BMW 1-series review - more engaging than the competition

A wonderfully rear-drive premium compact hatchback

Evo rating
from £21,840
  • Adjustable rear-drive chassis, massive range of efficient and powerful engines
  • Rear space not great and most desirable models are costly

As the BMW 1-series reaches its twilight years, you might think that the premium hatch competition might well have it well and truly beaten. This is not the case though as what's classically the best driving hatch on the market very much so still is, while BMW’s typically impressive build quality, powertrains and tech haven’t dated nearly as bad as its age might suggest.

Even the lowliest models are an engaging drive thanks to an adjustable chassis and uncorrupted steering. As a bonus these versions also produce some very impressive mpg and CO2 figures, while the further up you go the more involving the experience becomes. The 1-series has also benefited from a subtle 2018 model year refresh, focused on an updated interior from the 2-series and the latest i-drive infotainment system. 

> Read our thoughts on the 335bhp M140i here

A new sport shadow trim line has also been introduced at the top of the range, incorporating tinted lighting elements, high gloss shadow-line brightwork and a bespoke set of interior colour and trim options. 

> Performance and 0-60 time - The slowest car in the entire 1 Series range manages the 0-62mph sprint in 10.3 seconds. Top spec M140i can dispatch it in a rapid 4.6. Read about the BMW 1 Series performance and 0-60 time

> Engine and Transmission - Either a six speed manual or an 8-speed ZF auto unit are available with the M140i, both are impressive. All engines are turbocharged, a range of diesel and petrol options are available, refinement levels are better than most of the competition. Read about the BMW 1 Series engine and transmission 

> Ride and Handling - A 50:50 weight distribution is combined with rear wheel drive to make the 1 Series one of the most dynamic and engaging cars in the segment. Read about the BMW 1 Series ride and handling

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> MPG and Running Costs - The 1-series is remarkably efficient in all guises. The 116d SE is particularly impressive returning 78.5mpg on the combined cycle. More powerful models see this number drop significantly, but even the powerful M140i can easily deliver a real world 30mpg. Read about the BMW 1 Series MPG and Running costs

> Interior and Tech - The 1-series’ dash has been subtly revised for the 2018 model year, with a slightly higher quality finish and the latest i-drive infotainment system.  Read about the BMW 1 Series interior and tech here

> Design - Largely unchanged for the 2018 model year change, dark lighting elements and brightwork finish off a mostly resolved design. Read about the BMW 1 Series design here

Prices, Specs and Rivals 

Building your perfect BMW 1 Series will be more than the work of moment using BMW's online car configurator, as there's a lot of choice. The three-door model kicks-off the range at just under £22,000 on-the-road for the 118i SE and rises to £33,000 for the powerful M140i. Sandwiched between the two bookends of the petrol lineup, are the 120i and 125i priced from roughly £25,000 and £28,500 respectively, again in 3-door format.

A quartet of diesels offer healthy performance, economy or a combination of both. The fastest of which, the 125d, costs upwards of £31,000 and boasts impressive economy, returning 61.4mpg on the combined cycle, but is still least efficient of the four. Getting behind the wheel of a diesel 1 Series will set you back a whisker under £23k for a 116d SE, another £1000 brings the 118d into range, which sits below the 120d with a sticker below £26,500.

Opting for a 5-door body style carries a premium a tad over £500 range-wide. Those prices sound hefty, but performance stacks up susprinsinlgy well agsinst plenty of hot hatches occupying the same financial domain.

Moving up from the entry SE trim you'll find Sport and M Sport, though the brawny M140i and M140i Shadow Edition have their own bespoke specifications. Some powertrains are restricted to specific body styles, the all-wheel drive platform sits solely beneath a 5-door body, for example.

Ensuring Audi’s Quattro models no longer have the niche to themselves, BMW -much like Mercedes- now offers the possibility of extra traction with that 5-door only xDrive, all-wheel drive setup. It's only available on the 120d (across four trim levels) coupled to a automatic transmission, so it's not cheap - starting at over £30,000 on-the-road. It doesn't drive with quite the same purity as other versions either, but undeniably has more traction and wet weather usability.

The BMW's biggest rival is the Audi A3 and its A3 Sportback cousin, (which compete with the three- and five-door variants of the 1 Series respectively) and Audi offers similar diversity with the A3, from the wallet-friendly to ultra-fast versions like the S3 and RS3. The BMW edges its rival on driving dynamics but the Audi remains superior on interior ambience.

Prospective buyers will likely look to the Mercedes-Benz A-class and Volkswagen Golf as well. The former has enjoyed welcome revisions to its ride quality in it’s latest iteration. It doesn’t match the BMW’s poised character, but it’s a pleasant ownership experience. The Golf R and Golf GTI derivatives, certainly pique our interest, offering good Pound to performance value over the aforementioned three.   

Premium hatchbacks have become big business, so should the homogeneity of German propositions have you rolling your eyes there are some left-field options: Alfa Romeo's Giulietta is fairly disappointing and Lexus' CT 200h trades performance for economy, but the new Infiniti Q30 is worth a look - similar under the skin to an A-class, it's quirkier to look at and rides better too.

In terms of equipment, even the stingiest BMW 1 Series models include alloy wheels, electric windows, climate control, auto lights and wipers, DAB, Bluetooth and BMW's iDrive interface, plus the Driving Experience Control switch that alters the car's settings.

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