2019 BMW 1 Series review: price, specs and release date
It won't go on sale until the end of the year, but we've already driven the new BMW 1 Series in prototype form. Does it bring the promised increase in space without compromising driving fun?...
On sale Late 2019 Priced from £23,000 (est)
Since it was first launched in 2004, the BMW 1 Series has stood out in the family hatchback ranks. You see, while every other car in the class, from the mainstream Ford Focus to premium rivals such as the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class, is front-wheel drive, the 1 Series always sent its power to the rear axle. Until now.
For the all-new 1 Series, BMW decided that the drawbacks of rear-wheel drive, in terms of practicality, out weighed the handling benefits. In particular, the combination of an engine mounted lengthways in the car (requiring a longer bonnet) and a driveshaft running down the centre meant rear leg room and boot space suffered.
But does this mean the 1 Series is no longer the car to choose if you value a sporty drive?
2019 BMW 1 Series on the road
In 118i form and on standard suspension, the new 1 Series smooths out all but the worst bumps, making for a comfortable ride – albeit one that's still a little firmer than the Volkswagen Golf's. There's decent composure both on twisting and fast public roads, with little body lean.
The steering is responsive and direct, and the 1 Series resists pushing wide at the front, even if you attack corners enthusiastically. On a wet handling track, its newly developed traction control software ensured that slip was kept to a minimum, making it easy to maintain control and confidence. Indeed, in a back-to-back comparison on that course, the new car definitely felt more composed than the outgoing model.
The 138bhp 1.5-litre engine in the 118i that we tried was linked to a seven-speed automatic gearbox, and in this form the car doesn’t feel as fast as some similarly powerful rivals. However, it's still reasonably brisk and responsive, while in terms of noise and smoothness it's decent, if not exceptional.
Unsurprisingly, the 120d xDrive model – which features a 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine – accelerates significantly faster, aided by an eight-speed automatic ’box and a four-wheel drive system which can shift up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels when needed. The gearbox makes accessing the engine’s sweet spot easy, with it offering a strong mid-range surge and reasonable refinement for a diesel of this size, although Audi’s 35 and 40 TDI engines are quieter still.
At the top of the range, meanwhile, sits the M135i xDrive. It replaces the M140i from the current generation, because the six-cylinder engine in that model won’t fit in the new car. But while the 306bhp output of the new engine means it's less powerful, it still feels like plenty.
The M135i features bespoke sports suspension and increased structural stiffness and should still appeal to those 1 Series buyers most concerned with driving dynamics. A drive mode that firms up the ride, ensures rewarding handling, with the steering response adjusted to match. It’s pleasingly sharp and inspires the confidence to push.
2019 BMW 1 Series interior
The interiors of the prototypes were largely concealed and disguised, so it was impossible to get a true gauge of what the new car will be like inside, although we can say that there’s plenty of room up front for both driver and passenger.
BMW claims the new 1 Series offers an extra 30mm of knee room and 20mm of head room in the back. That space is easier to access thanks to better-shaped doors. And boot space has been increased by 20 litres, putting it in touch with class rivals.
What’s clear, even at this early stage, is that the new 1 Series still feels and drives like a BMW and is therefore likely to rival the class leaders for handling. If the promised increase in interior space and comfort can be delivered, our main criticisms of the current car should be answered.
Of course there's more to it than just building a decent car, you have to price it keenly, too. Unfortunately due to the early nature of our drive, BMW were only willing to give us a ballpark figure for where the range would start. Still, the figure of £23,000 suggests it'll be similarly priced to the current model. If BMW can make sure equipment levels are sufficiently generous, this could be a car worth waiting for.
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The best and worst family cars on sale today...
Don't want to wait for the new BMW 1 Series? Well, the good news is there are some excellent family hatchbacks already on sale. Here we count down the top 10 – and reveal the models that are best avoided.
10. BMW i3
The BMW i3 is an electric family car that uses super-light carbonfibre and aluminium to offset the weight of the battery pack that’s mounted beneath its floor, while a smart interior and great handling add further to its appeal.
Pick of the range NA
9. BMW 1 Series
A more conventional option from BMW is today's 1 Series, which offers a strong combination of performance, fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
Pick of the range 118i SE
8. Honda Civic
The latest Honda Civic is good to drive and has plenty of space inside for your family and their luggage. Add to that an impressive array of standard safety equipment and it's easy to recommend as an all-rounder.
Pick of the range 1.0 VTEC SR