We haven’t yet driven the entry-level 114i petrol, but the 116i is all most buyers will need, with strong acceleration throughout the rev range. The 125i also pulls consistently and has enough pace to rival most hot hatches, while the 135i will blow most of them away. The 118d diesel is a bit hammery at high revs, but you’ll rarely need to venture there because it pulls well low down. Even the 116d ED – the most efficient choice – is still capable of reasonable performance when you need it.
The 1 Series is the only small family car that’s driven by its rear wheels. This partly explains why it’s sharper to drive than the many of its peers, with neutral handling and decent grip. However, the steering is very quick and overly light, which can make it feel rather nervous at times. The ride is very impressive, though, being slick and sophisticated at all speeds.
The 1 Series isn’t the quietest small family car. At low speeds you can hear the suspension thudding away as it soaks up bumps, and at low revs the diesel engines transmit vibrations through the pedals and gearknob. The petrol engines are hushed, though, and the cabin is well insulated from wind and road roar.
The 1 Series is similar in price to most of its premium-badged rivals, but you have to pay extra for some bits of kit you might expect to come as standard. On the plus side, decent discounts are available and the 1 Series retains its value well. Competitive fuel economy and CO2 emissions make it surprisingly cheap to run, too, especially if you pick the 116d ED version.
Interior quality is generally impressive, although a few pieces of trim – such as the glovebox lid – feel hard and scratchy. The previous-generation 1 Series performed well in the most recent JD Power ownership satisfaction survey, with few owners grumbling about mechanical problems.
The 1 Series scored five-out-of-five for safety on Euro NCAP’s latest crash testing programme, and all models in the line-up get six airbags and stability control as standard. However, there’s no way of adding the automatic braking function that most rivals have as standard. Every version features deadlocks, an alarm and an engine immobiliser to help deter thieves.
The driving position isn’t the most comfortable, because the pedals and the steering wheel don’t line up properly. The high central partition also makes the driver feel a little hemmed in, while the small rear window limits over-the-shoulder visibility. The iDrive infotainment system (standard on SE trim upwards) is brilliant, though, because it’s a doddle to use and simplifies the layout of the dashboard.
Six-footers will be able to get comfortable in both the front and the back. However, the small rear windows can make the cabin feel rather dark and claustrophobic, and you have to be quite flexible to get into the back in the first place, whether you choose the three-door or the five. The boot is a bit narrow and shallow, but folding down the rear seats gives a large loadbay.
Entry-level ES models miss out on some equipment you’d expect as to be fitted as standard, including Bluetooth, although you do get air-con, four electric windows and a socket to plug your MP3 player into. Stepping up to SE trims gets you Bluetooth, while top-of-the-range Sport, M Sport and Urban models add run-flat tyres and larger alloys wheels.
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The BMW 116d Efficient Dynamics is definitely the 1 Series to go for if you’re picking a company car, because it brings significant tax savings.