BMW 1 Series review

Category: Family car

Excellent infotainment and a top-notch interior, along with good driving dynamics, too.

BMW 1 Series front cornering
  • BMW 1 Series front cornering
  • BMW 1 Series rear cornering
  • BMW 1 Series interior dashboard
  • BMW 1 Series interior back seats
  • BMW 1 Series interior infotainment
  • BMW 1 Series right tracking
  • BMW 1 Series front cornering
  • BMW 1 Series rear cornering
  • BMW 1 Series left static boot open
  • BMW 1 Series alloy wheel detail
  • BMW 1 Series interior front seats
  • BMW 1 Series interior steering wheel detail
  • BMW 1 Series interior detail
  • BMW 1 Series boot open
  • BMW 1 Series front cornering
  • BMW 1 Series rear cornering
  • BMW 1 Series interior dashboard
  • BMW 1 Series interior back seats
  • BMW 1 Series interior infotainment
  • BMW 1 Series right tracking
  • BMW 1 Series front cornering
  • BMW 1 Series rear cornering
  • BMW 1 Series left static boot open
  • BMW 1 Series alloy wheel detail
  • BMW 1 Series interior front seats
  • BMW 1 Series interior steering wheel detail
  • BMW 1 Series interior detail
  • BMW 1 Series boot open
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Introduction

What Car? says...

The BMW 1 Series has been a staple contender among premium family hatchbacks for many years, appealing to anyone looking to mix driver appeal and glamour with a dose of practicality.

This latest, third-generation 1 Series has one big change that's upset a few enthusiasts, though – it's driven by its front wheels rather than being rear-wheel drive. However, for most buyers, that's actually made it a far more accomplished family car.

You see, the truth is, previous generations of the BMW 1 Series weren’t as good to drive as the 'Ultimate Driving Machine' hype suggested, with only more powerful (and expensive) six-cylinder versions able to take full advantage of the rear-wheel-drive layout.

On the latest model, BMW gives you a choice of petrol and diesel engines, and you can even get four-wheel drive if you opt for the ballistically quick hot-hatch version, the BMW M135i xDrive (which we've reviewed separately). Indeed, many of the mechanicals are taken from the BMW X1 and BMW X2 SUVs.

Here, we'll be finding out how the BMW 1 Series stacks up against a range of alternatives, including the Audi A3 and the Mercedes A-Class – as well as more mainstream alternatives, including the Mazda 3 and the VW Golf. We'll also tell you which engine and trim combination make the most sense.

Once you've decided on your next new car, you can make sure you don't pay over the odds for it by searching for the best prices on our free What Car? New Car Deals service. It's a great place to find the best new family car deals.

Overview

In the ultra-competitive arena of the premium family car, the 1 Series is right up there, but it's not the best (that's the Audi A3). It delivers a good blend of driver appeal with decent ride comfort and fine practicality, but its main strengths are a top-notch interior and a brilliant infotainment system.

  • Superb build quality
  • Sporty handling
  • Class-leading infotainment system
  • Mercedes A-Class is safer
  • SE trim not that well equipped
  • Road noise at speed
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox

Our favourite engine for the BMW 1 Series is the 118i petrol. It's a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder with 134bhp that’ll get you from 0-62mph in 8.9sec. That’s slightly slower than the 35 TFSI Audi A3 but quicker than the A180 Mercedes A-Class. It's certainly brisk enough, and pulls well from low down in the rev range, making it an easy and relaxing companion for everyday driving.

If you're looking for a diesel, the 116d is the entry point. It’s available in front-wheel-drive form with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. With a 0-62mph time of 10.1 seconds, it’s the slowest 1 Series and feels like it. If you want more punch, we’d recommend stepping up to the more powerful 187bhp 120d. It comes with a quick-shifting auto gearbox and delivers a punchy 0-62mph time of just 7.3sec.

The BMW M135i (which has its own separate review) has a 302bhp 2.0-litre, four-cylinder unit. It’s an impressive hot hatchback but is upstaged by the cheaper 128ti, which uses a detuned version of the M135i’s engine for 261bhp and still feels pleasingly punchy (0-62mph in 6.1sec).

