"The BMW 1 Series is still the choice for drivers who want a small hatchback that's fun to drive."
The original BMW 1 Series hatchback was stylish but cramped on the inside. Luckily, this second generation 1 Series has made massive leaps and bounds to offer an affordable yet desirable entry-level BMW. You get a truly outstanding range of frugal diesel and petrol engines to choose from and it's packed with more equipment than ever before – and it's still the most enjoyable car in this class to drive.
The interior and boot are both bigger, meaning plenty of room inside that makes it a rival for more traditional mainstream family cars like the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, while still capable of taking on the upmarket competition such as the Mercedes A-Class and Audi A3. Optional adaptive dampers make it comfortable over long distances, and a well-built interior means it's a genuinely pleasurable place to sit in, too. All the engines are powerful and responsive, with the M135i – which is cheaper than the old 1M coupe – managing to go from 0-62mph in under five seconds. Currently, you can only get three or five-door hatchbacks, with the 1 Series coupe and convertible being based on the previous generation car.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
It stands to reason that, as BMW's entry-level model, the 1 Series is also the cheapest car in the range to run. If efficiency and environmental friendliness are important to you, then we’d recommend the 116d EfficientDynamics model, which returns 74.3mpg in fuel economy, while emitting a tax-free 99g/km CO2. Stop-start technology is installed as standard across the range, so even the top-spec M135i hot hatchback manages to return more than 37mpg and emit only 175g/km of CO2 when fitted with the clever eight-speed automatic gearbox. But in general we’d suggest sticking with the efficient diesel models just for the balance of performance and value they offer. BMW also offers fixed price servicing and competitive finance deals, which, when added to an extendable warranty, will help keep any maintenance and repair costs to an absolute minimum for the first five years of ownership.
Interior & comfort
You’ll be far more comfortable in the current 1 Series than you would have been in the previous model, thanks to it being much easier to drive, for a start, with the electronic power steering making a real difference. Don’t get us wrong, though – it's still the sportiest car in its class, which does mean the suspension is slightly stiffer than in rivals such as the Audi A3. However, the balance of comfort and driver enjoyment is really quite excellent – unless you opt for the M Sport model, but then your priorities will be very different anyway. The 1 Series is equipped with a set of particularly clever optional adjustable dampers, which allow the driver to select different driving modes, ranging from Comfort to Sport, at the simple touch of a button. Inside, the front seats are supportive but comfy, offering plenty of adjustment to help you find an ideal driving position. There's less room in the back than in a VW Golf, but there's no denying that it's much more spacious than the car it replaces.
Practicality & boot space
The latest BMW 1 Series has made some improvements over the old car, which was criticised for placing style over substance when it came to practicality. So, the good – larger dimensions means plenty of useful storage and improved room in the rear, which means it stacks up reasonably well as a versatile family car. The boot offers 360 litres of space with the back seats in place, which is an increase of 30 litres – and if you fold down the 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats, that expands to an impressive 1,200 litres of load capacity. In terms of interior storage you get a large centre console cubby, deep door bins and a large glove compartment, so finding places for your odds and ends shouldn’t be a problem. On the downside, practicality was one of the most cited negatives in the 2013 Driver Power survey, and it's not as big inside as a Volkswagen Golf, while the back isn’t as roomy as in a SEAT Leon.
Reliability & safety
The 1 Series made its Driver Power debut in the 2013 Auto Express customer satisfaction survey, ranking 54th in the top 100 cars, which is a little troubling for BMW seeing as most cars tend to just go down the rankings in subsequent polls. Fifty-fourth is certainly an improvement on the previous model's 82nd place in the 2012 survey (it placed 138th in 2013), but BMW will have to hope for a rare bit of consistency to avoid slipping quickly. It's also a little perplexing, because since its launch in 2011, it's clear that BMW didn’t cut any corners on the 1 Series, especially in terms of interior and exterior quality. It's definitely more of a premium car than its predecessor, and the interior feels more like a car that costs two or three times the price. The dashboard is logically laid out, with chunky controls that feel solid to touch, while general fit and finish is very impressive. That build quality will have helped the 1 Series secure the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, which ranked it among the best in class for crash protection. There's lots of safety equipment fitted as standard, including the clever five-stage traction control system, four airbags, as well as safety accessory options such as lane departure warning and automatic braking – which slows the car when it detects that an accident is imminent. In the convertible you also get pop-up roll-over hoops that activate if its sensors detect that the car is about to roll.
Engines, drive & performance
It wouldn’t really be a BMW if it wasn’t great to drive. So it is with the 1 Series, which leads its class in terms of sheer driver enjoyment. Plus, because of its wide range of efficient diesel and petrol engines, it won’t cost the earth to run either. The current model is much easier to manoeuvre around town than the old car thanks to its electric power steering system, making it a doddle to park and navigate heavy urban traffic. When you drive at faster speeds, the steering increases in weight so that you have more control, so it feels responsive and agile on winding roads, but equally safe and in control when driving on the motorway. Overall, it makes it a very solid choice if you regularly clock up a lot of mileage. The entry-level 114i petrol model may only generate 100bhp, but it does make owning a BMW the most affordable it has ever been, plus the range's frugal diesel engines keep running costs to a new minimum, too. We particularly liked the 116d EfficientDynamics diesel and exciting 316bhp M135i petrol – which can go from 0-62mph in only 4.9 seconds when paired with the slick eight-speed automatic gearbox. But the beauty of the 1 Series is that the comfortable ride and impressive agility means you don’t need to for the top specification to truly enjoy its great all-round driving ability.
Price, value for money & options
Thanks to the arrival of an entry-level 114i petrol model, the 1 Series is more affordable than you might at first think. In fact, it's now cheaper than ever to own a new BMW. Costs are also kept under control thanks to a comprehensive warranty and fixed-price servicing, while far more efficient engines make it much cheaper to run. In real terms, the 1 Series costs only a bit more than the equivalent Volkswagen Golf to run, but comes very well stocked with equipment, technology and accessories, too. All specs come fitted with air-conditioning, alloy wheels and a leather-trimmed steering wheel as standard. But be warned –optional extras are expensive and it's easy to get carried away when planning your ideal configuration. We recommend holding back on the extra because then you’ve got a great-value family hatchback that is the best in its class to drive that won’t break the bank. Thanks to BMW's extensive dealer network, resale values on the used car market for the 1 Series are very strong, thanks to the car's unique blend of desirability, quality and low running costs.