"More space and greater comfort than ever – still the choice for drivers who want a small hatchback that's fun to drive."
The second generation of BMW 1 Series has come on leaps and bounds from the cramped but stylish original. It is packed with more equipment and a superb range of frugal petrol and diesel engines, while maintaining its position as the most enjoyable car in its class, to drive. There's more room inside the cabin and a bigger boot, too – making the current car a rival for more traditional family cars like the VW Golf and Ford Focus, as well as upmarket alternatives like the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class. Optional adaptive dampers make it comfortable over long distances, and a well-built interior mean it's a pleasurable place to sit, too. All cars feel punchy, but the M135i – which undercuts the old 1M Coupe – is the best of the bunch, managing 0-62mph in less than five seconds. Current bodystyles are limited to just three or five-door hatchbacks, while the 1 Series Coupe and Convertible are based on the previous generation car.
As with all BMWs, the 1 Series prides itself on being great to drive. It's the class leader in terms of driver enjoyment and thanks to a great range of economical petrol and diesel engines, it won’t cost the world to run either. The current 1 Series gets an electric power steering system, resulting in car that is much easier to manoeuvre around town, making heavy traffic and parking a doddle. It weights up at higher speeds and feels agile on a twisty road yet safe on the motorway – a solid choice if you’re a high mileage driver. Entry-level 114i cars get only 100bhp, but make BMW ownership more affordable than ever, while the frugal diesels keep running costs to a minimum. Range highlights include the 116d EfficientDynamics diesel and ferocious 316bhp M135i petrol – which can do 0-62mph in only 4.9 seconds when mated to the slick eight-speed automatic transmission. However, thanks to impressive agility and a comfortable ride, you needn’t go for a range-topping flagship car to enjoy the BMW's great all-round driving ability.
The current BMW 1 Series is much more comfortable than before, and thanks to the new electronic power steering, are much easier to drive, too. It's still the sportiest car in its class so the suspension is slightly firmer than on the new Audi A3, for example – but avoid M Sport models and there's a great compromise between comfort and driver enjoyment. That said, BMW does offer a set of particularly clever optional adjustable dampers, allowing the driver to select different modes ranging from Comfort to Sport at the touch of a button. Elsewhere, you’ll find supportive yet supple front seats with plenty of adjustment for the ideal driving position. In the rear, there is less room than in a VW Golf, but it is considerably more spacious than its predecessor.
When the new BMW 1 Series arrived in 2012, it was clear that unlike its predecessor, no corners had been cut in terms of interior and exterior quality. It feels like a much more premium product than the car it replaces, while inside you’d be forgiven for thinking you were sat in something costing twice or three times the price. The controls are chunky and feel solid to touch, the fit and finish is excellent and the dashboard logically laid out. The old car placed a disappointing 82nd in the 2012 Driver Power Survey, but the uprated car has made significant changes to better that result in 2013. Along with solid build quality, the baby BMW received a full five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, ranking it among the best in class for crash protection. There is plenty of standard safety kit such as the clever five-stage traction control system, as well as loads of big-car options like lane departure warning and automatic braking – which slows the car when it senses an accident is immanent.
The previous generation BMW 1 Series could have been criticised for valuing style over substance when it came to practicality, but the new car makes big improvements – with decent dimensions and plenty of useful storage. Granted, it's not as big inside as a VW Golf, and the rear-seat space is more generous on an SEAT Leon, but it still stacks up as a versatile family car. The boot is 30 litres bigger than in the old car, at 360 litres, while if you fold down the 40/20/40 split-fold rear seats, you can open up an impressive 1200-litre load bay. There is loads of interior storage, including a large centre console cubby, deep door bins and a large glovebox, so finding places for odds and ends shouldn’t be a problem.
Value for money
The 1 Series is more affordable than you’d think, and thanks to a new entry-level 114i petrol car – owning a new BMW is now cheaper than before. A comprehensive warranty and fixed-price servicing help with costs, while efficient engines make it cheap to run, too. This means the baby BMW is not much more than the equivalent VW Golf, and comes admirably equipped, too. All cars get air-con, alloy wheels and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. However, options are expensive and it's easy to get carried away when speccing your ideal configuration – hold back on these and you’ve got a great value family hatchback that is the best in class to drive.
Being the brand's entry-level model, means it's the cheapest car in the line-up to run, too. Stop-start is standard across the range, and even the flagship M135i hot hatchback can return over 37mpg and only 175g/km of CO2 when fitted with the clever eight-speed automatic gearbox. However, for truly low running costs, opt for one of the efficient diesel models. The 116d EfficientDynamics model is the star of the show and makes a great lease or company car, returning 74mpg while emitting just 99g/km. Fixed price servicing and competitive finance deals are another BMW plus point, which when added to an extendable warranty, can help keep a lid on any big bills for up to five years. Even though the current 1 Series is relatively new, there are plenty of pre-owned examples for sale through BMW's extensive dealer network. Used prices remain high, though, thanks to the car's unique blend of desirability, quality and low running costs.