Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • Wide range of power outputs
  • Most versions are front-wheel drive
  • Three transmission options

What engine options are there?

The BMW 1 Series is available with three petrol and three diesel engines. Most models are front-wheel drive, while xDrive all-wheel drive is also available.

What you can’t have is a plug-in hybrid unlike with the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class.

Petrol engines

The range kicks off with the 118i. It’s a three-cylinder 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine and despite being the cheapest and slowest petrol model on offer, its 0-62mph time of 8.5 seconds is still punchy. It’s only available with front-wheel drive , but there is either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission to choose from.

Diesel engines

The diesel range also starts with a 1.5-litre, the 116d. It’s available in front-wheel drive form with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This is the slowest of the 1 Series with a 0-62mph time of 10.1 seconds and it feels like it too.

Next up is the 118d. Using a four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engine, its 0-62mph sprint (8.4 seconds) is much healthier than the 116d. Front-wheel drive only, gearbox choice is between the six-speed manual and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

The 118d is one of the best sellers in the 1 Series range and 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.

Finally, the 120d xDrive comes as standard with the seven-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive. This is the fastest diesel (0-62mph in 7 seconds) and it makes for an effortless motorway cruiser. But our money is still on the 118d.

High performance models

The 265hp 128ti is a front-wheel drive Volkswagen Golf GTI rival. The only gearbox is an eight-speed automatic.

You get a more heavily tuned version of the 128ti’s 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 306hp in the M135i. With all four wheels being driven through the eight-speed automatic ‘box, 0-62mph takes a blistering 4.8sec.

What’s it like to 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 fulfil this. The previous generation car 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 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.

Although normal versions of the 1 Series handle well, the M135i does disappoint compared to the best hot hatches out there. It’s certainly quick and is more agile than the AMG A35, but is nowhere near as much fun as a Toyota GR Yaris.

The latest performance model to be added to the lineup is the 128ti. This is front-wheel drive, and is a right laugh. It scrabbles out of corners like an errant puppy and it’s nearly as fast as the full-fat M135i, only a considerable amount less money. Ride is still very harsh though, and the lairy graphics down the side of the car won’t be to everyone’s tastes.