In the hatchback world, the BMW 1 Series faces some of the toughest competition going.
Across the table from this mighty German motor sits its fellow countrymen – the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3 – a trio which year after year spark debate over the title of best premium hatchback.
So, where does the 1 Series fit among the elite? Well, let’s find out.
In the past, the BMW 1 Series has always been middle of the pack. A good driver’s car, but one which was let down by styling, practicality and, in certain parts, build quality.
The new-shape 1 Series, however, addresses a lot of those concerns. Both inside and out, BMW has stepped up their game in terms of fixtures and fittings; offering a luxurious and high-quality finish.
It also hasn’t lost any of the drive which made its predecessor so great, even while ditching rear-wheel-drive, and with extra width and height, it’s also more practical.
On the styling front, it’s not as eye-catching as the Mercedes A-Class, nor does it look as classy. But with a chunkier grille, more aggressive headlights and sharper edges, it’s at least a lot more modern looking than the one that came before.
Overall, if you can get over the slightly bland design, it’s the best premium hatchback on offer – particularly in the lower specs.
If you’re open to spending more money, there is of course the M135i, which rivals the Mercedes-Benz A35 and Audi S3 in performance.
However, at that price range, the A-Class has a better interior and the 1 Series also suffers from there being no hardcore M1 version, like there is with the Mercedes A45 and Audi S3.
But for most people, the 1 Series is the premium hatchback we’d recommend.
Design and styling
As we’ve already touched on, the BMW 1 Series’ styling doesn’t exactly set the world alight.
Remove the BMW badge and signature grille, and it could be any old hatchback – which is not what you want with a premium price tag.
The reasoning behind this is the platform the 1 Series is based on. Under the bodyworks sits the same structure you find in the Mini Cooper Clubman and BMW 2 Series, which is great for more space (which we’ll get on to in a little bit), but not ideal for an executive or sporty looking hatch.
Against the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3, the 1 Series looks a little dull – particularly alongside the Mercedes.
Its aggressive headlights and wider stance do claw some of the deficit back. But the designs of the Audi and Mercedes-Benz are simply more interesting and more suited to the premium hatchback title.
MPG, running costs and environment
|Fuel||Petrol & Diesel|
|Drive||Manual & Automatic|
As with any car, which 1 Series engine you choose will play a big role in its running costs.
If you’re looking at the entry-level petrol – the 118i – your average mpg will typically sit between 40.9 and 45.6.
In the lowest-cost diesel; the 116d, as you might expect, fuel economy improves, returning something between 54.3 and 61.4 mpg.
At the top of the rage, the M135i – which will be a preferred choice for many – things get less efficient, with the 1 Series’ most powerful engine expecting to record something between 34.4 and 35.8 mpg.
All that means your fuel bill will vary depending on your powertrain of choice. In the 116d, you can expect your monthly cost to be around £80 if you drive an average of 10,000 miles a year.
In the most powerful petrol – the M135i – it could rise to as high as £150. And the remaining petrol and diesel options available will sit somewhere in the middle.
In terms of CO2 emissions, the M135i produces 172g/km. While the 116d emits just 119 g/km making it a good choice for company car drivers. Although, if you fit it with an automatic gearbox it becomes less green.
Again, the remaining petrol and diesel options in the range sit somewhere in between.
For the most part, the 1 Series’ mpg and running costs hold up similarly to its main competitors the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3.
However, the A-Class does also come in hybrid form – an option not yet available on either the BMW or Audi. So if fuel economy is key, the Mercedes petrol-electric combination is the one to choose.
Engine, drive and performance
As we’ve already touched on, the BMW 1 Series comes with the choice of either a petrol or diesel powertrain. In fact, you can choose between one of three diesel outputs – the 116d, 118d and the 120d – and two petrols – the 118i and M135i.
If you want the full BMW experience, we’d recommend the M135i, producing 306bhp, 450Nm of torque, a top speed of 155mph and getting from 0-60mph in just 4.4 seconds.
However, if your budget won’t stretch that far, honestly, all the engines perform well. The entry-level 118i is more than powerful enough for everyday use, and the diesels also hold up well against anything on the road.
It’s important to note, though, that if you want a 1 Series with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system, you’ll have to choose either the 120d or M135i – as it’s not available with other engines.
BMWs have always been known as a driver’s car. And the 1 Series is no different.
Despite the move from rear-wheel-drive to front-wheel-drive, the Beamer is still incredibly fun behind the wheel. It’s responsive, handles beautifully and you feel fully connected with the road.
Also, unlike a lot of automatic gearboxes you find in the hatchback market, the BMW’s is quick to react when you put your foot down, making it easier to overtake on the motorway.
There’s no doubt the Mercedes-Benz and Aud A3 have the BMW 1 Series beaten in certain areas. But driving isn’t one of them.
The Mercedes and Audi are still strong cars and offer so many great aspects. But, for pure driving feel, neither are on the same level as the BMW.
A big issue with BMWs of the past has been their interior. Especially in the 1 Series before this, the inside didn’t feel like a premium car.
However, the new-shape 1 Series now has the same dashboard as the more expensive, more luxurious 3 Series, giving you a lot of design and features for your money.
