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. 

Best family hatchbacks to buy now

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. 

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I was naturally wary about the ed milage claims, but sure enough its showing 74mpg average, and hit the claimed 84mpg on a run.

There's no attribute this vehicle could possibly have that could compensate for it's "give me a bucket, I'm going to be sick" pig ugly looks. Surely it is one of the most ugly pieces of machinery ever to have been created by man. Was the designer having a joke? In any case, either a Golf or an A3 would be a far better choice.

This car seems to get uglier after every facelift.
Great car for the Bride of Wildenstein.

probably looks like you steve

The truth hurts doesn't it. Best thing is just to sell it, if you can!! ..."civic", AKA "1 series"! LOL!!

Looks of a car are subjective, those who are taking the mick probably could not afford one anyway!
Each to their own! For the record I do not own a 1 Series either... But they are good cars!

No way are these expensive cars - they start at £17k (although they are over priced - it's competitors...a Focus or a Seat are much better buys for a couple of grand less)... the 1 series is a family hatch, and a poor one at that. A quick look down the for sale ads will show you that they are very easily affordable... many go very cheap and if you want a new one they are not particularly expensive either (and that's before the massive discount that comes with most BMs). Most BMs on the road aren't worth very much, although the owners like to pretend that they are. Unfortunately they're just snobs - no more, no less. I'd totally agree with the comments on the looks, it has a face that only a mother could love.

the irony of a bmw hater with the name "petrolhead"... ugly or not - It's the best to drive in its class - and thats all that should matter as a 'petrol head'

best to drive in its class... nuff said

Sorry but who says its the best to drive in its class? AE? the guys who cant keep a review constant from start to finish.
its ugly and its badly equipped, with a poor looking interior and im sure when it has run flats on will ride just as bad as all other BMW's.
Im sure the engine is great and when it gets twisty it prob is good fun but a bit of good fun once a month is not enough reason to buy this car.

Great PetrolHead, couldn't argue with a single word.

I was about to read the review but I read cons: awkward styling then I saw it had 4 stars? You just consistently contradict yourselves in your reviews. If its awkward styling give it what it deserves which with this car is 1 star. That point alone renders the rest of the article a pointless read because you can tell they are over inflating the ratings just to make sure its near the top of the grade system.

Best to drive in its class until the new Golf comes out for a test then they will say that is.

No surprise to see "HeavyRightFoot" in another one of these disagreements. I see that he has another account alias "Andy" to back himself up.

Didn't know which account to reply to this comment with... I chose Heavyrightfoot over Andy in the end as this one has a lil picture.

According to YouBeenRumbled's comment below, It's a little weird replying to this comment as I'm talking to myself but here it goes...

If you drive them all you will see for yourself (like I did) which drives best. I do most of my miles on twisting B-roads, hence why the BMW makes the most sense for me. Equally I can easily see why people would put the golf over the 1er in terms of drive, as around town the BMW's heavy steering and poor visibility make it a nightmare to drive.

It's personal preference at the end of the day, but for me, the fun factor of the BMW is unrivalled in this class.

It's like the 'ugly' girl that you still wouldn't mind giving one to, but you wouldn't tell your mates. For some strange reason I like it. It may be ugly but I still would!

The Golf is the best car period. Especially the VAG pays well.

I have drove pretty much everything in this class before I chose my Alfa and the BMW was very disappointing, the power delivery wasnt urgent enough for my likes and again on Yorkshires roads the ride was intolerable due to the horrible tyres that come as standard on it. It was poorly equipped incredibly dull on the inside.

Everyone has different requirements for a car and tastes but for me nothing in its class came close to the Guiletta, on motorways or twisty stuff.
Is somebody suggesting Heavy and myself are the same person?!?!

A real lot of money for not much of a car ...Park it on your drive and the neighbours will say WOW what a stupid looking car ,...What a big long nose with a boot like a match box ... Plenty of room in the back though LOL ..if your the size of a small doll

Yes, once I've got my 6ft 2 bulk into it it is a nice drive. But, and there's always a "But", it is too cramped and just plain ugly for the money. 3 series much nicer and not much more money unless you go silly on the options page.

I had one of the original 1-series. I loved it.

