BMW 1 Series review

Our Rating: 
2012 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The BMW 1 Series has a great range of engines, is good to drive and comes with plenty of kit

Good to drive, efficient engines, interior quality
High price, not as spacious as a Golf, awkward styling

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The BMW 1 Series is a compact family hatchback designed to rival cars like the Volkswagen Golf, Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class. However, thanks to the generous kit list, it doesn’t actually work out much more expensive than cars like the SEAT Leon and Ford Focus spec for spec.

Updated in 2015 with revised styling and new engines, BMW hopes the facelifted car will continue in the old model’s footsteps. Despite its Marmite looks, the 1 Series has been a huge success for the brand, now comprising around 20 per cent of all BMW’s UK sales. 

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There's a wide range of economical engines. On the petrol side, the 118i, which uses a 134bhp version of BMW’s 1.6-litre petrol engine, while the 120i and 125i both get a 2.0-litre unit and the M135i uses a twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight six to generate 322bhp. The 116i was dropped with the current facelift, to reflect the increased power output over the first-generation cars.

BMW has also added three-cylinder engines to the 1 Series range for the first time. The 116d uses a 115bhp version of the 1.5-litre engine from the MINI Cooper D, while 118d, 120d and 125d models stick with the larger four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engine. Trim levels go from SE through to Sport and M Sport plus there’s the super-economical EfficientDynamics Plus models that gets over 83mpg on the combined cycle.

Group test: BMW 1 Series vs VW Golf & Mazda 3

The 1 Series is available with manual or automatic gearboxes and in in 3 or 5-door bodystyles too, but anyone wanting a coupe or convertible will need to look to the BMW 2 Series range.

An enjoyable driving experience is one of the 1 Series' biggest selling-points and the flagship M135i version offers performance to rival more high-end sports cars. It doesn’t come cheap but the good news is that sharp responses and composed cornering are common across the 1 Series range.  

Our choice: 116d SE 5dr 

Engines, performance and drive


With its great range of frugal diesel and petrol engines, this is where the 1 Series truly excels. In 2015 the 116i petrol was rebadged 118i to reflect its higher power output, while the engine from the old 118i became the 120i. However, don’t think this means the entry-level cars are slow – even the 118i will do 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds and hit a top speed of 130mph.

At the other end of the range is the flagship M135i petrol model, which reaches 0-62mph in just 4.9 seconds when paired with the slick eight-speed automatic gearbox. It gets a simply outstanding 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six engine that produces 450Nm and peak power from 5,800rpm.

All 1 Series models corner without much body roll and show impressive rear-drive agility, while if you spec the optional adaptive dampers the ride is more comfortable than the equivalent Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class. No matter which BMW 1 Series you choose, you're guaranteed a fun and agile small car – meaning you don't need to opt for the top specification to truly enjoy yourself.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


The 1 Series is BMW's entry-level model, so it isn't surprising that it's one of the cheapest cars in the range to run after the headline-grabbing i3. The 116d EfficientDynamics model is, as the name suggests, incredibly efficient. It returns 83.1mpg and emits a tax-free 89g/km of CO2.

Stop-start technology is standard across the 1 Series range, but we'd suggest sticking with the efficient diesel models, as they offer a great balance of performance and value. The 118i petrol engine is capable of returning around 52.3mpg and emits 125g/km of CO2, which is very impressive given its performance.

This version falls into insurance group 15, which will mean premiums will be more expensive than for the equivalent Mk7 Golf. All 1 Series models get ECO PRO mode, which encourages more economical driving by reducing throttle response and the amount of load taken from the engine by equipment such as air-con.

To help keep long-term running costs down, BMW offers a range of cost-effective fixed-price servicing and competitive finance deals. These should help keep repair costs to a minimum in the first five years of ownership.

Interior, design and technology


Whether you love or hate the way it looks, the 1 Series certainly stands out from the crowd. It is characterised by BMW's trademark kidney grille and large headlights, while a wide stance and flared wheelarches make the car appear sportier. The recent facelift has given the 1 Series a subtle redesign, and from certain angles does look like a smaller version of the 3 Series. At the rear, all cars now get LED taillights and slightly bigger exhaust pipes. 

There are plenty of specifications in the 1 Series range: SE, Sport and M Sport. The ES and Urban models were dropped for the 2015 facelift, simplifying the range and offering more kit as standard. All models boast a well-built interior, with chunky controls, a stylish, trimmed dashboard and a generous amount of leather and metal finishes throughout. All versions get alloy wheels, DAB digital radio and a leather-trimmed steering wheel too – as well as sat-nav (from September 2015).

Practicality, comfort and boot space


The original 1 Series was heavily criticised for its lack of practicality and placing style over substance. The latest model, however, boasts increased dimensions - resulting in improved room in the rear of the cabin and lots of useful storage throughout.

With the back seats in place, boot space has increased by 30-litres on the old version to 360 litres. Plus, the load bay expands to an impressive 1,200 litres of boot space when the rear seats are folded.

While BMW has worked hard to improve the practicality of the 1 Series, it was still one of the most cited negatives in the 2013 Driver Power survey. It may not be as spacious inside as a Volkswagen Golf or SEAT Leon, but there are plenty of storage spaces, a large centre console, deep door bins and a large glove compartment. 

Reliability and Safety


While the previous BMW 1 Series finished 82nd in the 2012 Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, the latest model climbed to 8th in the 2014 survey. However, BMW’s bubble burst in 2015, when the 1 Series slipped all the way to 101st. Hopefully the light facelift and more economical engines will help the family hatchback climb back up the rankings next year.

The 1 Series has been awarded the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, ranking among the best in class for crash protection. This was in no doubt aided by the generous amount of standard safety equipment, including a clever five-stage traction control system, four airbags, as well as a raft of safety accessory options available such as lane departure warning and automatic braking. 

Last updated: 5 May, 2015