BMW 1 Series image
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Suspension and ride comfort

If you go for SE or Sport trim, you get the softest suspension available in the 1 Series. It doesn’t absorb surface imperfections quite as smoothly as a comparable A-Class, but it’s still impressively cosseting and, as an added bonus, doesn’t feel as floaty over undulating roads (great news if your kids are prone to travel sickness).

Next up is the stiffer set-up fitted to the M Sport versions. It does exaggerate any initial jolts, but it's never crashy and manages to stay on the right side of comfortable. The equivalent A3 S line is marginally less jarring, though. The 128ti gets a bespoke M Sport set-up that's firmer than that of the equivalent VW Golf GTI but has enough give not to thump harshly over bumps.

You can opt for adaptive suspension on M Sport versions of the 118d, 120d and M135i but the improvements they deliver don't justify the extra cost.

BMW 1 Series rear cornering

Handling

If you enjoy a sporty drive, you’ll find the front-wheel-drive 1 Series a big improvement over the previous rear-wheel-drive models, and a sharper drive than the A-Class to boot. For starters, the 1 Series’ quicker steering gives it a livelier feel, and because it controls its vertical body movements better on lumpier surfaces, it's a bit more stable too.

We'd suggest going for the stiffer M Sport trim to maximise those virtues, though. Even tighter control leads to less body lean, making it feel more agile when switching from left to right at speed. That said, some people might find the 1 Series a bit too lively – we found that the A3 offers more confidence-inspiring steering, a better handling balance and more front-end grip.

The 128ti and M135i hot hatches get their own bespoke steering and suspension set-ups to help keep them flatter in corners. With four-wheel drive, the M135i has amazing traction on greasy, winding roads but the front-wheel drive 128ti is the more engaging driver’s car, thanks to its more natural-feeling steering and playful chassis.

Noise and vibration

The 1 Series is pretty civilised at higher speeds (as is the A3). Wind noise is low and the suspension is jolly quiet, even over lumpy surfaces. The A-Class is quieter on motorways, though, because the 1 Series suffers from a fair amount of road noise, especially with bigger wheels fitted.

At low speeds, there’s a bit of diesel rumble in the 116d, but the fuel-saving stop-start system cuts the engine in and out very slickly in traffic. The 118i petrol thrums away more pleasantly, but its stop-start is far less cultured. When combined with the automatic gearbox, the set-up becomes quite clunky compared with its premium petrol family car rivals.

You get beefier brakes as standard on the 128ti and M135i, and these can be added as an option on other models with M Sport trim. They are more progressive than the abrupt standard brakes, so it’s easier to come to a halt smoothly. The 128ti is available only as an automatic, but its eight-speed gearbox is one of the best in the business, delivering crisp, seamless shifts. In fact, the same is true of the seven-speed automatics offered for other models in the range.

“Dynamically, the 1 Series is agile and eager to change direction, thanks in part to steering that's smooth, precise and responsive. The front tyres find lots of grip, too, giving you plenty of confidence on a twisty road.” – Doug Revolta, Head of Video

Interior

The interior layout, fit and finish

Driving position and dashboard

The interior design of the BMW 1 Series is mostly very good. For a start, there’s masses of height and reach adjustment to the steering wheel and plenty of movement to the driver's seat as well. The fly in the ointment comes from having to pay extra for lumbar adjustment, but it's not too pricey and it's the same deal with most versions of the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class

Fully electric seat adjustment is on the options list, and the seat is generally supportive, although the flat and relatively hard cushions don't suit everyone. It’s worth checking you’re happy with them by taking a longish test drive. 

As standard, you get fully digital instruments but they're not the easiest to read at a glance. The Technology Pack adds a head-up display so you don’t need to take your eyes from the road.

Visibility, parking sensors and cameras

The forward view in the 1 Series is as good as in the A3 and A-Class thanks to its slim windscreen pillars.

You get LED headlights as standard, so night visibility is good too. You can upgrade them to Icon Adaptive LEDs (as part of the Technology Pack) that can stay on high beam more of the time because they shape the light they cast around other road users to avoid dazzling them. That’s an option well worth considering. 

