£20,930 - £31,015 Price range
52 - 83 MPG
The BMW 1 Series is a small executive hatchback that competes with models such as the Audi A3, Mercedes A-Class and the Volvo V40. It’s the most fun-to-drive car out of the bunch, and is the cheapest BMW you can buy.
That said, you still pay a premium for the BMW badge, so the 1 Series is more expensive than competitors such as the Ford Focus. In return you get a high-quality interior and a choice of some of the best engines available in a car this size.
The engine range covers everything from the frugal 116d diesel to the blindingly fast M135i, which has a big 3.0-litre petrol engine that’s turbocharged for extra performance.
Although the BMW’s rear-wheel-drive setup means it can corner quicker than its rivals, it also takes up precious interior space, so adults in the back will feel cramped and it has a smaller boot than rivals. The BMW’s interior feels well built, but the cheaper VW Golf matches it for quality.
You also get less kit than a Golf of the same price, but standard equipment is still decent and includes 16-inch alloy wheels, a 6.5-inch colour infotainment screen, DAB digital radio, keyless start, as well as automatic headlights and wipers.
Cheapest to buy: 118i SE petrol
Cheapest to run: 116d diesel Efficient Dynamics Plus
Fastest model: M135i petrol
Most popular model: 118i SE petrol
The cabin was an area where the previous 1 Series was met with a fair bit of criticism.
The interior build quality of the new 1 Series is a notable improvement, however, with fewer cheap-looking plastics littering the dashboard. In fact, it’s reasonable to say that the 1 Series can now compete with the Audi A3 in the quality stakes, even though to our eyes the Audi still edges it for style. Still, there are lots of colour and trim options available, so buyers have every chance to liven the place up by tweaking things to their own tastes.
A few critics have complained that the front seats are uncomfortable, with a couple of reviews saying they cause leg ache. They do offer plenty of adjustment though, so after some fiddling you should be able to find the ideal position.
BMW 1 Series Passenger space
Front seat passengers will find things very comfortable because there is plenty of head and leg room. Rear-seat passengers will be slightly more cramped, though overall it is still more roomy than the Mercedes A-Class.
Because the 1 Series is rear-wheel drive, there’s a transmission tunnel running to the rear wheels which removes most of the leg room for anyone sitting in the middle rear seat. The five door model is the best choice if you’ll regularly carry back seat passengers because it’s a bit of a faff squeezing behind the front seats getting into the rear of the three-door version.
BMW 1 Series Boot space
Boot space in the 1 Series is about on par with its main competitors. A total volume of 360 litres means that it’s within 20 litres of the five-door Audi A3 Sportback, and fares better than the 345-litre load bay in the Mercedes A-Class. Fold the rear seats down, and that figure expands to 1,200 litres.
An optional Storage Pack adds boot netting to secure smaller items and extra 12-volt sockets, which are always welcome for charging mobile devices, or powering coolboxes on camping trips. The boot opening itself is wide and low, allowing the best possible use of the space on offer.
Up front, the door bins are generously sized, and the optional armrest in the centre console doubles as a useful cubby.
The BMW 1 Series is the only car in its class to come with rear-wheel drive, so it’s no surprise that quite a few testers were impressed with the dynamics of the car, in particular the fine body control.
It’s also good at motorway speeds, due to the very impressive levels of refinement. The suspension is a bit on the firm side, especially on the M Sport models, but overall there is a suitable compromise between comfort and handling. However, rear visibility isn’t great, and some testers weren’t convinced that it was better to drive than some of its front-wheel-drive rivals. That all changes if you pick quick M135i though, and even the diesels are more fun than most competitors.
There are eight engines available for the 1 Series, but they are tuned in a whole host of different ways that may confuse.
BMW 1 Series petrol engines
Turbocharged petrol units start with a 1.6-litre petrol unit producing 136hp, while those looking for more power can pick a 170hp version of that unit. A 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo (also found in the Mini Cooper S) produces 218hp and will cover the 0-62mph sprint in 6.2 seconds.
BMW 1 Series diesel engines
Diesels are based on three- and four-cylinder units. A 1.5-litre engine is known as the 116d, while the 2.0-litre units – producing 150, 190 and 224hp respectively – make up the 118d, 120d and 125d.
It’s very difficult to pick a bad diesel engine here because they’re all fast, economical and smooth compared to their rivals. Thankfully, they aren’t all ludicrously expensive either – the entry level 116d EfficientDynamics offers 83.1mpg economy (and free tax) from its 116hp 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo diesel unit. It’s more fun than most eco-biased rivals such as the Golf BlueMotion, too, and is our pick of the range.
