BMW 1 Series hatchback

£20,780 - £32,390

The BMW 1 Series is a compact hatchback that has a unique selling point among its main rivals – rear-wheel drive. Cars like the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class are front-wheel drive, and while this means they’re fun and predictable when driven quickly, they can’t quite match the purist feel and adjustable handling of the BMW.

BMW gave the 1 Series a facelift in early 2015 to keep it fresh both inside and out. Three and five-door versions are still available, but the styling is sportier than before and a host of new engines, including the impressive 1.5-litre diesel used in the MINI range, have made it a more economical proposition.

The 1.5-litre diesel in the 116d EfficientDynamics Plus model is capable of 83.1mpg and has CO2 emissions below 100g/km, meaning it costs nothing to tax. The excellent economy comes at the cost of performance, with 0-62mph taking 10.6 seconds, so it's worth stepping up to the 118d if you can afford to. Economy of 70.6mpg is still very good, the car will only cost £20 a year to tax and its extra performance is welcome.

If you envisage using the car mainly for driving around town, or if you prefer the character of petrol engines, the entry-level 118i is capable of 52.3mpg and 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds, both of which are very reasonable. Road tax is significantly more, at £110 annually, but if you don’t do more than 15,000 miles a year then it may actually make more sense to pay that tax than pay more for a diesel model.

Some BMW 1 Series models (including the 118d) are available with the company's xDrive four-wheel-drive system for extra grip in corners and bad weather. Top-spec models are available with BMW's excellent eight-speed automatic transmission, which can use information from the sat nav to change gears in anticipation of the road ahead.

Buyers have a choice of four trim levels: SE, ED Plus, Sport and M Sport. All 1 Series models now come with 6.5-inch touchscreen sat nav as standard, as well as LED daytime running lights, alloy wheels, electrically heated mirrors, a multifunction leather steering wheel, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and front foglights. Moving up the range gets you extra luxuries, increasingly large alloy wheels and additional styling touches, while the M Sport model gets sports seats and suspension as standard.

The 1 Series is a very safe car, scoring five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests thanks in part to an excellent adult occupant protection rating of 91%. BMW reliability is generally good, but the 1 Series does have a reputation for developing niggles after the first few years.