The chunky rear pillars restrict the view over your shoulder, but front and rear parking sensors are included across the range, and a semi-automatic parking assistance function comes as part of the optional Technology Pack. The system can recognise a big enough space and help steer you into it.

BMW 1 Series interior dashboard

Sat nav and infotainment

Every 1 Series gets a 10.3in infotainment screen operated by pressing icons on the touchscreen or using the rotary iDrive controller and shortcut buttons by the gear lever. 

The iDrive system is the best interface to use when you're driving because it’s much less distracting than the screen. That's why we prefer the 1 Series’ infotainment to the A3’s touchscreen-only set-up. It’s also easier to use than the A-Class’s touchpad controller, but that’s a good second. You can also use BMW's voice recognition or even the optional gesture control, although that's a bit of a gimmick.

The infotainment has lots of features, but the simple menus and clear graphics make everything easy to find, and the software responds incredibly quickly. A DAB radio, Bluetooth, sat-nav, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (so you can use smartphone apps through the screen) come as standard. The six-speaker, 100-watt stereo is adequate, but music fans might want to try out the optional 16-speaker, 464-watt Harman Kardon surround-sound system.

Quality

While the interior of the 1 Series doesn’t have the dramatic visual wow factor of the A-Class’s, there's no doubting its rock-solid build quality. It's plush, too, especially with the M Sport trim upgrades.

There are plenty of soft-touch materials in those places where your fingers will roam, and all the switches have a real feeling of quality.

Overall, the 1 Series interior stands out above most family car rivals. It feels better made than the A-Class or A3, although the Mazda 3 matches it.

“BMW's infotainment system is one of the best in the business. It's controlled via the touchscreen, rotary control dial or shortcut buttons, which means it's very easy to use on the move or when stationary.” – Steve Huntingford, Editor

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

Front space

You’ll have no complaints up front in the BMW 1 Series. There are bigger family cars but compared to its premium rivals, it has the most head and leg room, and lots of elbow room too.

The door bins are a decent size, and you get a big glovebox and a generous cubby hole under the central armrest. Combined with the tray at the front of the centre console, you'll have plenty of places for your bits and pieces.

Rear space

This is one of the areas in which this third-generation 1 Series makes the most notable progress over its predecessors. The space on offer is now slightly ahead of its premium rivals, although it still looks a bit stingy in the rear compared with the Seat Leon.

Six-footers will feel their heads just brushing the roof lining, but anyone shorter should be comfortable, even on longer journeys. There’s slightly more leg room than you get in a Mercedes A-Class and more foot space under the front seats.

We'd recommend avoiding the optional panoramic sunroof, which creates a curve in the roof lining that swoops down in front of a rear passenger's eye line.

BMW 1 Series interior back seats

Seat folding and flexibility

As with the A-Class and the Audi A3 there's nothing particularly amazing about the seating flexibility here. You have to pay extra for front passenger adjustable lumbar support on all trims and the seats don't slide or recline.

The 1 Series (and the entry-level A3) get 60/40 split folding rear seats as standard. These aren't as adaptable as the 40/20/40 arrangement that every A-Class gets. Mid-spec A3’s and upwards get 40/20/40 split seats, but in the 1 Series, they're reserved for the BMW options list.

Boot space

At 380 litres, the 1 Series’ boot is exactly the same size as the A3’s, and is bigger than the A-Class’s. That impressive figure includes the generous space found under the boot floor, so in terms of usable space above the floor, the 1 Series lags behind the A-Class.

While the boot's boxy shape makes it easy to maximise the space available, ultimately it won't take as much luggage as an A-Class. We were able to get six carry-on cases into the latter below its parcel shelf, while the 1 Series managed five – the same number as the A3.

On the plus side, the boot floor can be clipped out of the way when you're loading items beneath the floor, and there's only a small load lip. You can also add an electric tailgate as a cost option.

“The 1 Series is one of the better family cars when it comes to rear seat space. It's no Tardis, but there's a decent amount of room for your legs and feet. If you're more than six-feet tall, your head will brush up against the roof, but kids will be content for many a mile.” – Stuart Milne, Digital Editor

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2

The BMW 1 Series sits towards the more expensive end of the family car category, closely mirroring the price of the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class. Over three years, the 1 Series will hold on to a higher percentage of its cash price against depreciation than an equivalent A-Class, but the A3 has even stronger resale values.

