The new 3-door BMW 1-Series looks stylish, but it's marred by a cramped interior
Losing a pair of doors has done wonders for the 1-Series’ styling. Clever fuel-saving touches are welcome, too, but buyers need to be prepared for its firm ride, busy engine and cramped cabin. Solid build quality boosts its appeal, and as the only rear-drive family hatch available, the 1-Series occupies a unique niche. However, if you’re an enthusiastic driver, we think you would be better off choosing the bigger, faster, cheaper and more refined VW Golf GTI.
Happy Birthday BMW! The 1-Series is three this year, and what better way to celebrate its anniversary than with the launch of a three-door variant?
Behind the larger grille, new headlamps and fresh bumper, there’s an all-new, sportier body shape and a refreshed range of engines.
There’s no doubt that the proportions of the 1-Series suit its three-door layout well, and its cleaner lines are a big improvement, too.
Inside, there are new materials, a more user-friendly iDrive system and updated centre console design. Space in the back is still cramped, though, and the 330-litre load area is small. Our car was fitted with a pair of rear seats either side of a central storage bin but buyers can opt for a conventional bench – making the three-door a snug five-seater – at no extra cost.
The engine line-up features direct injection on petrol variants to boost performance and economy. Only the 2.0-litre model was available for us to drive, but the 170bhp motor boasts 20bhp more than its predecessor, and the 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in only 7.7 seconds. While the four-cylinder unit is smooth, it can be noisy, especially at motorway speeds.
On the rutted roads of our Portuguese test route, it was clear that the firm ride of the five-door model has been carried over. Large bumps send vibrations through the cabin and even small surface imperfections are felt inside. However, the trade-off is in corners, where precise handling and body control mean the BMW is an entertaining drive.
The new electric power-steering – introduced to boost fuel economy – robs the driver of feedback, though. In town, the stop-start function comes into its own. Fitted to all manual four-cylinder variants in the facelifted line-up, it kills the engine when you select neutral and restarts the moment you depress the clutch pedal.
Combined with gearshift indicator lights on the dashboard which tell you when to change up or down to optimise economy, and Brake Energy Regeneration – which recharges the battery every time you step on the anchors – it all contributes to an impressive 44.1mpg.
Prices for the entry-level 118i version start at £17,785, and the three-door is £530 cheaper than the revised five-door, which goes on sale at the end of March. However, it won’t be available in entry-level 116i guise.
Irrespective of whether you choose three doors or five, we suspect that the updated diesel engines – some of which can return 60.1mpg – will be the pick of the 1-Series range.