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 long-ish test drive.
As standard, you get analogue instrument dials with a digital display between them, but, if you upgrade to the BMW Live Cockpit Professional pack or Tech Pack II, you get fully digital instruments, although they're not the easiest to read at a glance. The latter upgrade also adds a head-up display, which helps get over that relatively mini-hurdle.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The forward view in the BMW 1 Series is as good as it is in an A3 or A-Class, thanks to slim windscreen pillars. And, with LED headlights standard, it's easy to see at night, too. You can upgrade these to Icon Adaptive LED units that can stay on main beam more often, because they shape the light they cast around other road users, so as not to dazzle 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 rear-view camera is part of a relatively cheap option pack that adds semi-automatic parking assistance, too. This system can recognise a suitably sized space and help steer you into it.
Sat nav and infotainment
Every BMW 1 Series gets an 8.8in infotainment screen, and this can be upped to 10.3in as an option on most trims (and comes as standard with the M135i hot hatch). Whichever setup you go for, it’s operated either by pressing icons on the touchscreen, or via the rotary iDrive controller and physical shortcut buttons by the gear lever.
That’s the best interface to use while driving, because it’s significantly less distracting than the touchscreen; it’s why we prefer the 1 Series’ infotainment system to the Audi A3’s touchscreen-only setup. It’s also easier to use than the Mercedes A-Class’s touchpad controller, but that’s a good second. You can also use BMW's natural speech voice recognition, or even the optional gesture control, but the latter’s a bit of a gimmick.
The infotainment system is full of features, but the simple menus make everything easy to find and the software responds incredibly quickly. A DAB radio, Bluetooth, sat-nav and Apple CarPlay/ Android Auto come as standard. The standard six-speaker, 100-watt stereo sounds reasonable, but audiophiles might want to try out the optional 16-speaker, 464-watt surround sound system produced by Harman Kardon.
While it doesn’t have the dramatic visual wow factor of the A-Class’s interior, there's no doubting the rock-solid build quality on display here. It's plush, too, especially with the upgrades that come with M Sport trim.
There are plenty of soft-touch materials in those places where your fingers will roam, and all the switches impart a real feeling of quality. It sits at the top of this class, feeling better made than the A-Class or A3, and only the Mazda 3 is on its level.
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