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In-depth reviews

BMW 1 Series hatchback - Engines, drive & performance

Despite the switch away from rear-wheel drive, the BMW 1 Series is sharp and mature to drive

Carbuyer Rating

4.2 out of 5

Owners Rating

5.0 out of 5

Read owner reviews
Engines, drive & performance Rating

4.5 out of 5

As you'll no doubt have already heard or read, the really big third-generation 1 Series news is the move from BMW's traditional rear-wheel drive layout to the same front-wheel drive setup as every rival, from the Focus to the Golf and A-Class. It shouldn't be at a disadvantage then, but the 1 Series loses one unique selling point that kept many driving enthusiasts hooked.

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The good news is that the latest 1 Series is just as good to drive – and possibly even better for the average driver – than it was before. It still feels like a BMW too, thanks to its punchy engines and slick automatic gearboxes (for now, a manual is also offered).

It's no exaggeration to say the 1 Series feels a lot like the latest BMW 3 Series saloon to drive, with a superb ride and refinement as well as strong brakes and neat handling. Like the Cupra Leon, the 1 Series has a reasonably firm chassis, but there’s a sophistication to the BMW’s suspension that helps it filter out more imperfections and adds to its refinement while cruising. It rarely feels nose-heavy like some rivals, but our one gripe is the steering, and the overly chunky rim itself (particularly in M Sport trim), which takes away a layer of driver involvement.

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With xDrive all-wheel drive, 302bhp and upgraded suspension and brakes, the BMW M135i is a true hot hatch that goes into direct competition with the Volkswagen Golf R and Mercedes-AMG A 35.

Petrol engines

Like the entry-level diesel, the petrol 118i is a 1.5-litre three-cylinder that's familiar to owners of MINI Cooper models, with 133bhp and enough punch to get the 1 Series from rest to 62mph in 8.9 seconds.

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While its performance figures aren’t outstanding, the 118i engine is quiet and refined to drive around town, with its signature three-cylinder thrum only occasionally noticeable. On faster roads, it's a decent performer too, with ample power that’s delivered smoothly.

Our test car was specced in M Sport trim, including larger, 19-inch alloy wheels. Overall refinement on the move is excellent, with a comfortable ride that’s only occasionally disturbed by the combination of poor surfaces and the big wheels.

On twisting roads is where the 118i really shines, as despite its relatively modest power output, it’s huge fun to drive. The driving position is excellent, with the wraparound dashboard and chunky steering wheel giving it a cockpit feel. In faster corners, the car remains balanced and composed, with sharp steering and little detectable body lean when turning in. The six-speed manual gearbox is quick and precise, adding to the experience on faster roads. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic also works well, with three driving modes to adjust its responsiveness and the option to use a shifter on the centre console for manual changes.

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The 128ti is billed as a hot hatch to rival the Ford Focus ST and Renault Megane RS. It marks the return of the ‘ti’ name after a 15-year absence. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder shared with the MINI John Cooper Works, although power is increased to 261bhp. The car is front-wheel drive and has an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which enables it to sprint from 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.

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At the opposite end of the spectrum sits the M135i, which gets so much bespoke kit, it's almost its own model. Most notably, a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine sits between the front wheels and produces a substantial 302bhp - although this is slightly less than its rivals. Instead of rear-wheel drive, the hot hatch is now all-wheel drive, giving it a 0-62mph time of just 4.8 seconds.

BMW 1 Series diesel engines

A three-cylinder 1.5-litre diesel features in the entry-level 116d with 114bhp. It might be economical but it can also get from 0-62mph in a reasonable 10.1 seconds.

The 2.0-litre 118d with 148bhp is a popular choice for those covering more miles, with a new design of turbocharger which makes its ample torque available from slower speeds. This adds up to the 0-62mph sprint taking just 8.4 seconds and a top speed of 134mph. Based on the same engine, the 120d is tuned to make 187bhp and gets all-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox as standard, reducing its acceleration dash to seven seconds exactly.

Hybrid engines

While not confirmed yet, it's possible the 1.5-litre petrol engine could be combined with an electric motor and battery pack, creating a plug-in hybrid model with similar specifications to the MINI Countryman Cooper S E ALL4 Hybrid.

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Andy is Carbuyer's managing editor, with more than a decade of experience helping consumers find their perfect car. He has an MA in automotive journalism and has tested hundreds of vehicles.

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