BMW 1 Series hatchback (2004-2011)
“When BMW designed the 1 Series, it decided to leave blandness at the door. Cabin quality is good, the driving position excellent and the range of engines lead the class.”
- Fun to drive
- Efficient and quick diesel engines
- Neat, well built cabin
- Lack of space in rear and boot
- Pricey options list
Launched to prove that BMW could build a car to compete with the Volkswagen Golf, the 1 Series is a car with styling that you’ll either love or hate. It’s quite cramped in the rear and the boot is smaller than most rivals, but cabin quality is good, the driving position excellent and the range of engines is the very best available. It’s the only rear-wheel-drive compact hatchback available, which means it has more focus on driving fun than its rivals. Diesel versions are particularly impressive, as they are quick and economical.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Engines, drive & performance
With its sporty, rear-wheel-drive chassis, the 1 Series is more engaging to drive than its main rival – the Audi A3 – but this focus on handling has compromised the appeal of the overall package, particularly in regard to practicality. However, if driving fun is a priority for you, look no further. The 1 Series has a low-slung driving position that is easy to get comfortable in, and both the steering and gearbox feel accurate. All but the basic 116i and 116d versions feel powerful - while the range-topping 123d diesel is very quick.
Interior & comfort
The front seats are supportive, but the BMW 1 Series isn’t as comfortable on rough roads as rivals because it’s more focused on being fun to drive. It has quite stiff suspension, which means you can feel more of the lumps and bumps of the road in the cabin. Some people like that because it makes the driving experience more ‘involving’, but if you want a softer ride that irons out the bumps, the 1 Series isn’t for you. Top-spec M Sport versions are harsher still, thanks to large-diameter wheels and even stiffer suspension.
Practicality & boot space
BMW’s decision to stick with its traditional rear-wheel-drive layout for its smallest model means the 1 Series loses out on rear space because of the need to run a transmission tunnel from front to back. The hatchback rear makes access to the boot easy, but its 330-litre capacity is 40 litres down on the Audi A3 Sportback. Split-folding rear seats increase space to 1,150 litres. In the cabin there’s less rear headroom, legroom and shoulder space than in most rivals, but these are sacrifices 1 Series buyers make in exchange for a car that’s uniquely styled and fun to drive.
Reliability & safety
In our opinion, build quality in the 1 Series cabin is poorer than in other BMWs, but it is still better than rivals like the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. There have been a couple of minor recalls involving low numbers of vehicles, but our research shows 1 Series owners are satisfied with their cars. There have been no major issues, and safety impresses too, with the car scoring a full five stars in the Euro NCAP test.