BMW 1 Series (2015-2019) review
The BMW 1 Series is the cheapest BMW you can buy, but it’s great fun to drive and has a range of fuel-efficient engines. Its looks won’t be to all tastes, though.
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The BMW 1 Series might be the cheapest BMW you can buy, but you’ll still pay a premium for that BMW badge versus family hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus. Still, you do get lots of equipment as standard, a high-quality interior and some superb engine choices for that.
Those engines include fuel-efficient diesels such as the 116d, right through to the performance-orientated M140i, which has a huge turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol engine.
The BMW 1 Series has rear-wheel drive, which makes it feel sportier to drive than most of its alternatives. However, sending drive from the engine to the back robs it of space inside, and as such adults will find the rear seats quite cramped compared with other hatches. And although the BMW’s interior feels well built, the cheaper VW Golf matches it for quality.
If you want a small hatchback and enjoy your driving, the BMW 1 Series just has to be on your list of test drives.
A Volkswagen Golf also comes with more kit as standard, but the BMW 1 Series’ equipment is still decent, including 16-inch alloy wheels, a 6.5-inch colour infotainment screen, DAB digital radio, keyless start, as well as automatic headlights and wipers. There’s a long and expensive options list to get carried away with should you want to, though.
All told, the BMW 1 Series is a strong choice, and a noticeable improvement over its predecessor. There’s more interior and boot space than before, it’s slightly better to drive, it’s comfier 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 best hatchbacks, and it is relatively expensive to buy. It’s not the all-out best small family hatch on the market, then, but it’s a very talented and capable all-rounder, and certainly worth investigating if you value driving above anything else.
See how much you could save, take a look at the BMW 1 Series deals page.
There’s enough space for four adults to get comfy in five-door models, but the tall lump in the BMW 1 Series’ floor means a central-rear passenger has nowhere to put their feet
It might look sportier than most small family cars but the 1 Series’ boot is still impressively roomy for a car this size. Annoyingly, you have to pay extra if you want an 12V socket in the back
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 roomier than the Mercedes A-Class. Because the BMW 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 backseat passengers because it’s a bit of a faff squeezing behind the front seats in the three-door version.
Storage space is a little hit and miss. The BMW 1 Series’ front door bins are large and so is the glovebox, but the rear door pockets in the five-door car are small, and the space under the front-centre armrest will hold your phone and wallet but not a bottle of water.
Boot space in the BMW 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 – and its wide opening makes it easier to load than the Merc. 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 BMW 1 Series is the only car in its class to come with rear-wheel drive – the same as you get in an F1 car, people – so it’s no surprise that we’re impressed with the dynamics of the car, particularly the fun it offers up in corners.
The 1 Series is unique among rivals thanks to being rear-wheel drive
There are eight engines available for the BMW 1 Series, but they are tuned in a whole host of different ways that may confuse.
Turbocharged petrol units start with a a 1.5-litre unit producing 136hp that, confusingly, is fitted to the 118i. Those looking for more power can pick the 120i, which packs a 186hp 2.0-litre engine, or the 125i – with the same engine boosted to 218hp for 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds.
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 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.
If money isn’t a concern, the M140i has to be the pick of the range. Not that it’s poor value – it offers tremendous performance for the cash. The three-litre straight-six turbo produces 316hp, allowing it to hit 62mph from a standstill in less than five seconds, when fitted with BMW’s eight-speed auto, and can reach a limited top speed of 155mph. It’s a relatively affordable rival for models such as the Audi RS3 Sportback and Mercedes A45 AMG.
The BMW 1 Series is great fun to drive but 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 M140i though, and even the diesels are more fun than most competitors.
The cabin was an area where the previous BMW 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.