BMW 1 Series review
The BMW 1 Series is fun to drive, with a quality interior and efficient engines to rival the VW Golf
The BMW 1 Series hatchback is the entry point to the BMW range - and this latest model is packed with more gadgetry than ever, including new engines, lots of 'big car' equipment, and greater scope for personalisation. The Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3 rival is still only available with rear-wheel drive and is just as fun to drive, but the introduction of a new 100bhp 114i engine makes the cost of BMW ownership more affordable than ever before. There’s a great range of fast and efficient petrol and diesel engines, while a flagship M135i offers supercar-rivalling performance.
Our choice: 118d Sport
Love it or hate it, the BMW 1 Series has always stood out – and the latest model is no less controversial. The edgy ‘flame surfacing’ design language has been replaced by a smoother look, which has been influenced by the latest 5 Series and 6 Series. However, the front features prominent kidney grilles and large headlights. The wider stance and flared wheelarches make it seem lower and sportier, too, and in terms of dimensions it's longer and narrower than the VW Golf. The last 1 Series cut corners on the inside – not so the new one. The interior certainly ticks the quality box. All the controls are chunky, the dashboard is trimmed in soft-touch plastics and there’s a generous amount of leather and metal finishes. The driving position is really good, too, with plenty of adjustment and decent visibility. All versions come fitted with climate control, alloy wheels and a leather-trimmed steering wheel as standard, and DAB digital radio will become standard this year.
The 1 Series has always had a great range of petrol and diesel engines, and this hasn't changed with the latest model. Buyers can choose from a 1.6-litre petrol turbo with 136bhp in the 116i or 170bhp in the 118i. The three-door model is available with 100bhp 114i, which costs less than the 116i but takes 11.2 seconds to reach 0-60mph. At the top of the range sits the bonkers M135i, which offers supercar-rivalling performance and a 0-60mph time of just 4.9 seconds. As for diesels, there's a 2.0-litre 116d, 118d and 120d, while the 116d EfficientDynamics gets a 1.6-litre diesel. Thanks to wider front and rear tracks and the new Drive Performance Control button, it doesn't matter which engine you go for - 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.
The BMW 1 Series received a maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating when it was tested in 2012, with 91 per cent for adult occupant protection. All versions get six airbags, seatbelt reminders and ESP fitted as standard, while options like lane departure warning and a radar-assisted braking system - which brakes the car at very low speed to avoid a collision - are impressive additions to the long list of safety kit. BMW models are generally very reliable – a few faults have been reported, but the previous-generation 1 Series suffered from only a few minor recalls. We would expect the new model to be even more dependable, although its additional hi-tech equipment could bring its own problems. It finished 54th in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, with a score of 86.14 per cent. Owners praised its lively performance, low running costs, engaging handling and strong brakes, but were less complimentary about its harsh ride quality and disappointing levels of in-car tech.
The new car has been lengthened by 85mm, with 30mm added to the wheelbase. But despite its bigger dimensions, the interior of the 1 Series is still a bit cramped in the rear compared to the VW Golf. It is more spacious than before, though, and the boot capacity has been increased by 30 litres to a total of 360 litres, which increases to 1,200 litres with the rear seats folded. This slightly less than the Mk7 VW Golf (which manages 380 and 1,270 litres respectively) but considerably more than the new Audi A3, which offers 365 litres with the seats up and only 1,100 litres with them folded. The boot is a very handy shape and there's no shortage of cubbies around the cabin, either.
With new engines, a 30kg lighter body and stop-start fitted as standard, as well as other EfficientDynamics tweaks, the new 1 Series is very economical. The 118i engine is capable of returning around 48mpg and emitting 137g/km of CO2, which is very impressive given its performance. The most economical diesel is the 116d EfficientDynamics, which returns 74.3mpg and emits a tax-busting 99g/km. 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. Although the price of buying a 1 Series is higher than many of its alternatives, it should hold its value well. If you’re worried about service costs, BMW offers a range of really cost-effective pre-paid servicing deals, while models range from insurance group 12 to 39.