Used BMW 1 Series review: 2011 to 2019 (Mk2) - Engines, performance and drive
The BMW 1 Series is the best car of its type to drive, because it’s both fun to drive and comfortable, and the engines are smooth and powerful
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 and comfort that rivals can’t match.
There’s 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 even boosts economy and CO2 emissions.
What is the BMW 1 Series like to drive?
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 and uneven roads. Optional adaptive dampers can help to reduce this effect by allowing the driver to choose a sportier or more comfortable mode, so look out for cars with that option added.
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 also a great gearbox as it’s easy and enjoyable to use.
Which engine should I choose?
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. For example the 118i petrol 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 and M135i models use a characterful six-cylinder turbocharged engine with more than 310bhp, 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, and quietens down nicely at cruising speeds for effortless long-distance trips.
The 116d feels pretty smooth most of the time, though, with the larger diesel engines only feeling marginally more refined. For really strong performance the 120d or 125d are the ones to go for. The 120d has a 2.0-litre diesel engine producing around 190bhp. This means the 120d xDrive (the four-wheel-drive model) can get from 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds and throttle response is much improved. The 125d has enough performance to match the best hot hatches: it goes from 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds and pulls really strongly from low speeds.
In general, the best petrol option is the 118i (2015-on) and the best diesel is the 116d (2015-on) as these versions have the best balance of fuel economy and performance.