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In-depth reviews

BMW 1 Series review

The BMW 1 Series is an outstanding premium hatchback, offering an enticing combination of performance, efficiency and driver thrills

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

Price
£31,075 to £47,825
  • Fun to drive
  • Practical
  • High-quality interior
  • Limited engine range (for now)
  • Firm ride in M Sport trim
  • Tight rear headroom
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The BMW 1 Series may have made the switch to front (and four) wheel drive but this change hasn’t diluted its appeal – the smallest BMW is still great to drive. The 1 Series also has increased space inside and offers a range of efficient yet punchy engines.

Quality has taken a step in the right direction too, while the ergonomics, build and infotainment system in the latest, third-generation 1 Series are simply top-notch. A Volkswagen Golf may be cheaper and more practical – especially when it comes to rear headroom – but the 1 Series is a seriously appealing package that’s very hard to fault.

About the BMW 1 Series

The BMW 1 Series is a premium hatchback that’s not only been a hit for the Bavarian brand, it also firmly established BMW as a player in the compact segment. We’re now into the third generation of the 1 Series, whose closest rivals are the equally upmarket Mercedes A-Class and Audi A3, but it also competes with higher-spec versions of hatchback stalwarts like the VW GolfFord Focus and Mazda 3.

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There’s one big difference between the latest generation of 1 Series and its predecessors, though, and it’s one that caused consternation in the ranks of BMW enthusiasts when it was first announced.

BMW has built its reputation on fine handling rear-wheel drive cars, yet this 1 Series made the switch to a front-wheel drive platform that’s shared with the MINI Countryman and Clubman. The UKL2 platform that underpins the 1 Series was also used by the BMW X1 and 2 Series Active Tourer until very recently. As well as the obvious economies of scale, it’s a more space-efficient package, which has enabled BMW to improve the space inside its smallest model.

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Predictably, the new 1 Series also shares transversely mounted engines with the MINI range, with a choice of petrol or diesel powerplants. There is no plug-in hybrid 1 Series yet, however, which will be disappointing to company car drivers in search of maximum BiK savings as well as those looking to substantially cut back on their fuel consumption.

The 1 Series range kicks off with the petrol-powered 118i, followed by the more efficient 116d diesel. Both feature a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine, and send all their power to the front wheels though either a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed automatic transmission. Above those sits the more torquey, and slightly thirstier 120d powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine. There used to be a 118d, but it’s no longer part of the line-up.

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Of course, this being BMW, there are some faster versions of the 1 Series. The 128ti is meant to be BMW’s back-to-basics hot hatch, designed to challenge the jack of all trades that is the VW Golf GTI. It’s powered by a 2.0-litre four-pot petrol engine producing 261bhp, which in traditional hot-hatch style is all sent to the front wheels only.

The thoroughly rapid M135i xDrive uses the same motor, this time pumping out 301bhp and paired with BMW’s four-wheel drive system, xDrive. Instead of the Golf GTI, the M135i xDrive has the VW Golf RHonda Civic Type R and Mercedes-AMG A 45 firmly in its crosshairs. We even pitted it against the Porsche Macan T in a recent twin test, and the BMW was able to hold its own. Both the 128ti and M135i xDrive are available exclusively with the eight-speed auto.

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All the 1 Series models are strong performers and – given their outputs – the engines are paragons of efficiency too. Even the lowliest diesel manages 0-62mph in just over 10 seconds, while we’ve seen the high-performance M135i return over 32mpg.

There are just three trim levels in the 1 Series range at present; entry-level SE, Sport and the racy M Sport models, while the 128ti and M135i xDrive essentially serve as their own specifications. Prices start from just over £28,000, but that’ll start expanding as soon as you glance at the options list.

Used and nearly new

Having been on sale since 2004, the BMW 1 Series makes for a great used buy if you're seeking a family hatchback that offers superb driving fun. The 1 Series is into its third generation, so you should find plenty of second-hand examples to choose from, each offering typical BMW premium build quality and driving dynamics.

BMW 1 Series history

BMW 1 Series

BMW 1 Series Mk2: 2011-2019

The Mk2 1 Series offers plenty of rear-wheel drive thrills for the keen driver, while those with running costs in mind will be pleased to hear that all models offer efficient engines, with even the quickest versions still able to deliver decent economy. Three- and five-door body styles are available, although the 1 Series doesn't offer the most interior space compared to its close rivals. Read our full BMW 1 Series Mk2 buyer’s guide here…

Used BMW 1 Series Mk1 - front

BMW 1 Series Mk1: 2004-2011

The most modern Mk1 1 Series you can buy will still be over ten years old, so you should be able to source a relatively cheap example. There is a choice of either petrol or diesel power, while the six-cylinder 130i model offers 265bhp. Interior space isn't great, but the cabin still feels typically BMW, with solid build quality and easy to use controls. Read our full BMW 1 Series Mk1 buyer’s guide here…

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Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    120 Sport 5dr Step Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £31,075

Most Economical

  • Name
    120 Sport 5dr Step Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £31,075

Fastest

  • Name
    M135 xDrive 5dr Step Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £43,000
News reporter

As our news reporter, Ellis is responsible for covering everything new and exciting in the motoring world, from quirky quadricycles to luxury MPVs. He was previously the content editor for DrivingElectric and won the Newspress Automotive Journalist Rising Star award in 2022.

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