The premium feel of a BMW, though it's still the ugly sister of the family.

Introduction

BMW’s 1 Series, introduced in 2004, was the Munich company’s first truly dedicated range of family hatchbacks below the 3 Series – although the old BMW Compact (1993-2004) was a rough precursor. The 1 Series has proved to be a huge success and this second-generation car, launched in 2011, remains a strong contender in the premium family car segment, despite its impending replacement. Offered in three- or five-door formats, with a wide choice of efficient petrol and diesel engines, plus two gearboxes and the option of four-wheel drive, the BMW still deserves consideration for its excellent driving dynamics, its high-quality interior, and the fact the range-topping M140i is an utterly fabulous performance car.

 

Body Style: Hatchback      Seats: 5                          MRP from £21,260 - £32,735

 

Did you know? BMW delights in the 1 Series being the only rear-drive car in its class – but platform-sharing could see a future switch to front-wheel drive.

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Verdict: ★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

It might be getting on a bit relative to its rivals, but the BMW 1 Series remains highly relevant in the class simply because it’s an excellent car in many respects. A range of modular, turbocharged engines was drafted into the facelifted range in 2015 to keep it feeling modern, while the equipment levels are reasonably generous even on base cars. Like all rear-wheel-drive BMWs, it drives beautifully. It has a plush interior, too, but bear in mind that its very defining feature – rear-wheel drive – does lead to some packaging compromises. However, if you like the BMW’s distinctive looks, then there’s every chance you’d still pick the superb 1 Series over many of its younger rivals.

Design & Exterior ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)
Interior & Comfort ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)
Technology & Connectivity ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)
Performance & Handling ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)
Safety Features ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)
Engine & Specs ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)
Running Costs & Fuel Economy  ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)
Pricing

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

 

2017 BMW 1 Series

We Like

Rear-wheel-drive dynamics

Excellent interior quality

Strong engines

We Don't Like

Not the prettiest car

Fairly expensive

Some safety kit is optional

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Design & Exterior: ★★★★★★★☆☆ (7/10)

2017 BMW 1 Series

The BMW 1 Series has never been the prettiest hatchback going, although the midlife model facelift of 2015 certainly improved the aesthetics of the Mk2 – prior to that, it had a down-in-the-mouth front-end and a rather plain rear. Wider light clusters front and rear made a positive difference to the post ‘Life-Cycle Impulse’ cars, though, and at least the 1 Series has always been distinctive. As with many BMW line-ups, the M Sport models in strong colours and on bigger wheels look the best. The most handsome variant is the flagship M140i, which gets its own styling signature to denote its potency.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Interior & Comfort: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

2017 BMW 1 Series

BMW put a lot of effort into making the 1 Series’ cabin feel as upmarket as the interiors on its bigger models, and it shows. It might not quite rival the newer Audi A3 for ambience, but it’s still better to touch, nicer to look at and easier to use than practically any other hatchback on the market. The iDrive infotainment system is the most intuitive control interface around, including touchscreens, because it works fluently and you can click through settings without having to take your eyes off the road. A slight gripe: only the M140i gets leather and climate control as standard, whereas it's an option costing more than £1,100 on all other models – most variants come with cloth seats. Manual air conditioning is fitted to every 1 Series below the range-topper.

Practicality

There are plenty of useful storage cubbies and acres of space up front in the 1 Series, while the view forwards is good and a sportingly low-to-the-floor driving position is attainable. The BMW’s practicality foibles come at the back. The very thing that makes the car so alluring as a driving machine, its rear-wheel-drive layout, hobbles rear passenger space. The longitudinal  propeller shaft linking engine to rear axle leads to a big transmission tunnel in the cabin. Adults really wouldn’t want to sit in the centre-rear seat for long, then, even in the five-door model, and access to the back row isn’t easy if you opt for the three-door variant. At least it’s spacious enough for two tall-ish people to sit in the back, unlike the original 1 Series.

That rear-wheel-drive packaging equates to a boot that’s down on capacity compared to rivals', too. It will hold 360 litres with the 60:40 standard split rear seatbacks in place, and 1200 litres with them folded down. Plus points: the seats lie nice and flat when they’re stowed, and there’s a 40:20:40 through-loading option that’s less than £200 if you need more flexibility.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Technology & Connectivity: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

2017 BMW 1 Series
2017 BMW 1 Series

Decent equipment is offered, one of the key selling points being the inclusion of sat-nav on every 1 Series, following BMW’s fleet-wide roll-out of mapping in 2015. Remember, this is a basic version of BMW’s guidance system, displayed on a 6.5-inch dash screen, while the swisher-looking 8.0-inch Professional Nav is part of the optional Media Package BMW Professional.