For even more fun you’ll want the petrol 125i or the diesel 125d, though the former lacks a sporty exhaust note to really egg you on.
If money isn’t a concern, the M135i has to be the pick of the range. Not that it’s poor value – it offers tremendous performance for the money. The three-litre straight-six turbo produces 316hp, allowing it to hit 62mph from a standstill in less than five seconds and reach a limited top speed of 155mph. It’s a match for models such as the Audi RS3 Sportback and Mercedes A45 AMG.
Officially, your common-or-garden 116d will manage 65.7 mpg, but the real star here is the 116d EfficientDynamics. At 74.3 mpg it emits just 99 g/km of CO2, meaning free VED each year. Despite this, performance is more than adequate - 10.5 seconds to 60 and 121 mph flat out.
Critics say it's "great to drive" and refined, a fantastic mix of efficiency and fun. There are few better options in the class.
One tester suggests it gets a bit noisy beyond 5,000 rpm, but that's made up for in efficiency - up to 52.3 mpg is possible. It’s fairly affordable to tax as well, with a £105 yearly bill. This drops to 50.4 mpg with the automatic, but tax remains the same.
The 118d is quite a frugal motor – BMW claims up to 68.9 mpg is possible, and the low CO2 output means it only costs £20 a year to tax. Those efficiency figures don’t affect the performance too much, with abundant torque across the rev range for brisk overtaking. There are no complaints about refinement or noise at high speeds either. It's well worth considering if you're in the market for a prestige diesel hatchback.
Combined economy of 49.6 mpg is possible, and if you opt for the automatic transmission this increases further to 50.4 mpg. The latter sneaks in with a £105 yearly tax bill, £20 cheaper than the manual. This frugality is helped by a stop/start system, which reportedly works well. Like other 1-Series power units it's reasonably smooth and refined too.
Vehicle tax is cheap too, as little as £30 a year for the 120d with the 8-speed automatic gearbox. It's an expensive option though, and while most praise the smooth-shifting unit, another found it too jerky. The only thing that might make you question a 120d purchase is the cheaper and even more frugal 118d.
It could be the "razor-sharp response" and "deep-chested urge", or the fact it's a pretty sharp looker in the sole trim available, M Sport. In reality, it's a combination of all of the above - and only its expense may really put you off.
The engine is commended for its "clean and lag-free" responses and impressive straight line pace (6.4 seconds to 60 mph). Less well received is the way it sounds - it's just a bit bland, with little of the snarl you'd expect from a sporty hatch. The six-cylinder M135i is much better in this regard...
Opt for the 8-speed auto and you'll reach 60 mph in under five seconds. The manual is only a few tenths slower and both are rated highly. Some may decry the inclusion of a sound symposer to boost the six's aural qualities, but few will notice, nor care, when driving it...
When the 1 Series was tested in 2011, it easily gained the maximum five stars on offer from Euro NCAP. Pedestrian safety is its Achilles heel at 63%, but all other categories were up over 80%. It could have done better in the adult occupant test, dropping points for a marginal whiplash protection.
Spend a little extra money on a variety of safety packs and you can make the 1 Series safer. For example, £525 gets you the Driver Comfort pack which adds variable assistance steering, rear parking sensors and active cruise control.
By BMW standards, the 1 Series is quite good value – it’s built to the same high standard as the rest of the BMW range, and comes with a fairly decent amount of kit as standard (all but the base models, for instance, come equipped with the iDrive computer). They should also be fairly cheap to run, thanks to the low tax and high mpg figures.
However, even the entry level models are fairly expensive for the class standard, and some equally upmarket rivals are on sale for a little less money. The base model starts at £20,930 – although carwow could help you buy a 1 Series for just £20,000 if you use our 1 Series configurator.
The BMW should hold its value fairly well though, thanks to the blue propeller badge and low running costs, so depreciation should be slower than rivals.
Read our BMW 1 Series options guide to see which items on the optional extras list are worth stumping up for.
The BMW 1 Series is a very good all-round car, and a noticeable improvement over its predecessor. There’s more interior and boot space than before, it’s slightly better to drive, it’s more comfortable and the overall build quality is now on par with what you’d expect from a BMW.
However, the 1 Series still isn’t quite as practical as some of its competitors, and it is quite expensive for the class standard. It’s not the all-out best family hatch on the market, but it’s a very talented and capable all-rounder, and certainly worth having a look at if you reckon the badge on the bonnet and the driven rear wheels justify the premium.