard, but you have to pay extra for the rather expensive Comfort Pack 2 if you want electric seat adjustment. Similarly, heated front seats in SE and Sport models only come as part of the optional Comfort Pack 1.
At least the standard seats are nice and supportive, and those you get in high-spec M Sport models come with even more lateral support to hold you in place in tight corners.
The back seats aren’t anywhere near as supportive as those in the front, though, and the dark roof lining you get in M Sport models does make things feel a little claustrophobic. Even without this addition, the BMW 1 Series doesn’t feel quite as roomy as the VW Golf.
At least you won’t have too much trouble fitting a baby seat, though, but the BMW 1 Series’ sloping roofline means taller people will have to stoop down to strap in a child.
You get a decent number of cubby spaces in the BMW 1 Series to help you keep it looking neat and tidy inside. The door bins are large enough to hold a large bottle and both the glovebox and the bin beneath the central armrest are big enough to hide a few valuables.
There’s a storage tray under the dashboard for your phone, ahead of a couple of cupholders – but you can hide these away under a sliding plastic cover. The rear door bins aren’t quite as big as those in the front, but you do get a folding rear armrest with a couple of built-in cup holders.
The BMW 1 Series has a 380-litre boot, which is the same size as the load bay you get in an Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf. It’s much easier to load than the boot in the old 1 Series, thanks to its wider opening, and you get much more underfloor storage should you need to hide a few bags safely out of sight.
There is still a small boot lip, however, which does make it a little harder to lift in very heavy luggage, but it’s not too bad and there are a few tether points and hooks to help you secure everything once it’s onboard.
If you need to carry much more luggage, you can fold the rear seats down to open up a 1,200-litre area. That’s the same size as the Mercedes A-Class’ boot, and just 20 litres down on what the Audi S3 Sportback can carry.
Despite having a broad selection of diesel engines, the BMW 1 Series currently comes with just one petrol engine. That said, it’s an excellent all-rounder…
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You can get the BMW 1 Series with a fair range of petrol and diesel engines, either a manual or automatic gearbox, and front or four-wheel drive.
Unless you fancy yourself as a bit of a Lewis Hamilton, you won’t notice that this new BMW 1 Series is front-wheel drive (the old one was rear-wheel drive). This is especially true in town, where the BMW 1 Series’ relatively light controls, decent forward visibility and reasonable manoeuvrability mean it’s no more taxing to drive than the current crop of upmarket hatchbacks.
That said, rear visibility is pretty poor, but you do get front and rear parking sensors as standard and you can pay extra to have the BMW 1 Series fitted with a system that’ll park for you and can even reverse automatically out of tricky parking spots.
If you do most of your driving around town, opt for the 118 petrol. It’s smooth, quiet and you should be able to get around 40mpg in real-world driving.
Head out onto a motorway, and you’ll find the BMW 1 Series is more than capable of lapping up long journeys. Sure it isn’t as quiet as the larger 3 Series, but it comes with plenty of driver-assistance systems to help take the stress out of long stints behind the wheel and you can pay extra to get adaptive cruise control that’ll accelerate and brake to help maintain a safe distance between you and other cars.
If you do plenty of long journeys, one of the more powerful 118d or 120d versions will your best choice. These will return around 56mpg and 52mpg respectively and feel much nippier than the 116d when you accelerate hard.
The 118i is fine on the motorway too. It has a decent amount of shove if you need to overtake, without having to change too many gears.
On a twisty road
Controversial opinion… This new BMW 1 Series is more fun to drive than the older, rear-wheel drive car. Sure, you don’t have the same sensation of being pushed out of a corner like you do in the old 1 Series. But you sit quite low in the car so it feels sporty.
If outright performance is what you’re after, you should check out the M135i model. This 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol-powered car produces 306hp and sprints from 0-60 mph in less than five seconds thanks, in part, to its grippy four-wheel-drive system.
There’s also a 128ti hot-hatch version that’s a real VW Golf GTI alternative. It’s powered by a 265hp 2.0-litre petrol engine that also produces 400Nm of torque. It drives the front wheels through a eight-speed automatic gearbox. We timed it from 0-60mph in just 5.8 seconds – in the rain.
This is a proper hot hatch, because it goes well, sounds great, and handles brilliantly, with sharp steering and plenty of grip.
Manual or Automatic?
The BMW 1 Series’ automatic gearbox is a worthy upgrade. That isn’t to say the six-speed manual is in any way tricky to use, but the optional automatic is silky smooth at low speeds and responds to your inputs quickly if you need to change down to overtake sluggish traffic.
The BMW 1 Series has one of the poshest interiors of any hatchback and gets plenty of high-tech kit as standard, but alternatives have more personalisation options.
BMW 1 Series colours
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