- Powerful looks with strong performance to match
- Great choice of engines, trim levels, transmissions and even the option of all-wheel drive
- Extra space and improved comfort
- Some will be saddened it’s no longer rear-wheel drive
- The interior in the Mercedes looks better
- Rear headroom is quite poor due to tapering roof design
The 1 Series is a compact family hatchback and although it’s BMW’s smallest model, it’s very big on appeal, style and performance. From the entry-level SE, customers can move up through the range with Sport, 128ti and M models to choose from. There is also the choice between economical petrol or diesel engines and manual or auto transmissions. Buyers can even opt for all-wheel drive.
And, as is the way with premium carmakers, there are all manner of optional packs that can be added to personalise the vehicle … at a cost.
The latest third generation car boasts a sharper design, more spacious interior and plenty of cutting edge technology.
On The Road
We tested the 118i M Sport model powered by a three cylinder, 1.5-litre petrol engine matched to a six-speed manual gearbox. The latest powertrain, that delivers 140hp and 220Nm of torque, is cleaner and more efficient with CO2 emissions cut by 29g/km. And the 118i is no slouch either with the engine now developing an extra 4hp and producing a 0-62mph sprint time of 8.5 seconds and top speed of 132mph.
The 1 Series is a real driver’s car and offers a well-balanced, yet dynamic driving experience with plenty of power on tap from the punchy petrol engine.
It cruises at 70mph on motorways and is exceptionally agile in busier city centres where the nicely weighted steering is another plus factor.
The upgraded six-speed transmission is beautifully smooth and you can switch through drive modes called Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport that change the reactions of the vehicle with Sport being the most engaging.
As part of an optional M Sport Pro pack costing £1,800, the test car featured M Sport brakes with blue calipers for added bite.
When you opt for the M Sport 1 Series you get larger 18-inch alloys along with a firmer suspension set-up, so the ride can feel a little hard over poorer road surfaces. But if that’s a problem, the SE and Sport models may be a wiser choice. It’s worth noting that the M Sport suspension is set 10mm lower than on other models.
But if you prefer a sportier drive, then the 118i in M Sport specification certainly ticks all the right boxes. The road holding in the front-wheel drive, five-door hatch is excellent meaning you can attack tight bends with confidence. And when you’re out on the faster country lanes there is always enough zip for quick bursts of pace to overtake.
When it comes to refinement, the latest 1 Series is well insulated so occupants are protected from road surface, engine and wind noise. There is more of a raspy note when driving in the more dynamic modes, but that’s a positive rather than negative factor.
Although the new car is front, not rear-wheel drive it has not impacted on its appeal or handling. There is a certain keenness to perform and the driving dynamics can be as blistering or calm as you choose.
There are more comfortable cars in the sector, but this is certainly one of the most fun to drive and the car has shed some weight too – as much as 30kg – which is beneficial to performance and running costs.
The latest generation 1 Series features a fresh new look with a shorter bonnet, a larger kidney grille with the kidney shapes merging in the middle for the first time. There are new LED headlight clusters and a more pronounced shark nose look.
Viewed from the side there are two distinctive lines that grab your attention. One runs from below the door handles and stretches from the front wheels to the rear wings. And the other starts in the lower part of the front doors and rises to the rear quarter.
Our M Sport model also included an additional M Sport Pro pack costing £1,800 that introduced 18-inch Orbit Grey alloys, M Sport brakes with blue calipers, M Sport seat belts and an M Sport spoiler.
The interior oozes premium quality throughout with Black Dakota leather upholstered heated sports seats with adjustable side bolsters. There are soft touch surfaces, neat decorative inlays and a wealth of on-board kit to explore in the driver-oriented cockpit.
An optional extra on our test car was a Comfort Pack 2, priced at £1,430 and that added a heated steering wheel, electric tailgate, comfort access and electric memory seats.
Special mention to the Harman Kardon audio system which delivers pitch perfect sound.
In The Car
Behind the Wheel
If you are someone that likes the interior of a car to make an impact, then the M Sport model could be just the ticket. It oozes sporting prowess with sports seats, a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel, plenty of M branding and lots of easy-on-the-eye screens, including a new 5.1-inch colour tft display.
