The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.5
Smart looks, with good standard equipment and a range of frugal engines, means this 1 Series is a more attractive proposition than ever before. It drives nicely, too, so if you like your small hatch with a sporty flavour, then it’s definitely worth a look. However, the firm ride, patchy interior quality and limited practicality mean it’s not our favourite small hatch.
Reasons to buy
- Sporty looks matched by sharp drive
- Some very economical engines
- Sat-nav standard on every model
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
If there’s one word BMW’s designers use more than any other to describe the 1 Series, it’s ‘sporty’; and that shows through in the wide grille, pronounced sculpting on the bumpers and the sleek headlights, which incorporate LED daytime running lights.
The 1 Series is available in both three and five-door form. All models get alloy wheels, chrome exhaust tips and front foglamps. Sport models get a few glossier exterior panels, while M Sport cars get a body kit and a whole bunch of badges. The sportiest model, the M140i hot hatch, has all sorts of extra visual tweaks, including metallic ‘airblades’ around the front air intakes.
What's the interior like?
Inside, too, there’s no mistaking that this a BMW, with the sporty theme continued in the way the centre console is angled towards the driver, while the high centre console and low seating position giving a cockpit-like feel. At the same time, the iDrive infotainment control system continues to be a lesson to other car makers in ease of use; the dash-top screen has beautifully clear graphics. However, it’s not all good news. The pedals are offset to the right, which some drivers will find awkward. Also, the 1 Series’ cabin is now showing its age next to more modern rivals like the Audi A3. There are a few places the BMW’s materials controls look and feel a tiny bit behind the curve for quality, and you don’t have to drop your eyeline too far to find some distinctly lower-quality materials. The glovebox lid and doorbins are particular offenders in this respect.
How practical is it?
Although there’s no shortage of space in the front seats, when we say this is a small hatchback, we mean it. Compared to the likes of the A3 and Volkswagen Golf, the rear seats are cramped, with legroom in short supply and the combination of a narrow centre seat and a large transmission tunnel in the floor making it pretty much impossible to sit three passengers across the rear seat. Similarly, the boot is a little smaller than what you’ll find in a Golf or A3, and there’s quite a lip to lift your cargo over when you’re loading and unloading. So, if carrying people and luggage is your top priority, there are better options out there.
What's it like to drive?
BMW is proud of the fact that the 1 Series is the only rear wheel-drive car in the class, and rightly so. It means the car can tackle bends with a degree of balance and fluidity that few of its rivals can match, and that’s something that shines through even in the economy-focused models. This is a genuinely fun and enjoyable thing to drive, and at the top of the range, the M140i is truly impressive even when judged alongside its best hot hatch rivals. Trouble is, there’s a price to pay – a slight shortage of ride comfort. On less-than-perfect road surfaces, the 1 Series thumps and bumps its way around, and even on apparently smooth roads you never completely lose that slightly firm feel. Specifying the adaptive suspension (an option across the range) does lead to a smoother ride in Comfort mode, but there’s still a firm edge. On the other hand, Sport mode does give appreciably sharper handing.
How powerful is it?
So far we’ve only had the chance to drive a few of the wide range of engines, but enough to show that the 1.5-litre three-cylinder diesel engine (also used in various Minis) is a perfect partner for the car. It makes the car enjoyable to drive despite its focus on low emissions and excellent fuel economy. It’s generally quiet, too, and the only time you’re even slightly aware that it has only three cylinders is at low speed around town or when you rev it hard. For the bulk of the time, all you’ll notice is that it pulls smoothly and strongly from around 1,500rpm. This makes it easy to not only keep up with everyday traffic without any great effort, but also to get decent economy in the real world.
The 120d uses a bigger 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine and offers performance that’s a little more muscular, and although it’s not the smoothest or quietest engine of its type, it’s still pretty good on both fronts. Meanwhile, the 120i revs smoothly and gives something approaching warm hatch performance, although in typical hot hatch fashion, you need to rev it quite hard to get the best from it. The M140i, meanwhile, is a massively quick car, with proper sports car pace when you drive it hard, but there’s still enough flexibility at low revs to allow you to pootle along comfortably when you have to.
How much will it cost me?
The 1 Series may be quite dear to buy, but it won’t necessarily be dear to run. The star of the show is the 1.5-litre 116d engine, with its low CO2 emissions and correspondingly low BIK bills for company car users. In fact, all the engines across the range are impressively efficient when compared with their equivalents in rival models. Most diesel-engined versions have impressively high official fuel economy figures, as do the petrol models, save perhaps the performance-focused M140i, although that's still not bad. On top of that, BMW’s traditionally strong resale values will help to give the car very competitive lease rates against its rivals, and fixed-priced servicing is traditionally offered over the first three years, too.
How reliable is it?
Despite BMW’s reputation, its cars aren’t always the best for reliability. Previous versions of the 1 Series have been around average, according to both figures from Warranty Direct and reports from owners on our own website. JD Power's 2018 Vehicle Dependability Study places BMW rock bottom of all manufacturers, which is a concern. BMW’s three-year, unlimited mileage warranty is much more par for the course, and because this model is a facelift (rather than a brand new car) there are likely to be fewer teething problems with the engines and gearboxes.
How safe is it?
The 1 Series has received a five-star crash test rating from safety organisation Euro NCAP, and it comes with a suitably generous package of standard safety-related kit. However, it’s disappointing that automatic emergency braking isn’t standard; you can only have it by adding the optional Driving Assistant Package, which also includes Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Preventive Pedestrian Protection. Thing is, you can only have the package in conjunction with other optional kit that bumps the price up further. In fairness to the 1 Series, it’s a similar story with the Audi A3, but the latest Mercedes A-Class gives you more of these clever driver assistance systems as standard.
How much equipment do I get?
There are three mainstream trim levels in the 1 Series – SE, Sport and M Sport – but the real headline-grabber is the fact that sat-nav is standard across the range. On top of that, SE models come with air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio, and automatic lights and wipers, while Sport models have a sporty interior makeover, including ambient interior lighting and sports seats. M Sport models take the sporty looks up another notch, as well as adding LED headlights and sports suspension. Meanwhile, the M135i has its own bespoke trim level, with dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery and a unique bodykit.
The 1 Series’ decent equipment, entertaining handling and sporty styling will be what attracts buyers to the car, and it’s certainly worth a look, especially as it has some very economical engines and very low running costs. However, it’s not without its shortcomings, particularly in terms of its ride comfort, practicality and cabin quality. Our favourite premium hatch remains the Audi A3, which is a fine drive in its own right, but crucially, it’s more comfortable, classier inside and – in the Sportback body style – more practical.