BMW 1 Series hatchback review
"The BMW 1 Series offers comfort, luxury and driving enjoyment in a practical hatchback shape"
- Great to drive
- Improved practicality
- Excellent interior
- Tight rear headroom
- Only one petrol
- Expensive options
Verdict - Is the BMW 1 Series a good car?
If you’re looking for an upmarket hatchback, the 1 Series offers a great interior and plenty of tech, along with a rewarding driving experience. This no longer comes at the expense of rear seat and luggage space, and the BMW 118i offers surprisingly good value against rivals. Just be wary of the options list, which can quickly send the price of even a modest 1 Series spiraling beyond what’s sensible.
BMW 1 Series models, specs and alternatives
The BMW 1 Series has been around for three generations but the current version is significantly different from the models that went before it. The styling changes are perhaps the most noticeable, but an important change has taken place underneath. Previous versions were all rear-wheel drive but now the car is predominantly front-wheel drive, with a few range-toppers featuring BMW’s clever xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
The exterior changes are more pronounced than the generation before due to this switch from rear-wheel to front-wheel drive. The main benefit of the new layout is increased interior room. As a result, the 1 Series takes on a shape more in keeping with old rivals like the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class, along with newcomers like the Cupra Leon and Mazda3 which are pushing into luxury hatch territory. While rear-wheel drive might be the preferred choice for enthusiasts, BMW’s engineers have worked hard to maintain some of the handling characteristics the brand is known for.
The interior is as smart as you would expect of any BMW, with high-quality materials in key places. The seats are very comfortable and well-placed for a comfy driving position, plus there’s lots of tech available as well. You get an 8.8-inch iDrive infotainment touchscreen as standard with Apple CarPlay, plus there’s a digital instrument panel and 10.25-inch central touchscreen display on some models.
There’s more shoulder room and legroom in the back than before, plus since all models have five doors – there’s no three-door 1 Series this time – access is a lot better now. Unfortunately, it’s not all good news; headroom is still an issue in the back, as adults over six foot tall will feel a bit cramped there. There’s a decent 380 litres of boot space, which is exactly the same as in the Volkswagen Golf.
The BMW’s move to front-wheel drive might be disappointing for some drivers but the BMW is still one of the best cars in its class to drive. The handling is fun and engaging, plus the engine range is excellent – there’s no bad choice – and you can choose from an automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox.
The addition of the sporty 128ti and M135i models expanded the range further still, making BMW’s smallest model a genuine rival to the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Mercedes-AMG A 35. Across the range, the 1 Series is a car that's as refined and comfortable as it is composed on faster twisting roads, feeling a lot like the BMW 3 Series from behind the wheel.
BMW 1 Series facelift will bring exterior updates and new tech for 2023
The current BMW 1 Series is set to get a mid-life refresh later in 2023. A prototype has been spotted in light camouflage in range-topping M135i guise – a model which will renew its rivalry with the Honda Civic Type R and Audi S3.
The most recent spy shots reveal a 1 Series with a slimmer, yet wider grille similar to that of the most recent 2 Series Coupe, plus headlights with a new LED signature. The lower part of the front bumper is also completely redesigned with two horizontal bar elements and larger triangular intakes on either side. The side brake ducts sit in a similar place to before, albeit featuring some slight tweaks.
It was also spotted with large brakes and a panoramic sunroof, although given it was the fastest, top-spec M135i model, we’d expect these features to be optional upgrades for the majority of the range.
At the rear, the test car features a new set of aggressive quad exhausts – likely also the reserve of the M135i. The rear bumper has a new design, and although camouflaged for now, we expect the rear-light signature to have received a tweak as well.
The inside of the upcoming 1 Series refresh will get a revamp too – we expect the outgoing car’s 10.7-inch digital dash will be replaced with the 12.3-inch display as used in the latest 2 Series. A 10.25-inch infotainment screen is expected, while the iDrive rotary controller is likely to be swapped for a touchscreen. The gear lever also appears to have shrunken in size.
The larger air intakes at the front suggest the new M135i may require additional cooling, so it’s possible the upcoming car produces slightly more power than the outgoing 301bhp, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. This is likely to be paired with the same powertrain sending power to all four wheels.
There aren’t any known plans for an electric version yet, although it’s possible the facelift could get some form of hybrid tech for the first time, to compete against rivals such as the Mercedes A 250 e and Audi A3 TFSIe. Nothing is confirmed, but we’d expect BMW to use the same 10kWh battery as used in the second-generation X1 plug-in hybrid model, which sits on the same platform as the current 1 Series. This could deliver an electric range longer than that of the X1’s 30 miles thanks to the 1 Series’ smaller proportions and lighter weight. Mild-hybrid tech from the latest X1 could also make its way over to the 1 Series for slightly improved fuel economy.
The facelift is expected later in 2023 with a range of three and four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines alongside the possible aforementioned plug-in hybrid.
What about buying a used or nearly new BMW 1 Series?
The BMW 1 Series has been a popular entry into the premium car brand for nearly two decades. Residual values are strong and so if you are looking for a nearly new example don’t be surprised if a high specification used model is as expensive as a brand new base version. On the plus side, once you have found a used car you are happy with, it is likely to maintain its value well.
What’s its history?
The BMW 1 Series was first launched in 2004. This model was quite different from previous BMW models but retained the traditional rear-wheel-drive layout, so it was a unique car in its class because rivals such as the VW Golf were all front-wheel drive.
The first-generation 1 Series was available in two-door coupe, five-door hatch and convertible forms, but when the Mk2 model arrived in 2011, the coupe and convertible versions were renamed as the 2 Series and there were now only three-door and five-door hatchback models. The styling wasn’t a huge change over the previous model, but modern tech and engines kept it up to date.
The third-generation car came out in 2019 and it changed to front-wheel drive. The 1 Series had lost its unique selling point, and was now only a five-door hatch, but it remains one of the best cars in its class to drive.
Used BMW 1 Series (Mk2 2011-2019)
The second-generation BMW 1 Series is still a fantastic choice and since it’s rear-wheel drive, it feels rather different from the current model to drive. It’s a lot of fun and there are loads of engines, from the ultra-frugal 116d to the powerful and fast M140i. The Mk2 model was a sales hit and so there are loads for sale, so there’s bound to be one in-budget.
Used BMW 1 Series (Mk1 2004-2011)
The first-generation 1 Series spans from ropey and unloved low-spec diesels for about £1,000 to the ultra-rare and sought-after 1 Series M Coupe, which now costs more than some brand-new hot hatches. Most are somewhere in between and the best are well looked-after versions that offer fun handling and decent performance at an affordable price.