Essentially, though, all models come with Bluetooth, BMW Emergency Call, BMW Online Services, a DAB radio, a multifunction steering wheel and a bit more besides. Two improved sound systems are offered, the first being BMW Loudspeaker for less than £300, while the Harman Kardon set-up is about double that price. Further options, bundled into the Innovation Package, include wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay preparation and Wi-Fi Hotspot Preparation.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Performance & Handling: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

2017 BMW 1 Series

An excellent array of engines makes up the 1 Series range, with modularity making things easy to understand. Leaving the M140i aside, there are just four units – three-cylinder petrol and diesel motors of 1.5 litres’ capacity (badged 118i or 116d), or four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines of 2.0 litres’ capacity (badged 120i/125i, or 118d, 120d, or 125d). The different model numbers simply denote that a certain engine has more power – so the 125i has 224hp to the 120i’s 184hp figure, for example.

The vast majority of 1 Series models come with a six-speed manual gearbox driving the rear wheels. Options include two eight-speed automatic transmissions, one called Sport as it comes with steering wheel paddle-shifts, and there’s the possibility of adding xDrive four-wheel drive to the 120d, although it costs more than £3,000 and makes the car automatic-only. The 125-badged cars also can’t be equipped with a manual gearbox, while the fuel-saving 116d EfficientDynamics Plus is the only 1 Series that has no automatic option.

Regardless of which output or drivetrain you pick, these are fantastic engines. The three-cylinder motors bring their own benefits, such as a lighter nose (which makes the BMW more agile) and a burbling soundtrack, but you won’t go far wrong with the four-cylinder engines. The pick of these is the 118d, which has an appealing blend of rapid performance and incredible frugality, including CO2 emissions of less than 100g/km in SE Auto trim.

Yet the BMW’s real forté is its handling. The agility bestowed upon it by the rear-wheel-drive design is unmatched by anything else in the class, making it incredible fun on a quiet back road, and it has great body control, lovely steering and a meaty set of brakes, too. Thankfully, it operates beautifully as a day-to-day conveyance, because the ride quality is generally smooth and the refinement levels are exceptional. Be wary of M Sport models, as their firmer suspension and bigger alloys do tip the balance more towards roadholding at the expense of comfort.

For ultimate motoring thrills, select the 340hp M140i. It’ll do 0-62mph in a thunderous 4.6 seconds with the Sports Automatic (4.8 seconds for the manual), courtesy of a turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine, and it’s an absolute riot to drive. It might not be as quick across the ground as an Audi RS 3 or Mercedes-AMG A 45, but it’s a lot more engaging than either of its pricier rivals.

Recommended engine: 118d SE Automatic

0-62 MPH

8.1 seconds

Fuel economy

74.3mpg

Emissions

99g/km

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Safety Features: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

2017 BMW 1 Series

While modern safety equipment is available on the 1 Series, and the car received a five-star Euro NCAP rating, Driving Assistant is a cost-option. It’s a suite of useful technologies – namely, Attentiveness Assistant, City Collision Mitigation, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and Preventive Pedestrian Protection – but it isn’t standard on any 1 Series. In defence of BMW, it’s not expensive to buy.

There are two cruise control options, the first being a standard system with a braking function (standard only on the 116d ED Plus), while Active Cruise Control with Stop&Go is almost £800. Safety equipment across the board includes a tyre-pressure monitoring system, four airbags, and two ISOFIX mounting points.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Specs and Trim Levels: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

2017 BMW 1 Series

Colours

There are 13 colours overall, although which ones are available depends upon the chosen specification. No-cost non-metallic colours are Jet Black and Alpine White. Metallic shades are Melbourne Red, Glacier Silver, Black Sapphire, Valencia Orange, and Mineral Grey, as well as Platinum Silver, Mediterranean Blue, Sparkling Brown, Midnight Blue, and Mineral White. However, these last five metallic options and Jet Black are not offered on the M Sport cars – by small way of recompense, they are the only 1 Series variants that can be finished in attractive Estoril Blue metallic.

Trim Levels

In a hierarchical structure, there are three trims that diminish the more power you specify. So, both the 118i and 118d are available in SE, Sport, and M Sport guises; the 120i and 120d drop the SE grade; and then the 125i and 125d cars are M Sport-only.

The exceptions to this rule are the bookends of the range, the 116d and the M140i, as the former has an additional, special ED Plus business-focused specification that adds just a few items (cruise control with braking function, rear Park Distance Control, and Servotronic variable-rate steering) to SE grade, while the latter car gets a high-end equipment tally of its own.