The touchscreen is 8.8-inches and the many on-board features can be accessed via the iDrive controller, voice command or steering wheel controls. There is also gesture control which involves waving your hand around below the mirror to alter the audio volume, accept or decline phone calls and a few other functions. It’s a bit of a strange system and takes a little getting used to.
Creature comforts are plentiful and include sat nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth, smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay (plus Android Auto on BMWs with Operating System 7) and plenty more besides.
All the features are easy to operate on the fly, although the Mercedes A Class does look more appealing with its stunning touchscreen layout.
Getting a comfortable driving position takes just seconds with powered seats and ample height and reach steering wheel adjustment. The all-round visibility is good, but not perfect as the over-the-shoulder view is hampered by fairly wide pillars.
The head-up display is a great addition so you can keep a constant watch on your speed.
Space & Practicality
With a new front-wheel drive architecture that features transverse engines and a lower central tunnel, occupants are treated to extra space in the latest 1 Series, especially passengers in the back where there is an extra 33mm knee room.
The rear headroom is increased slightly too and there is a smidge more elbow space in the back.
The overall dimensions of the car have altered too. At 4,319mm the length is actually 5mm shorter, while it is 34mm wider and 13mm higher. The wheelbase is 20mm shorter at 2,670mm.
The boot capacity has also risen by 20 litres to 380 litres, increasing to 1,200 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats dropped flat. And the powered tailgate is a handy feature when approaching the car carrying lots of shopping. There is a net, elasticated strap and hooks to help secure items safely.
There are numerous storage compartments scattered throughout the 1 Series, including a glovebox, central cubby, door bins, seat back nets, a hidden compartment beside the driver’s right knee with fold-down cover, front and rear cup holders, plus a wireless charging pad.
The entry-level third-generation 1 Series is priced from £25,915 and the most expensive M models start from £37,900.
Our 118i M Sport model was priced at £29,375, but a number of optional packs and some upgraded seats saw the final cost creep up to £34,980.
Powered by an efficient 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine, it could deliver up to 47.1mpg under stricter WLTP testing, with carbon emissions from 114g/km.
This relatively low CO2 emissions figure would result in a first year road tax (or Vehicle Excise Duty) charge of £180 dropping to the standard rate of £155 after 12 months.
And more good news for buyers too. As the car’s final cost is less than £40k it will not be subject to the additional Government surcharge of £355 for five years. That’s why it’s always worth keeping a watchful eye on those optional extras.
The BMW 118i M Sport is classed as insurance group 20.
Quality & Reliability
The BMW 1 Series has always been regarded as one of the German carmaker’s most reliable models and this latest version should prove problem-free too.
The company frequently scores very well in customer satisfaction surveys and the car boasts plenty of high-end materials inside the cabin with practical, yet attractive surfaces and top quality upholstery.
The running gear should be capable of putting in an extensive shift with thousands of hassle-free motoring and the car is covered by a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty.
Safety & Security
The BMW 1 Series was awarded a maximum five stars when tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating and is packed with safety features and driver assistance aids to help protect occupants and other road users, as well as helping to prevent accidents happening in the first place.
The car benefits from an array of new driver assistance systems that combine camera images and data gathered by radar and ultrasonic sensors to either alert the driver to hazards or minimise the risk of an accident by means of corrective steering and braking.
Cruise control with braking function is standard across the range and active cruise control with stop & go is an option. Standard equipment includes collision and pedestrian warning with city braking function, lane departure warning with steering impulse and speed limit warnings.
The car also features, as an option, a head-up display for the first time and park distance control that uses front and rear sensors to help avoid hitting any obstacles to the front, side or rear of the car. Our test car featured this system as part of a Technology Pack costing £1,250, that also added high beam assistant, adaptive LED headlights and a parking assistant that will automatically help park the car.
To keep intruders at bay, the BMW 1 Series is protected by an alarm and immobiliser.
The latest, third generation BMW 1 Series is a powerful five-door hatch that is big on performance, big on technology and big on appeal. It looks dynamic in its styling and has the performance ability to match.