The least expensive way into BMW ownership is also a very popular one with British buyers, thanks to the car’s strong image and upmarket good looks.
It’s a constant feature in the top 10 seller charts, as a more premium alternative to the likes of the Ford Focus, VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra.
It’s not as well packaged as some of its more mainstream rivals, but if you’re not massively fussed about huge levels of practicality, the pay-off is that it’s one of the best compact cars there is from a driver’s perspective. It also holds its value really well - the cachet of the BMW badge giving it long-lasting desirability.
The range is vast, from sensible economical models that are tax-efficient, through to performance-derived cars that fully deserve to wear the iconic BMW ‘M’ badge, so it makes sense to do your homework before deciding which model to go for.
From the rear, the 1-Series has a very distinctive styling aspect, with rounded haunches and smart hockey stick-shaped LED light clusters, while the wide-opening boot lid cuts deep into the back bumper.
At the front, it has the distinctive face of BMW, with a wide chrome-edged kidney grille and smart dual headlamps, while the side profile manages to conceal the car’s bulk quite cleverly - the 1-Series is barely smaller than a 3-Series, but it looks like a much more compact car.
It’s smartly styled and elegant, even in the more basic trims, though some of the lesser specifications look a bit under-wheeled and benefit from larger alloys.
On the sporty M-Sport trim level, the 1-Series gets bigger alloys, side skirts and more body coloured plastics to emphasise its performance credentials.
There are four body styles on offer - three and five-door hatchbacks, as well as extremely pretty coupe and convertible models.
Step inside and the 1-Series quite clearly borrows cues from its bigger siblings. While that impacts its practicality a little, it does give it a sporty, low-slung driving position, while the dashboard and major controls wrap around the driver to give it excellent ergonomics.
The infotainment screen is smartly integrated into the dash, with secondary controls operated by either switches or BMW’s i-Drive controller, or sometimes both. It’s an intuitive car to use, and is extremely driver focused.
In the rear, passenger space isn’t as generous as the VW Golf or Vauxhall Astra, for example, but compared to other compact executive hatchbacks like the Mercedes A-Class, it’s perfectly functional. You can fit five adults in the car if needed, though it’s more suited to children and young adults in the rear.
The boot is also below the size of some rivals, but only by 10 per cent or so, so unless you frequently carry large loads it should be more than adequate.
Driving and practicality
Here’s where the 1-Series comes into its own. While practicality may be average at best, the longitudinal engine layout aids the balance of the chassis and it has better weight distribution than most compact hatchbacks.
Whichever model you go for, the 1-Series has wonderful poise and balance, coupled to truly excellent steering. It’s the finest handling compact hatchback that money can buy, and for those who enjoy their driving that makes it a hard car to ignore.
There are several engine choices, from the sensible 118i and 116d (the former powered by a three-cylinder 1.6 petrol engine and the latter by a three-cylinder 1.5 diesel), to the wild M140i, which couples the 1-Series’ compact dimensions to a 335bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit. The M140i is in a class of its own as a seriously hot hatch.
All other models trade off that appeal, though, and the four-cylinder 118d and 120d, and the 235bhp 125d are all strong performers, while petrol versions are also great to drive, with the 120i using a more powerful version of the three-cylinder engine and the 125i having a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit. It’s a confusing line-up, but there’s not a dud option in there, and all are terrific cars to drive.
The 1-Series core market is with young professionals, who like the maturity and upmarket image that the 1-Series presents, but don’t need a bigger car.
If it’s called upon as a family hatchback, it’ll do the job, but there are better options out there. Where it really shines is as a vehicle that’s part-transport, part-status symbol, and its peerless image and terrific road manners make it a very wise choice for those who want a car that feel upmarket and premium, but doesn’t cost the earth to own or run.Search BMW 1 Series