BMW 1 Series Review

The new 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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expert reviewers
With nearly 60 years of experience between them, carwow’s expert reviewers thoroughly test every car on sale on carwow, and so are perfectly placed to present you the facts and help you make that exciting decision
after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • High-tech infotainment
  • Spacious inside
  • Decent engine range

What's not so good

  • No longer rear-wheel drive
  • Alternatives are a bit cheaper
  • Divisive looks

BMW 1 Series: what would you like to read next?

Overall verdict

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.

This new engine means the new BMW 1 Series doesn’t get 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 in it sportier trims.

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’ sporty styling might not be a looker, but it certainly stands out from the likes of the rather staid and sensible Audi A3 and VW Golf.

Mat Watson
carwow expert

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 also a sportier M135i model in the works 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…

carwow engine/trim recommendation 118i M Sport Auto Get offers

How practical is it?

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 more practical than the old model, but it’s a shame that you have to pay extra if you want electric seat adjustment or heated front seats in cheaper versions.

Mat Watson
carwow expert
Boot (seats up)
380 litres
Boot (seats down)
1,200 litres

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 boxier Audi A3.

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 Sportback and Mercedes A-Class. 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 fairly sizeable boot lip, however, which does make it a little tricky to lift in very heavy luggage, but 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.

What's it like to drive?

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…

The BMW 1 Series covers all the important hatchback bases – it’s comfortable, easy to drive and fairly efficient, but hard-core petrol heads will mourn the loss of its rear-wheel-drive system.

Mat Watson
carwow expert

You can get the BMW 1 Series with a fair range of petrol and diesel engine, either a manual or automatic gearbox, and front or four-wheel drive.

The most affordable models – and the ones to consider if you drive mostly in town – are the 118i petrol cars. These 140hp cars are smooth, quiet and – claims BMW – will return around 45mpg. Although, in normal driving conditions you can expect to see a figure in the high thirties.

They’re perky enough when you head out of town, too – accelerating from 0-60mph takes less than eight-and-a-half seconds – and you have a decent amount of shove to overtake slow-moving traffic without having to change too many gears.

Sadly, you can’t say this of the entry-level 116d diesel models. Sure, they’re more economical than the petrol-powered versions – BMW claims they’ll better 60mpg – but they take more than 10 seconds to reach 60mph from rest, thanks to only having 116hp.

If you do plenty of long journeys, one of the more powerful 118d or 120d versions will be more suitable. These will return around 56mpg and 52mpg respectively (so says BMW) and feel much nippier when you accelerate hard. The 118d cars are just as fast as 118 petrol models, while 120d versions reach 60mph from rest in less than seven seconds.

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.

You can have a similar system fitted to 120d models (in the form of xDrive versions) but you needn’t hand over the extra cash unless you live somewhere prone to particularly icy winter weather.

Unlike the outgoing BMW 1 Series, this new car isn’t rear-wheel drive. Unless you fancy yourself as a bit of a Lewis Hamilton, however, you won’t notice the difference. 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.

The BMW 1 Series’ automatic gearbox is another 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.

You’ll feel the thud of monster potholes slightly less in SE and Sport models than in lower, stiffer M Sport versions, but even sportier models are fairly comfortable in town and on pitted country roads.

You can pay extra for an optional adaptive suspension system that lets you choose between softer, more comfortable setups and firmer, more sporty settings. But, unless you regularly seek out abandoned B-roads for a spirited Sunday afternoon drive, the standard car is both sporty and comfortable enough. It certainly feels more agile and fun to drive than the likes of the Audi A3 Sportback and Mercedes A-Class.

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.

What's it like inside?

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.

Next Read full interior review
Buy a new or used BMW 1 Series at a price you’ll love
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