BMW 1 Series hatchback (2011-2019) - Engines, drive & performance

The BMW 1 Series is the best car in the class to drive, with strong performance and good handling

Carbuyer Rating

3.3 out of 5

Engines, drive & performance Rating

4.0 out of 5

Keen drivers will not be disappointed with the BMW 1 Series. In fact, it offers more entertainment than almost any car in this class, thanks to the agility from the rear-wheel-drive layout, powerful engines and a balance of handling prowess and ride quality that rivals can’t match. At one stage, a rear-drive Alfa Romeo Giulietta was in the pipeline, but it seems the 1 Series won't have any real competition in this area.

Choosing one of the sportier trims – especially the M Sport – means you get bigger alloy wheels and firmer suspension. These can spoil the ride comfort and make the smallest BMW too stiff over bumpy, uneven roads. Optional adaptive dampers can help to reduce this effect by allowing the driver to choose a sportier or more comfortable mode.

The steering is speed-sensitive, so it’s light at low speeds for easier parking but weights up when driving quickly to help the 1 Series feel stable and composed, which gives you plenty of confidence for tackling fast corners. The optional eight-speed automatic gearbox is extremely good, making smooth and immediate changes, but we still prefer the six-speed manual. It’s just such a good gearbox, and it’s easy and enjoyable to use.

BMW 1 Series petrol engines

A great thing about the 1 Series is that these enjoyable driving characteristics are not limited to the most powerful models in the range; they apply just as much to the entry-level models. The 118i petrol, which has a 1.6-litre engine, takes just 8.5 seconds to go from 0-62mph. Light, accurate steering and a responsive chassis make enthusiastic driving a pleasure, while the impressive engine refinement and a surprisingly supple ride mean it’s good for long motorway journeys, too.

The flagship M140i takes over from the M135i and boasts even more serious performance than its predecessor. Still using a characterful six-cylinder turbocharged engine, it now produces 335bhp, and like even the fastest BMW saloons, its top speed is limited to 155mph. It pulls incredibly hard in any gear, making a terrific noise as it does so, but quietens down nicely at cruising speeds for effortless long-distance trips.

Although there’s a long list of rivals for the M140i, in our view the BMW is the strongest all-rounder and will hold particular appeal for enthusiasts looking for a memorable engine. The Honda Civic Type R is popular among track day devotees, while the Ford Focus RS offers the best value of them all.

Diesel engines

The 116d feels pretty smooth most of the time, though, with the larger diesel engines only feeling marginally more refined. For really muscular performance the 120d or 125d are the ones to go for. The 120d has a 2.0-litre diesel engine producing 190bhp. This means the 120d xDrive can get from 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds and throttle response is much improved. The 125d has enough real-world speed to match the best hot hatches: it goes from 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds and pulls really strongly from low speeds.

The previous-generation 1 Series was rear-wheel-drive only, but this time the popular 120d diesel is available with the BMW xDrive system, which sends power to all four wheels when it senses a loss of grip. It works extremely well, keeping the same sense of agility as the standard car but with added stability in tricky conditions. This new feature gives BMW a direct rival to cars like the Volkswagen Golf 4MOTION and Mercedes A-Class 4MATIC.

All BMW 1 Series models come as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional eight-speed automatic with steering-wheel shift paddles. This makes the car faster when in manual mode and shifts feel smoother in automatic mode than the equivalent Volkswagen DSG gearbox. In most cases, the automatic gearbox boosts economy and CO2 emissions.

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