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What is a BMW 1 Series?

What is the BMW 1 Series?

As BMW’s entry-level car the 1 Series has an important role: it must entice people into showrooms and be a stepping stone towards larger, more expensive BMWs as the customers become more affluent.

It brings the things we’ve come to love about traditional BMWs – silky, powerful engines and rear-wheel drive – to the humbler world of the family hatchback, and it’s been doing so since the first generation debuted in 2004. Its rivals include the Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Lexus CT.

The 1 Series has always struggled slightly in terms of aesthetic appeal, and practicality; an engine that’s positioned in a way that it encroaches on cabin space and a shaft leading back to the rear axle never do wonders for cabin space. That said, it’s always been the drivers’ choice in this class.

At-a-glance 2019 BMW 1 Series specs

  • Top speed: 124-155mph
  • 0-62mph: 4.6-10.5 seconds
  • Fuel economy: 38-67mpg
  • Emissions: 111-179g/km of CO2
  • Boot space: 360-1,200 litres

Which versions of the BMW 1 Series are available?

With the arrival of the Mk2 1 Series, the range of cars sold under that name had reduced by half, primarily because the replacements for the Mk1 Coupe and Convertible are now sold as part of the 2 Series family. As it stands, you’ve a choice of a pair of versions of the BMW 1 Series Sports Hatch – a three-door (with the internal codename of F21) and a slightly more practical five-door version (the F20).

BMW 1 Series 2015-on

There’s a diverse range of powerplants on offer from efficient, small-capacity three-cylinder motors up to turbocharged six-cylinder units. Petrols and diesels are both available, as is xDrive all-wheel drive on selected versions. Trim levels follow BMW’s usual pattern of SE, Sport and M Sport, with special Shadow Editions topping the range.

What is the BMW M140i?

Today, the sporty model in the 1 Series line-up is badged M140i – it replaced an early M135i – and comes complete with a 340hp turbocharged engine, with power – of course – going to the rear wheels in all UK market models. BMW is the sole proprietor of drift-happy hatches, it would seem.

Living with a BMW 1 Series

We ran a long-term BMW 1 Series - how did we get on with it?

You can even option a limited-slip differential for smoother slip-to-grip transitions, albeit at a fairly hefty cost. Who says this isn’t a proper M car? Factor in the bargain finance deals BMW offers on the M140i right now and it’s a tricky car to ignore.

BMW 1 Series styling and engineering

The 1 Series’ engine and driven-wheels layout is as unique as its styling is awkward. Practically speaking, its mechanical arrangement doesn’t promote spaciousness and flexibility. Nevertheless, what you lose in cabin space, you gain in agility.

This is a family hatch that has the dynamics of a sports saloon. It’s just a shame it doesn’t look like one. The 1 Series has never been a looker in the same way the 3 Series has over the years. The second-generation got off to an especially rough start, with sad-looking headlamps and a BMW grille that conspired to look like a beaver’s teeth. Things improved with the mid-life facelift, but that couldn’t disguise the rearward-biased shape of the car with its unusually long bonnet.

Is the BMW 1 Series good to drive?

The BMW has a balance that’s alien to its front-driven rivals. Its weight is perfectly distributed front to rear, so it’s more a willing, agile companion than wayward wild child.

Suspension and steering are both excellent, as you’d expect of BMW. All engines bar the lowest rung perform strongly, but the top-line six-cylinder is a gem. Despite its athleticism, 1 Series settles down perfectly comfortably, too, proving you avoid specifying enormous wheels to preserve comfort levels.

How much does the BMW 1 Series cost?

It’s no secret that the second-generation 1 Series is nearing the end of its life. As such, some excellent deals are available, particularly on the M140i. We recommend asking your dealer about the Shadow Edition. Regardless of this, it’s always been an absolute hit in terms of finance deals. The 1 Series is priced very well by comparison with rivals, matching an equivalent Audi A3 Hatchback almost pound-for-pound at pretty much every level.

See how drivers of the BMW 1 Series rate their cars with our comprehensive owners’ reviews.

BMW 1-Series Model History

First-generation BMW 1 Series (2004-14)

BMW 1 Series 2004-2014

Something of a curio styling-wise, the Mk1 1 Series appeared in 2004 with the task of eventually replacing the awkward-looking 3 Series Compact.

With rear-wheel drive, cabin space was compromised and it was priced with BMW’s typical upmarket strategy, but that didn’t stop it finding favour with buyers and the six-cylinder models soon gained a glowing reputation.

The five-door BMW 1 Series Sports Hatch arrived first (E87 if you’re into internal codenames), followed by a three-door version (the E81).

By the end of 2007 there was further expansion with the two-door BMW 1 Series Coupe (E82), which was heralded as a modern-day take on the old ‘02’ Series models from the late-1960s.

It formed the basis of the soft-top BMW 1 Series Convertible in 2008 (E88) and the high-performance version of the hard-top with the long-winded title of BMW 1 Series M Coupe – for historical reasons it wasn’t called M1.

Discover what drivers think of their first-generation 1 Series in our owners’ reviews and look at used cars for sale.