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BMW 1 Series Review

8 / 10
1 November 2023

With sharp handling, a posh cabin and city-friendly proportions, the BMW 1 Series gets a lot right. Keep reading to find out if it’s the car for you

What we like:
  • Agile, sporty handling
  • Engines are quiet and punchy
  • Excellent fit and finish
What we don't like:
  • Firmer than a Mercedes A-Class
  • Average practicality
  • Smaller infotainment screen can be hard to read

Should I buy a BMW 1 Series?

The BMW 1 Series has been around for roughly two decades now and the third-generation version benefits from those years of development. Premium family hatchbacks need to offer a little bit of everything – everyday useability, practicality and an upmarket experience – and this is where the 1 Series excels. Plus, it goes above and beyond with the agile, composed handling and strong performance you’d expect from a car with a BMW badge.

It can’t afford any blots in its workbook, however, because the Mercedes A-Class and Audi A3 also have a wealth of talents that might tempt 1 Series buyers away. What’s more, the price premium you pay for the 1 Series puts it in contention with top-spec versions of the Ford Focus, Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf.

The 1 Series isn’t the only compact option in the BMW lineup, with the X1 and X2 SUVs providing tempting alternatives for family buyers. Like those cars, the 1 Series also shares parts with the 2 Series Gran Coupe if you want something a little sportier, or the 2 Series Active Tourer and seven-seat 2 Series Gran Tourer if you need even more practicality.

Interior and technology

Cabin quality has always been high in the 1 Series, but the latest version has managed to address our biggest criticism of the old cabin – that the styling was just too conservative. The new 1 Series’ interior still isn’t as flashy as the one you’ll find in a Mercedes A-Class, but it has an understated elegance to the design and avoids the slightly plasticky feel you get from some of the A-Class’s trim pieces. Dashboard controls are subtly angled towards the driver and the infotainment system is housed in a cool parallelogram shape that flows into the driver’s instruments.

Two infotainment screens were offered in the 1 Series until 2022, when the larger unit became standard across the range. Before this, cars came with an 8.8-inch touchscreen as standard, with the option to upgrade to a 10.25-inch version with greater functionality. Both screens are a similar width, which means the 8.8-inch version is quite short and wide, which can make on-screen information look a bit busy. The upgraded screen is noticeably taller, giving much more room for on-screen graphics and an easier user experience.

The 1 Series’ useability beyond the screens is excellent. There’s a sense of clarity to the dashboard layout, with key functions still operated by physical controls that are easier to hit at a glance. That means you can adjust the climate controls and the stereo without needing to go through the touchscreen.


The 1 Series is the smallest car BMW makes. It’s billed as a family hatchback and is well suited to this role provided you don’t have more than two kids and none of your rear passengers are very tall.

There’s a fraction more elbow and legroom in the back of the 1 Series than you’ll find in a Mercedes A-Class, although this will only be noticeable in a side-by-side comparison. Like most rivals in this class, you can seat one six-foot-tall passenger behind another, but don’t expect the rear-seat occupant to have much spare space to stretch out. BMW’s saloons like the 3 Series or its SUVs like the X1 are better choices if you regularly carry rear passengers.

Cargo room is competitive with the A-Class on paper but feels a little smaller in practice thanks to a boot floor that doesn’t descend as deeply as the Mercedes. The space on offer is still usefully square, however, and can accommodate large objects if you fold the back seats down. Plus, access is easy thanks to the wide boot opening.

Engines and performance

A BMW badge has no business being stuck on a slow car, so every version of the 1 Series has at least enough performance to feel relaxed on the move. That means you can happily choose the entry-level engines and save yourself thousands over upgraded versions if you’re not bothered about having lots of extra performance on tap.

All engine options are turbocharged to make fast motorway overtakes easy and many come paired with a quick-shifting automatic gearbox, which we think suits this car best. Move a little higher up the engine range and the 118i and 120d options have plenty of power, making them feel effortless at all times, even when merging down an empty slip road.

BMW’s earned a reputation for building some true high-performance machines, however, with hot-hatch fans well catered to by the 1 Series lineup. The sporty range starts with the 128ti, fielding 265hp and a 6.1-second 0-62mph time – this is front-wheel drive only and is a hoot to drive on your favourite back road. If that’s not fast enough, however, look at the M135i with its mighty 306hp engine and ultra-grippy four-wheel-drive system. This dispatches the 0-62mph sprint in just 4.8 seconds – faster than most full-blown sports cars.

Driving and comfort

Compared to key rivals from Mercedes and Audi, the BMW is clearly the driver’s choice. Its controls feel more immediate, with a greater sense of connection between the steering wheel and the front axle. It also remains incredibly level through corners without the body roll you get in an A-Class which, combined with the ultra-sharp front end, makes the 1 Series noticeably more fun to drive, all without feeling frantic while just pottering about.

There is a slight trade-off, however, and that’s a generally firmer ride than you’ll get in either the A-Class or the A3. The BMW does round off harsh bumps admirably, so it’s never uncomfortable, but you will feel every road imperfection, where the A-Class does a better job of tuning these out. Refinement, however, is excellent, with very little noise from the engine or tyres making it into the cabin.

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