In there, you’ve got BMW’s superb iDrive touchscreen infotainment system, well-crafted and expensive-feeling dials and buttons, as well as a fully digital driver’s display, which can be upgraded to include a head-up display through the Technology Pack.
There’s also keyless ignition start, automatic air conditioning and Apple CarPlay as standard across the whole range. Although, it’s worth pointing out that the Apple CarPlay is only free for the first 12 months of the car’s life.
Overall, the interior is where the 1 Series has made the biggest improvement compared to its predecessor. There’s also more space inside thanks to an engine reshuffle under the bonnet due to the car moving from rear to front-wheel-drive.
In the lower specs, the BMW 1 Series offers great value for money inside and edges out both the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3.
However, if you’re willing to go higher on the spec list, the Mercedes’ widescreen infotainment and instrument cluster display is truly awe-inspiring. Also, Audi’s virtual cockpit is better than BMW’s head-up display.
However, if you’re looking around entry-level cost, the BMW is a nicer place to be.
Practicality and boot space
As we’ve already touched on, there’s now more room inside the BMW 1 Series than ever before.
That’s partly down to the engine now sitting sideways rather than front on, due to the shirt from rear to front-wheel-drive, but also simply because the new-shape 1 Series is just a little bigger than its predecessor.
There’s plenty of storage space in the front, including good-sized door pockets and glove box.
In the back, things aren’t as great, with headroom a struggle for anyone who’s over six-foot. Also, the lower portion of the rear bench is rather flat, meaning your legs aren’t offered great support on longer journeys.
However, the 1 Series has made use of its taller and wider stance when it comes to the doors. The rear doors open nice and wide making getting in and out of the back easier- which will definitely come in handy with older passengers or if you’re loading and unloading car seats.
In the boot, the BMW 1 Series offers 380 litres of room, or the equivalent of nine aeroplane carry-on cases.
The rear seats also fold flat, taking the space on offer up to 1,200 litres.
When it comes to practicality, the BMW 1 Series, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3 are all much of a muchness.
However, the BMW and Audi’s 380 litres of boot space is slightly more than you get in the Mercedes. Something to bear in mind if storage is important to you.
Reliability and safety
The 1 Series is known to be one of the more reliable hatchbacks on the road. BMW as a brand is also seen as one you can depend on, and often finishes higher than both Mercedes-Benz and Audi in owner reliability surveys.
The 1 Series has been awarded a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, making it one of the safest vehicles in its class. Its 91%adult occupant and 83% child occupant safety ratings make it especially reassuring for family buyers.
There’s little doubt that the 1 Series’ impressive score was helped by a large number of safety features that come fitted as standard.
On all models, alongside a generous amount of airbags, there’s front and rear Park Distance Control (PDC) Active Guard Plus, which, alongside front and rear sensors, includes speed limit information, lane departure warning and city brake.
The BMW 1 Series comes with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty from new to provide cover should anything ever go wrong with your vehicle.
If you choose to buy or finance an Approved Used model, you’ll receive the full balance of the manufacturer’s warranty. And you can extend that at Hippo from as little as £249 if you wish.
There are three trim levels to choose from in the BMW 1 Series, the entry-level SE, Sport and M Sport.
- 16” alloy wheels
- Full LED headlights
- Full LED rear/tail lights
- Automatic air-conditioning,
- Keyless ignition start
- BMW Live Cockpit Professional with 10.25″ control display
- Rain sensors with automatic headlight activation
- Split-folding rear seats (60:40)
- Front and Rear Park Distance Control (PDC) Active Guard Plus:
– Speed limit information
– Lane departure warning
– City brake
- Apple CarPlay
- Cruise control with braking function
- 17″ alloy wheels
- Illuminated interior trim ‘Berlin’ style
- High-gloss shadow line exterior trim
- Dashboard with contrast stitching (linked to upholstery choice)
- Sport design front air inlets, rear bumper in high-gloss black
- Exclusive door sills with BMW signature
- Automatic two-zone air-conditioning
- Sports seats with Nivala cloth/Sensatec upholstery
- 18″ M alloy wheels
- Illuminated interior trim ‘Boston’ style
- Kidney grille in satin aluminium
- M aerodynamic body styling
- M Sport suspension
- Headlining in anthracite
- Exclusive door sills with BMW M signature
- Sport seats with perforated Dakota leather upholstery
- Heated front seats
- Electrically folding exterior mirrors
- Extended lighting with logo projection
- Luggage compartment package
- M leather steering wheel
Cost and deals
The BMW 1 Series is a prestige hatchback. So it comes as no surprise that it’s a bit pricier than most of the other cars in its class.
From new, you can expect to pay around £25,000 for an entry-level 1 Series. With a top-of-the-range M135i engine inside, M Sport styling and all the extras available – including a panoramic sunroof, upgraded 19-inch alloy wheels, leather trim, electric seats, park assist and head-up display – you’re closing in on up to £45,000.
By comparison, the entry-level Mercedes-Benz A-Class is almost £5,000 cheaper, while the Audi A3 is cheaper still.
In terms of monthly payments, however, all three are around the £250 a month mark from new, which, considering the quality you’re receiving in return, is truly remarkable whichever you prefer.