The BMW 1 Series is one of the best premium hatchbacks on sale, offering a combination of performance, efficiency and driver thrills
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 its higher-quality cabin and offers a range of efficient yet punchy engines.
A Volkswagen Golf is still 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.
2 Oct, 2019 4.5
The BMW 1 Series has been redesigned from the ground up, using an up-to-date platform that prioritises interior space and packaging. Front-wheel drive and a switch to transversely mounted engines mean there’s more space in the interior for passengers and their luggage.
The new layout has also dictated a new look for the latest car; there’s a shorter bonnet and less space between the front wheels and doors. BMW’s trademark kidney grille sits proudly on the nose, while the whole design has been geared towards making the car look squat and purposeful. Panel gaps are small and paint quality is good – the 1 Series is a car that looks expensive.
That theme carries on inside, where the 1 Series benefits from an interior that follows the larger 3 Series closely in terms of design, fit and finish. It’s arguably not as exciting to look at as the Mercedes’ interior but overall quality is more than up to scratch and serves to help make the 1 Series feel like a premium product.
Higher trim levels benefit from the addition of two 10.25-inch screens operating BMW’s latest infotainment system – these look great, are easy to read on the move and are easier to navigate than Mercedes’ slightly convoluted MBUX. Entry-level cars make do with analogue dials and a central 8.8-inch screen.
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SE cars get cloth upholstery, front and rear parking sensors, automatic LED headlights and BMW’s Connected Package Plus with concierge and remote services support. The step to Sport trim adds dual-zone climate control, exterior styling tweaks and sports seats trimmed in cloth and Sensatec faux leather.
M Sport trim is likely to account for plenty of 1 Series sales, bringing desirable upgrades like leather upholstery, heated sports seats, M Sport suspension and a short-shift gearbox (on manual cars), along with the usual smattering of vents, larger alloys and a sporty single-exit exhaust. BMW also offers a range of M Performance accessories, including carbon fibre trim, spoilers, splitters and other aerodynamic additions. An Alcantara steering wheel is also offered.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
There are two infotainment systems on the BMW 1 Series, but it’s the higher spec option that’s most capable of taking on the MBUX setup found in the Mercedes A Class. SE, Sport and M Sport models come as standard with a central 8.8-inch display using BMW Operating System 6.0, controlled via a touch-sensitive iDrive controller on the centre console. Conventional analogue dials sit behind the steering wheel.
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It’s worth upgrading to the full-fat twin-screen BMW Live Cockpit Professional system, though. It comes as standard on the top-spec M135i but can be specified on any 1 Series as a £1,000 option, or as part of the £1,500 Tech Pack II that also adds a harman/kardon sound system. In use the system is snappy, responsive and intuitive to use, with the sharp graphics and excellent sat-nav standing out as particular highlights.
It’s a good thing that the on-board sat-nav is up to scratch; Apple CarPlay is not standard and Android Auto is notable by its absence – meanwhile, cheaper offerings like the Ford Focus get both as standard on all models.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
The BMW 1 Series sits on a thoroughly modern platform that’s been tried and tested under the skin of a number of its stablemates, so there’s no reason to expect that the smallest 1 Series will suffer unexpected gremlins or perform badly in an accident.
Euro NCAP is yet to crash test the 1 Series; the previous model was tested in 2012 and received a top-rate five-star rating, while more recently the similarly platformed 2 Series Active Tourer achieved a similar full-marks score.
Standard safety kit includes Active Guard Plus – BMW’s collation of automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and speed limit assist – along with cruise control, front and rear parking sensors and automatic headlights. The optional Driving Assistant pack cost around £1,000 and adds adaptive cruise with stop/go functionality and rear-cross traffic warning, amongst other active safety systems.
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BMW offers a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty on all of its cars – a scheme that’s on par with Mercedes’ offering but superior to Audi’s mileage-capped warranty. BMW also provides roadside assistance for three years.
As with most premium manufacturers, BMW offers a range of fixed-price servicing packages designed to simplify the maintenance process. The BMW Pay Monthly Service Plan includes one free MoT, car washes, sat-nav updates, free fluid top-ups and seasonal health checks. With a £100 deposit and 31 monthly payments of £20, a 10,000-mile-per-year car will get a minor service at 15,000 miles/24 months and a major service at 30,000 miles/48 months.
As with the bulk of its rivals, the BMW 1 Series is only available as a five-door hatchback. It’s now more traditional in its layout than ever, with a more cab-forward design that prioritises cabin space.
Up front, this lends itself to an excellent driving position that’s in-keeping with the car’s sporty character – it’s easy to achieve a low, comfortable position without compromising visibility or comfort in your legs and arms. Rearward visibility is not as good as in some rivals, but it’s still better than the restricted view in the Mazda 3.
Elsewhere, cabin storage is ample, with good-sized cupholders and doorbins offering enough space for odds and ends. A lidded compartment is found under the centre armrest, while a wireless phone charger can be added to the centre console just ahead of the gear lever.
In typical BMW fashion, all major controls are intuitively located so that driving the 1 Series for the first time is a more accessible experience than in the idiosyncratic A Class.
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The BMW 1 Series is wider than before but is still on a par with its rivals in terms of overall size. It’s around 4.3 metres long, 1.4 metres tall and 1.7 metres wide. The Mercedes A Class is marginally longer but similarly wide and tall.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
There’s more space for passengers in the latest 1 Series than in the old car. Front seat occupants have plenty of space but there’s still a cocooning, sporty feel that’s enhanced by a relatively high, dark-coloured dash.
It’s easier to access the rear seats than before thanks to a wider door opening; once inside, there are a few extra centimetres of knee room and headroom. However, back seat passengers will still feel more hemmed-in than in the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class; taller adults in particular may struggle to get comfortable. ISOfix points are standard on the outer rear seats.
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There’s 380 litres of space in the boot, which benefits from wider, lower opening than that of the previous BMW 1 Series. This 20-litre increase means the 1 Series just pips the Mercedes A Class (370 litres) and matches the Volkswagen Golf. Split-folding 40:20:40 rear seats are offered to expand the boot’s capacity, along with a number of optional luggage retention hooks and nets.
One of the benefits of the 1 Series’ all-new platform is its ability to accept a range of frugal engines. The light weight and a range of turbocharged three and four-cylinder engines mean emissions are low and economy is strong.
The most efficient model in the range is the 116d, whose three-cylinder diesel returns 54.3 to 62.8mpg depending on gearbox and trim, and therefore wheel size and weight. CO2 emissions are 100g/km – a remarkable feat in a car of this type.
The 118d doesn’t lag too far behind, with CO2 emissions of 108–109g/km and economy of 51.4 to 60.1mpg. Given the minimal difference in economy over the 116d but significant increase in performance, it’s likely to be the best choice for diesel buyers. Opt for the more powerful 120d and economy drops to 48.70–53.3mpg; CO2 emissions are 117g/km.
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Petrol models fare well; the 118i returns a respectable 40.9–47.1mpg depending on spec, with CO2 emissions of 114–121g/km. The hot M135i is remarkably frugal, with 34.4–35.8mpg and CO2 emissions sitting at 155g/km.
The BMW 1 Series occupies insurance groups 21 to 39, with the 116d and M135i bookending this range. By comparison the Mercedes A Class, which sits in groups 17 to 37, could be cheaper to insure at either end of the spectrum, with these figures relating to the A180 d and Mercedes-AMG A35 respectively.
Our experts expect that the BMW 1 Series will hold on to around 44 to 52 per cent of its value after 36,000 miles and three years come trade-in time. This compares well against the Mercedes A Class, whose value after the same period will be 46 to 52 per cent.