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In-depth reviews

BMW 1 Series review - Engines, performance and drive

The switch to front-wheel drive hasn’t dulled the 1 Series’ driver appeal – in fact, it’s better to drive than before

The 1 Series has traditionally been one of the best-driving hatchbacks around – a reputation that BMW is keen to retain for the car’s third generation. The latest car shares its underpinnings with a number of existing BMW products, including X1, X2 and 2 Series Active Tourer – all good cars to drive in their own right. The 1 Series brings lighter weight and a lower centre of gravity to the mix, with its chassis tune geared towards driver involvement. BMW itself describes the 1 Series as a 'Sports Hatch' and this doesn’t feel too far off the mark.

Generally, all the hallmarks of modern BMW products are present and correct. The 1 Series boasts accurate, well-weighted steering, powerful brakes and an inherent balance to its chassis that inspires confidence while providing a comfortable – if slightly firm in M Sport models – ride. There’s loads of mechanical grip too, both in front and four-wheel drive models. At normal to high road speeds, most drivers won’t even notice that the 1 Series isn’t rear-wheel drive.

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The best hot hatchbacks to buy now

The 118d is set to be the most popular model and those who take the plunge are unlikely to be disappointed. The engine pairs really nicely with the 1 Series’ poised chassis; its a package that combines to make BMW’s smallest, front-driven car feel much like the excellent, rear-wheel drive 3 Series from behind the wheel.

The high-performance M135i – a direct rival for the Volkswagen Golf R and Mercedes-AMG A35 – is impressively fast and delivers its performance effortlessly, but it’s not quite as characterful as rivals like the Honda Civic Type R; a flat engine note belies the car’s punch. It’s more than a match for the aforementioned German rivals, however – buckets of mid-range torque work well with the clever four-wheel drive system to make short work of twisty tarmac.

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

There are two petrol engines and three diesel engines to choose from, with the majority being offered with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, or an eight-speed automatic as an option.

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The 118i kicks off the range, powered by a 138bhp turbocharged petrol engine. Performance is peppy, with 0-62mph taking 8.5 seconds regardless of gearbox choice. For now, this is the only non-performance petrol offering in the range.

The 116d is the cheapest, least powerful and most efficient diesel engine on offer. It produces 114bhp from its 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine and 0-62mph takes 10.3 seconds with the manual gearbox or 10.1 with an automatic. The step up to 118d brings a 2.0-litre four-pot with a useful 138bhp; 0-62mph takes 8.5 seconds with the manual or 8.4 with the automatic.

The most powerful diesel engine is found in the 120d, producing 187bhp from its 2.0-litre unit. Four-wheel drive is standard with this model, aiding traction off the line for a 0-62mph sprint of seven seconds dead.

The fastest 1 Series in the range is the M135i; its 302bhp 2.0-litre engine and standard four-wheel drive are enough for a 0-62mph sprint of just 4.8 seconds – enough to give the Volkswagen Golf R a run for its money.

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Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    118i SE 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £23,355

Most Economical

  • Name
    116d SE 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £24,445

Fastest

  • Name
    M135i xDrive 5dr Step Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £34,995
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