BMW tends to offer some generous discounts, so make sure you check out the latest prices on our New Car Deals pages where you can find PCP finance quotes with any manufacturer bonuses. The 1 Series is often cheaper per month than the A-Class. 

The 1 Series' official fuel economy broadly matches what the A-Class and A3 will achieve, but the 118i petrol was quite a bit thirstier in our real-world testing than the A3 35 TFSI and the A200.

Equipment, options and extras

There are three main 1 Series trim levels. Entry-level SE covers the basics, and makes sense if saving cash is a priority, but it's not exactly full of features: 16in alloy wheels, automatic lights/wipers and cruise control are about your lot. Sport adds sports seats and exterior styling tweaks, including 17in wheels, as well as dual-zone climate control. 

We’d recommend M Sport trim, mainly for the M Sport suspension. It gets more distinctive styling and a few other luxuries thrown in, including power-folding door mirrors, heated front seats and leather trim.

The 128ti and M135i hot hatches get their own separate trims. The 128ti, for example, gets a bespoke bodykit, black and red exterior trim with matching interior accents, an M Sport steering wheel and lots of go-faster goodies, including a limited-slip differential, beefier brakes and tweaked suspension.

BMW 1 Series interior infotainment

Reliability

In the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey BMW finished in 16th place out of 32 manufacturers, a fair way above Audi (21st), Volkswagen (22nd) and Mercedes (23rd). In petrol form, the 1 Series itself was one of the more reliable cars in the family car class, coming second ahead of the Ford Focus (eighth) and Mercedes A-Class (11th). 

The 1 Series is covered by a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty, which matches the cover offered by Mercedes for the A-Class and beats Audi’s three-year warranty, which is limited to 60,000 miles.

Safety and security

The 1 Series received a full five-star rating when it was tested by the safety experts at Euro NCAP. The A-Class scored higher for adult occupant and pedestrian protection.

You get lots of safety equipment with the 1 Series, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning, traffic sign recognition, speed limit assist and a system to warn you if you get too close to the car in front.

On top of that, you can select the optional Driving Assistant package (available on all trim levels) to get an upgraded AEB that looks out for pedestrians, plus blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert.

“The 1 Series achieved a full five-star safety rating when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2019. While that's the best possible score, it's worth noting the test has been updated twice since then. Some rivals, including the Honda Civic and VW Golf, achieved a full five-star rating under more stringent testing standards in 2022.” – Lawrence Cheung, New Cars Editor

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FAQs

  • Yes. In the most recent What Car? Reliability Survey petrol versions of the current 1 Series finished an impressive second out of 15 family car models (up to five years old).

  • While the rival Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class are sold as plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), there’s no equivalent version of the 1 Series. There’s no 1 Series electric car either.

  • The entry-level 118i petrol model is the pick of the 1 Series range because it’s temptingly priced and the turbocharged 1.5-litre engine feels suitably punchy. We recommend the M Sport trim, mainly because it comes with stiffer suspension, which improves the car’s handling without making the ride uncomfortable.

  • In SE form, the 1 Series comes with DAB radio, Bluetooth, automatic lights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, automatic emergency braking (AEB) and a lane-departure warning system. The more expensive M Sport car has sportier looks inside and out, plus sports suspension, heated front seats and leather trim.

  • Very good. The 1 Series comes with the BMW iDrive infotainment system, which is packed with features, yet easier to use than all rival set-ups. You can control it using a rotary dial and shortcut buttons as well as by prodding the screen directly, while the menus are well laid out and the graphics look sharp.

  • The 1 Series has a 380-litre boot, which matches the capacity of the Audi A3 and beats that of the Mercedes A-Class. The rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split, whereas the A-Class has a more versatile 40/20/40 arrangement.

At a glance
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Target Price from £31,075
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Nearly new deals
From £21,248
RRP price range £31,075 - £47,825
Number of trims (see all)3
Number of engines (see all)2
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)petrol
MPG range across all versions 37.1 - 53.2
Available doors options 5
Warranty 3 years / No mileage cap
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £1,725 / £3,454
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £3,450 / £6,908
Available colours