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First Drive

2015 BMW 1 Series review

With a new range of more efficient engines, new looks and more equipment, is the new BMW 1 Series hatchback now an even more tempting premium family hatchback?

Words By John Howell

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Ten years after the launch of the original BMW 1 Series, the second-generation car has received a mid-life facelift. It will go on sale at the end of March 2015, with prices starting from Β£20,775.

All versions have slimmer headlights and reworked bumpers, distinctive L-shaped LED taillights, interior upgrades, plus enhanced equipment levels.

Most significant though, is the fitment of BMW’s current generation of more efficient engines; most of which offer more power, too.

So what’s the new BMW 1 Series like and does it hold its position as one of the stand-out small family cars?

What is the 2015 BMW 1 Series hatchback like to drive?

Petrol versions now start with the 118i and 120i, both of which use a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with either 134bhp or 168bhp. There’s also a more powerful 125i, which uses a 2.0-litre rated at 218bhp.

If diesel suits you better, your options start with the 114bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine, available as the 116d or even more efficient still, 116d Efficient Dynamics. This, BMW claims, will average 83.1mpg and emit just 89g/km of CO2, making it particularly tax efficient for company car drivers.

There’s also a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel in three states of tune: 148bhp, 187bhp or 221bhp, depending on whether it’s in the 118d, 120d or 125d.

If you need four-wheel-drive, the 120d can be ordered with BMW’s xDrive. The xDrive and the 125i both come with a standard eight-speed auto transmission; this is optional on all other models and replaces the default six-speed manual gearbox.

The halo 1 Series remains the M135i. With power now increased to 322bhp from its 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine, the 0-62mph figure drops to 4.9sec.

Of the new range, so far, we have driven a manual M135i and the 120d xDrive.

In the 120d xDrive there’s some telltale diesel clatter and the engine transmits a little resonance through the controls but it’s still an improvement over the old 120d and no harsher than an Audi A3 184 TDI Quattro.

From idle there’s a slight delay before the power comes in, but from 1500rpm onwards it revs freely and pulls well. In fact, it’s so flexible at low revs, there’s rarely any need to stretch it further.

The new auto β€˜box uses GPS to select the correct gear for any given corner and this worked well on our test route’s twisty roads. However, should you wish, you can operate it manually with the steering wheel mounted paddle - in either mode the shifts are fast and smooth.

There’s nothing to suggest that the 1 Series has lost its decent ride, either. Even the models we tried with run-flat tyres dealt with all but deep potholes smoothly, while the cabin is still well insulated against the effects of wind and tyre roar.

It grips well and is easy to handle, too. The front will gently push wide only if you carry too much speed in to a bend and the four-wheel-drive system helps keep the car composed as you accelerate out the other side.

One area BMW hasn’t improved is the steering, which is still too light and urgent around the dead centre. It makes the 120d feel nervous on initial inputs, but the weight does increase with more lock.

This is less of an issue in the M135i, which has a slightly firmer steering set-up that gives much more confidence.

The M135i, particularly in this manual form with its precise gear change, continues to be a superb performance car but also easy to live with every day.

The engine is smooth and delivers effortless performance with an enjoyable, throaty exhaust note.

Meanwhile, despite its tauter suspension giving it fantastic grip and body control, the M135i rides just as well as the 120d.

What is the 2015 BMW 1 Series hatchback like inside?

This latest model still offers the same brilliant driving position. The steering wheel and supportive seats have an excellent range of adjustments to accommodate all sizes.

Forward visibility is also good, although the small rear window and thick rear pillars hamper the view backwards.

In the rear space is a little more restricted but it remains adequate and similar to the Audi A3. The BMW’s boot is also comparable at 360 litres.

For 2015 there’s a new range of cloth upholstery and details like chrome and gloss black finishes to the dashboard improve what was already a well-made and high-quality feeling cabin.

BMW’s i-Drive infotainment is now standard across the range, as is Connected Drive. This uses an embedded 4G SIM card to enable SOS calls but you can also add BMW apps for live traffic reports, music streaming and a concierge service.

Entry-level SE models come with 16in alloys, air-con, Bluetooth and a DAB radio. Sport models add exterior and interior styling upgrades which include sports seats and 17in wheels.

Meanwhile, M Sport models come with full M Sport aerodynamic bodywork, 18in wheels and inside there’s a more sporty Alcantara upholstery together with aluminium trim.

Should I buy one?

This face-lift may seem subtle but the combined changes undoubtedly improve the overall package. Crucially, the 1 Series still feels good to drive – especially the M135i - but also remains easy to live with.

However, it’s now quicker, cheaper to run and has more equipment, plus a greater range of options. The styling upgrades also freshen the car’s looks and should help answer criticisms of the previous design.

Audi’s A3 still has even more wow factor inside and ultimately is our favoured premium hatchback, but the 1 Series continues to be right behind it and highly recommendable.

What Car? says...

120d xDrive 5dr

Engine size 2.0-litre diesel

Price from Β£28,355

Power 187bhp

Torque 295lb ft

0-62mph 6.8 seconds

Top speed 138mph

Fuel economy 62.8mpg

CO2 119g/km