The 1 Series is BMW’s smallest conventional car; a seemingly ordinary three- or five-door hatchback. Don’t let that fool you, though. Today’s mid-spec 1 Series is worth more than the sum of its parts thanks to advanced technology and impressive drivetrains that have filtered down from more expensive models.
Many buyers are looking for the badge and buy the cheapest engines, which lack character. It’s better to go for the slightly better ones, if possible, to really appreciate how well-engineered and capable the 1 Series is, especially with xDrive four-wheel drive.
The 1 Series is less glamorous than the 2 Series coupe, but it’s more practical and shares the latter’s excellent driving dynamics. It also has the dual benefits of being cheaper and generally more comfortable, which makes it arguably the better value of the two.
That said, this is a car that in some ways is only as good as the amount of money a customer is willing to throw at it. In the right spec with good optional extras added, it’s a marvel, but a cheap version left standard can be underwhelming. SE starts the range, followed by Sport and M Sport.
Choose the torquey Euro 6 emissions standard 120d for the best all-round balance of driver enjoyment – something BMW is famed for – as well as efficiency and resale value. For performance hunters, the extremely quick M140i is available in both body styles.
Styling and status 3/5
Forgettable design is a slight shame. The kidney grille and BMW badge carry a lot of weight with customers and overcome any misgivings about style. Higher trim grades look much more striking.
The entry-level petrol and diesel engines are fine, but uninspiring; even boring. Rise to 20i and 20d level for an amazing balance of fun and frugality. The dynamically tweaked M140i is for speed freaks.
People looking for prestige will be put off by the basic 1 Series SE’s 16-inch wheels, which look too small for the car. Sport looks much more the part and M Sport adds even more frills.
Some would say the 1 Series’ interior is quite bland. The door trim and dashboard in low-spec models is a little basic-looking, but the instruments and centre console echo bigger BMWs’ and look both clean professional. The media screen integration is neat.
Equipment & technology 4/5
Navigation is standard on a decent list of technology. DAB radio, WiFi hotspot preparation and BMW Online services are included. The stereo would benefit from one of two upgrade options, and USB inputs are not standard.
Space & practicality 4/5
Although the boot is smaller than its key rivals’ and the aperture is relatively narrow, there are useful hooks and lashing eyes. The boot floor is single-level. Rear passengers will be happy enough.
The passenger front airbag, one of six, can be deactivated for carrying rear-facing child seats. Clever, adaptive LED headlights are available, but at a high cost.
Fuel economy & emissions 4/5
BMW’s engines are among the best for real-world fuel economy, but the lower-powered options often need to be worked harder, spoiling their returns.
Because the 1 Series can need extra spend on options, it isn’t cheap despite a low-looking starting point. It justifies its value for money with impressive driving manners and key technology highlights.
Verdict 3.7 stars
All 1 Series models are good, but combine the right drivetrain with the right trim grade and it’s an outstanding car to own.