BMW’s 1 Series remains a key player in the premium hatchback segment
What is it?
The 1 Series is easily one of the most popular cars BMW offers, delivering solid build quality and that all-important ‘premium’ badge alongside a range of petrol and diesel engines. We’re testing it out in all-rounder 120d specification to see if it’s got what it takes to rival the Audi A3, and the recently-updated Mercedes-Benz A-Class – two competitors which take some beating.
BMW has given the 1 Series one last refresh before an all-new version arrives next year, prior to the car’s switch from rear- to front-wheel-drive. The exterior has been lifted with new headlights and other subtle touches, while the interior gains fresher dials as well as a variety of new finishers.
We’ve got it here in M Sport trim, which means that as well as a dynamic bodykit the 1 Series also gains a drop in ride height thanks to sports suspension, and larger alloy wheels.
What’s under the bonnet?
The 120d uses the same 2.0-litre engine as the one you’ll find in the 118d and 125d – the only difference here being the tuning. With drive sent to the rear wheels through an eight-speed gearbox, BMW says that the 120d will hit 60mph in seven seconds before reaching a top speed of 142mph. Economy levels are strong, with the firm claiming 61.1mpg on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 124g/km.
As we mentioned before, this particular 1 Series features the lowered sports suspension as part of the M Sport package. In truth, it’s something we’d probably leave out – which fortunately you can do at no extra cost – as it adds just a little too much harshness to the car’s ride, and spoils its around-town manners.
What’s it like to drive?
Being rear-wheel-drive, the 1 Series has always been seen as the ‘enthusiast’ choice from the current smattering of hatches on the market. It’s delivered on that idea in some ways; the steering has a good amount of balance to it, and turn-in feels quite sharp. You’d do well to notice that that the engine is driving the rear wheels however – the 1 Series will more readily push into understeer rather than oversteer.
When it comes to performance, there’s more than enough available for most. Decent low-down pull means that joining the motorway or overtaking can be undertaken swiftly and with little effort. The eight-speed automatic gearbox shifts smoothly too – you can take manual control of it via the steering wheel-mounted paddles, but it’s often best left to its own devices.
How does it look?
The BMW 1 Series looks smart, particular thanks to the updated headlights which give it a more distinctive visual impact. Our car came in five-door layout, and this gave it a slightly less sporty look than its three-door stablemate. The M-Sport pack does plenty to bulk up the car’s looks too, while the drop in ride height (though not ideal for ride quality), certainly gives it a bit more of a hot hatch feel.
Is it as good to look at as the Audi A3 or new Mercedes-Benz A-Class? We’ll leave that up to you – but in our eyes the 1 Series still remains one of the smartest-looking hatchbacks on sale today.
What’s it like inside?
There’s a lot to like inside the 1 Series. All of the materials used feel of a high-quality, and they’ve all been screwed together exceptionally well. During our time with the car there wasn’t a single squeak nor rattle – though you’d expect that give the car’s close-to-£30,000 starting price. The steering wheel has an impressive amount of adjustment to it as well, which helps when trying to find your perfect driving position.
The only real issue with the cabin was the colour. Our test car’s black leather and black headliner made it quite a dark place to be – we’d option a lighter coloured upholstery to make things a little more spacious-feeling in the interior.
What’s the spec like?
M-Sport models benefit from a vast array of standard equipment, including 18-inch double-spoke alloy wheels, chrome exhaust pipe trim pieces and gloss black exterior trim pieces. It builds on the already comprehensive list of features that you get with SE and Sport models – with even the base spec gaining a multi-function steering wheel and chrome kidney grille slats.
The M Sport spec features BMW’s latest iDrive infotainment system, and it’s one of the simplest to use on the market. The rotary controller makes navigating the menus simple, while even tasks such as pairing your smartphone take no time at all.
The 1 Series remains one of the best-handling cars in the premium hatchback segment and delivers an involving drive. On top of that, it also offers great standard equipment and build quality befitting the BMW badge. It may be a little more expensive than others, but the included kit makes it a more reasonable offer than the initial starting price may lead you to believe. If you’re happy to not drive the most up-to-date model, then there are likely bargains to be had just prior to the new model’s arrival next year.