Comparing the 1-series to the Golf, etc. is wrong. Change your perspective. The 1-series is really a two seater sports car for those who occasionally need a small, family hatchback. As such, it comes with all the benefits and drawbacks of a sports car - cramped, no passenger or luggage space, and a punishingly hard ride. But brilliant to drive.

And why the obsession with what it looks like? What normal person spends more than 40 seconds a year looking at their car? Get a life - go out and do something interesting. Get in your car and drive it. Or are you so unfortunate that 'looking at your car' is one of the highlights of your sad life?

i have just bought my 1st ever bmw a new 120d which i much better inside than the dull as dishwater golf people seem to love.the engine is amazing and the 8 speed auto box is as good if not better than on the audi.i didnt like the new styling at first but it has really grown on me.i have never enjoyed a test drive as much as i did today

I love reading people arguing about something that is subjective and purely a personal choice! I am awful with changing cars (Had 6 in the last 12 months) including a 1 series M-Sport, for me i loved it but ultimately thats my choice and i respect others might not like it. FYI these is the cars i have had in the last 12 months (Bad i know) Punto Abarth(06), Bravo Sport(08), Astra GTC(62), Insignia Elite(09), Focus(12) oh and the 1 series M-sport(11)

You're all crazy! and as for the Alfa Romeo lovers out there.. I have owned some and while they are okay they are sold on a whim of great drive etc... complete utter rubbish, they might be better looking but NOT better than any Beemer to drive, no way, period, full stop bla bla bla...

Not better? So a 4C is not better to drive than say a 114d??

I think your talking out of your a.....

I think it looks good. It has a purposeful look and a character missing in most other cars and I think it will age well.

I don't really like the look of this car, although this review seems very strong with its perfect 5/5. Can anyone who has drove this car tell me how many mpg they have achieved in this BMW? - James, The Car Loan Warehouse.

For all the money you pay for one of those and where it finishes in those surveys and regardless of drive it seems to me an average car at best. The best drivers car is an Evo X and of which is more reliable.

Ugly. I just hope nobody parks one outside my house.
Why design a car that looks as if it has been hit on all four sides by a truck?

Not only ugly but totally impractical some people would be seen dead in it,looks like a hearse,at least it would be the drive of your life ;o)

I've just bought a new 3 series but before this I had a 118d... always gave it some on the B roads + when i used it on the motorway it didn't budge from the outside lane (Basically I'm a BMW driver!). I achieved a solid 48mpg over the 8k I had it for. I also had a 116i (1.6t) for a long motorway trip the other week, I was so surprised by how well this entry level engine performed and would 100% recommend it, although it was a lot thirstier than my 118d was when driven to the same speeds. Hope this helps!

Wow that's impressive! - Thanks for replying I think it is always good to get other peoples perspective. - James, The Car Loan Warehouse

"HeavyRightFoot" is a fantasist and claims to own a different car depending on which thread he is commenting on.

Or maybe just doesn't keep the same car for more than a year... You might find that quite a lot of people change cars regularly, don't be jealous just because you've been driving your 15 year old Mondeo for 10 years

No way is it more expensive than a Golf and you get a real quality cabin and different world performance compared to a VW. The looks are ok and certainly not ugly. Saying the boot is like a matchbox is false as its actually quite big compared to the older version.

It's always shocking how astoundingly ignorant BMW drivers are about the actual performance of their cars. Please, check the figures on the manufacturer's web sites before making such ludicrous, sweeping statements. The fact is that BMWs have relatively poor performance. When you compare similarly priced models of 1 series against Golfs, the Golf has more power and greater acceleration virtually throughout the entire range. Go on.. check!... be honest with yourself and go to the manufacturer's web sites - start with the 1.4 engine and work your way up through the ranges to the Golf R!! Compare the prices, compare the power output and compare the performance!!!!!!!!!!!!! ... and here's something else for you to think about, BMW are notorious for over stating their performance figures, therefore the comparison is even worse than the figures suggest, and obviously you haven't sat in similarly priced Golfs and 1 series, because if you did you would find that the Golf cabin is a cut above a 1 series cabin. The fact is that BMW are ripping you off, you're paying for a delusion, and BMW are laughing all the way to the bank.

I have a 2007 120d es and i'm actually getting 58.4 to 65.7 mpg depending on the journey.

Last updated: 5 May, 2015