BMW 1 Series review
The BMW 1 Series brings premium brand class and rear-wheel-drive performance to the hatchback class
The BMW 1 Series has always been a car that divides opinion - with love-or-hate looks that have consistently come under criticism. However, despite its controversial appearance, the 1 Series makes an affordable yet desirable entry point into the BMW range. A recent facelift has also given the 1 Series a much need visual update, while more efficient engines have also been added.
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 its crushing 322bhp performance.
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, Urban and M Sport plus there’s the super-economical EfficientDynamics models that get over 83mpg on the combined cycle.
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.
Interior quality is up there with the best in the class and the car is packed with equipment and accessories -providing strong competition for the likes of the Audi A3, Mercedes A-Class and Volkswagen Golf.
Our choice: 116d EfficientDynamics 3dr
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 more crowd pleasing image, and from certain angles does look like a smaller version of the 3 Series. However, at the rear the new lamp clusters look a little bloated and a little out of proportion.
There are plenty of specifications in the 1 Series range: SE, Sport, Urban and M Sport. 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.
This is where the 1 Series truly excels, with its great range of frugal diesel and petrol engines. The entry-level 118i petrol only produces 134bhp, but it does make owning a BMW the cheapest it's ever been.
The 116d EfficientDynamics diesel is particularly outstanding - managing an impressive 83.1mpg and emitting the magic tax-free 89g/km of CO2.
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.
All 1 Series models corner without much body roll and show impressive rear-drive agility, while 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 comfortable ride and impressive agility, meaning you don't need to opt for the top specification to truly enjoy yourself.
While the previous BMW 1 Series finished 82nd in the 2012 Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, the latest model has climbed to an impressive 8th place in the 2014 survey - proving customers are very happy with the latest car.
The 1 Series has also 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.
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.
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.