The BMW 1 Series is one of the best premium hatchbacks on sale, offering a combination of performance, efficiency and driver thrills

The BMW 1 Series may have made the switch to front (and four) wheel drive but this change hasn’t diluted its appeal – the smallest BMW is still great to drive. The 1 Series also has increased space inside its higher-quality cabin and offers a range of efficient yet punchy engines.

A Volkswagen Golf is still cheaper and more practical – especially when it comes to rear headroom – but the 1 Series is a seriously appealing package that’s very hard to fault.

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BMW 118i M Sport

The BMW 1 Series is a massive seller for the German manufacturer and now, in its third generation, the aim is to continue the 1 Series’ success. Both of its previous iterations used a traditional BMW rear-wheel drive layout, but this has been abandoned in favour of a more space-efficient front-wheel drive set-up.

Quality has taken a step in the right direction too; the 1 Series’ interior is now on a par with the latest 3 Series in terms of lay-out, build and – crucially in this class – infotainment. BMW’s Live Cockpit Plus system features with an 8.8-inch screen as standard, or a 10.25-inch screen (along with the latest operating system) on higher trim levels. The larger system is one of the best available and a good match for the A Class’ MBUX infotainment set-up.

Under its aggressively styled bodywork, the BMW 1 Series sits on the same UKL2 platform that’s found underneath the BMW X1, X2 and 2 Series Active Tourer, along with MINI’s Countryman and Clubman.

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The all-new car is powered by a range of similarly new engines, now horizontally opposed to improve packaging – two petrols and three diesels. The petrol range starts with the 118i with its 138bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder – an engine that’s shared with some MINI models – and tops out with the 301bhp 2.0-litre in the performance-orientated M135i. The majority of these come with a six-speed manual as standard and the option of a eight-speed auto; the M135i and 120d models come with the automatic as standard along with xDrive four-wheel drive.

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The switch to front-wheel drive hasn’t dulled the 1 Series’ driver appeal – in fact, it’s better to drive than before
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The BMW 1 Series is a remarkably frugal choice, with low CO2 emissions and good fuel economy
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The latest BMW 1 Series feels modern, high-quality and comes loaded with impressive technology
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The BMW 1 Series’ switch to front-wheel drive has improved cabin and boot space but neither is class-leading
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The BMW 1 Series’ reliability is yet to be proven, but it should be very safe

The 116d is powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder diesel engine with 114bhp, while the 118d produces 148bhp from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit. The most powerful diesel is the 120d, which produces 187bhp from its 2.0-litre engine. Performance and economy is good across the board – even the lowliest diesel manages 0-62mph in just over 10 seconds, while the go-faster M135i still returns up to 35.8mpg on average. CO2 emissions for the range spread from 100g/km in the 116d to 155g/km in the M135i – both private and business users will have little to worry about on the running costs front.

With its premium image, frugal engines and (relatively) accessible pricing, the BMW 1 Series has its sights set squarely on the Mercedes A Class, Audi A3 and Lexus CT – along with the closely related MINI Clubman, itself also renewed in 2019. In addition, the 1 series will go up against higher-specced versions of more mainstream hatches like the Volkswagen Golf and Mazda 3.

Last updated: 
2 Oct, 2019