Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • Five engines from launch
  • Most versions are front-wheel drive
  • Three transmission options

From launch, the BMW 1 Series is available with two petrol and three diesel engines. Most models are front-wheel drive, while xDrive all-wheel drive is also available. Note that this is a significant departure from the previous generation 1 Series, that mostly used a rear-wheel drive platform. For the purposes of most buyers, the change makes little difference to how the car drives. 

BMW 1 Series petrol engines

The BMW 118i denotes a three-cylinder 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 140hp and 220Nm of torque. Good for 0-62mph in a punchy 8.5 seconds, it’s available in front-wheel drive form with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Top speed is rated at 132mph.

If you’re after the most powerful BMW 1 Series currently on sale, the M135i xDrive produces 306hp and 450Nm of torque from a four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol engine. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 4.8 seconds while top speed is 155mph. As per the name, the M135i is all-wheel drive only and comes with the seven-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox. 

The previous generation M140i had developed a cult following by the time the car was discontinued, yet some may not immediately warm to its closest like-for-like replacement. Gone is the old 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine, replaced by a 2.0-litre four cylinder with standard all-wheel drive.

It’s not as fun or characterful as the M140i, yet there’s still plenty to like about the current range-topper. For starters, performance is deeply impressive, even if it doesn’t feel that fast. Pin the throttle for an overtake and you’ll enjoy the seamless performance and traction from the xDrive all-wheel drive, while stability and grip through corners is deeply impressive.

The steering is well-judged, too. Not too heavy even in its sportiest setting, it gives reasonable feedback to the driver. Meanwhile, ride comfort on the optional M Performance adaptive suspension is forgiving by hot hatch standards - in fact it's so impressive you could easily use it every day and not find it intrusively uncomfortable or bouncy. 

BMW 1 Series diesel engines

Kicking off the diesel range is the 1.5-litre four-cylinder 116d producing 116hp and 270Nm of torque. Available in front-wheel drive form with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, 0-62mph takes 10.1 seconds while top speed comes in at 124mph.

Next up is the big-selling 118d. Using a four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engine, it produces 150hp and 350Nm of torque, giving a 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds and a top speed of 135mph. Front-wheel drive only, gearbox choice is between the six-speed manual and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

The 118d is expected to be one of the best sellers in the 1 Series range and after our brief test drive, it’s not hard to see why. Incredibly smooth and refined, it still offers respectable performance figures and feels an accomplished motorway cruiser. We haven’t yet tried the manual version, but the eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission is a superb gearbox delivering slick, well-timed shifts. As an all-rounder, the 118d is hard to beat.

You can spec the 118d with either the standard suspension, lowered and stiffened M Sport suspension or adaptive dampers. Having tried the latter, it errs towards the firmer side yet stops short of being uncomfortable. A proper drive on UK roads is needed to confirm this, mind. 

Finally, the 120d xDrive comes as standard with the seven-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive. Accelerating from 0-62mph takes a spritely 7.0 seconds, while top speed comes up at 143mph.

How does the BMW 1 Series drive?

  • Excellent refinement all round
  • Ride is good, but errs on the firmer side
  • M135i xDrive may divide opinion

BMW’s marketing strategy often focuses on the brand’s reputation for delivering ‘drivers' cars’, yet the 1 Series has sometimes struggled to fulfill this. The previous generation car arguably wasn’t as sharp to drive as a number of key rivals (Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf to name two), so the switch from being predominantly rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive could be welcome. 

As a result, the 1 Series handles in a similar manner to the aforementioned Golf. That means grip, stability and performance levels are all impressive, with the emphasis skewed towards safety and stability more than ever. Some drivers may bemoan this, yet it’s likely the vast majority will be more interested in the improved cruising manners.

Wind, road and engine noise (at least on the models we've driven) are as quiet as it gets for a car of this size, while the ride comfort on adaptive suspension is agreeable – if slightly towards the firmer end of the scale. It also feels generally more grown-up than the previous car, feeling more polished all-round and better-suited to its front-wheel drive layout.

Not quite abandoning its sporting roots, BMW has given the 1 Series a duo of hi-tech driver assistance aids – namely ARB (near actuator wheel slip limitation) and BMW Performance Control (yaw moment distribution). While that may sound confusing, in essence the former has been designed to reduce losses of grip from the front wheels when cornering, while the latter is capable of individually braking the inside wheel as required in order to improve agility.

Suspension options include the regular passive (fixed) setup, M Sport suspension with a 10mm reduction in ride height, M Sport M135i xDrive and adaptive dampers in either regular or M Performance guise. M Sport cars come as standard with the lowered suspension yet are expected to be available with a free of charge option to revert to regular springs or cost option adaptive dampers. With larger wheels fitted, the standard setup for M Sport cars can feel a little firm over rough surfaces, but not to such a degree that it becomes uncomfortable. The car still feels stable and strong.