In general, SEs come with 16-inch alloys, air conditioning, push-button keyless start, auto lights and wipers, and front fog lights. Sport enlarges the wheels to 17s, brings in the Drive Performance Control switchable driving modes, and smatters sporty detailing throughout the cabin, including sports seats and a different steering wheel.

M Sport further bolsters the dynamic look with a bodykit, 18-inch wheels, an M Sport-themed interior and LED headlights with auto high-beam function. There’s a further pack called M Sport Plus, which collates the Harman Kardon sound system, stronger M Sport brakes and Sun Protection Glass. Owners can opt, at no extra cost, to have the 18-inch alloys painted grey as part of this bundle.

Size and Dimensions

Compact and lithe, the BMW 1 Series should easily fit most domestic garages with little bother and it should prove easy to thread about at rush hour, too.

Length

4,324mm

Width

1,765mm (excluding door mirrors)

Height

1,440mm

Max towing weight without brake

From 650kg (any model of 118i) - 750kg (120d xDrive)

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Running Costs & Fuel Economy: ★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

2017 BMW 1 Series

All models get BMW’s EfficientDynamics suite of measures, designed to save fuel. This incorporates Auto Start-Stop, Brake Energy Regeneration, Eco Pro mode, electric power steering, and lightweight build where possible. Additionally, every 1 Series bar the M140i has low rolling-resistance tyres, while most models have an optimum gear shift indicator as well. That means the BMW, with its strong residual values included, is cheaper to run than you might think – petrol returns are between 36mpg (M140i manual) and 59mpg (118i SE auto), while the regular diesels achieve anything from 60mpg (120d xDrive M Sport) to 78mpg (116d SE).

While an automatic 1 Series is mostly a little more fuel-efficient and less polluting, by tge official figures at least, the eco-champ of the range is the 116d ED Plus which is manual-only and has Active Air Flaps in its front grilles. These open and shut automatically, depending on driving requirements. As a result, it will do more than 83mpg with less than 90g/km of CO2 emitted, making it the obvious choice for business buyers.

Reliability and servicing

We’ve not heard of any major problems that are specific to the 1 Series, although turbochargers are always prone to failure if they’re not maintained properly and the car does high mileage – this will more likely affect the diesel BMWs than the petrol models. Servicing is done on a condition-based rotation, with the car determining when it requires maintenance, and service plans covering up to three years or 36,000 miles of upkeep are available for a fixed fee of just a few hundred pounds.   

Petrol model

No fixed schedule – BMW Condition-Based Servicing.

Diesel model

No fixed schedule – BMW Condition-Based Servicing. 

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Pricing: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

2017 BMW 1 Series
2017 BMW 1 Series

It’s a BMW and so the 1 Series is not at the cheaper end of the family hatchback scale, competing instead with similarly premium products from Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, and Volvo. Prices start at slightly more than £21,000 and rise to almost £33,000 for the M140i high-performance model. However, this 1 Series is nearing the end of its production life now, so sizeable discounts should be available in dealerships – and, at the end of the day, you do ultimately get a high-quality product for the considerable outlay.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Recommendations

New Parents

A five-door 118d M Sport with the automatic transmission provides the best all-round 1 Series experience and good family transport.

Company Car Buyer

It was designed purely for this purpose: the 116d ED Plus majors on low running costs and essential business equipment.

Car Enthusiast

Only the best will do, as the M140i is one of the finest high-performance hatches going. Stick with a manual three-door for cost reasons.

Rivals

Audi A3

Newer than the 1 Series and possessed of a fine range of engines/technology, the A3 can also be specified as a saloon if needed.

Lexus CT 200h

Only one drivetrain choice and it’s a petrol-electric hybrid. Strange interior design, dumpy bodywork and a dull drive, but the CT is cheap to tax and run.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Handsome machine with wide engine line-up and impressive technology levels, although interior ergonomics won’t please everyone.

Volkswagen Golf

Revised 2017 Mk7 Golf remains a class act in all departments – and it’s usefully a bit cheaper than the BMW.

Volvo V40

Although there’s life left in the 2012-launched Volvo yet, it looks very dated compared to the Swedish company’s ‘90’-badged products.

What others say

What Car?

“The BMW 1 Series is one of the best small family cars. It’s desirable, good to drive, and surprisingly cheap to run.”

Car Buyer

“The BMW 1 Series is a premium family hatchback that justifies its price by offering an excellent driving experience and a smart interior.”

 

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