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BMW 1 Series engines, driving and performance

How does the BMW 1 Series drive?

While it’s no raw, back-to-basics hot hatch like the Abarth 595, the BMW 1 Series manages to strike a mature balance between being fun to drive most of the time without being so racy that it can’t handle day-to-day commuting. The suspension is fairly firm but that means the car vehemently refuses to roll through corners, instead egging you on to tuck the front end tighter into the apex and lean on the prodigious amount of grip available.

This sensation is exacerbated by the steering which, while not bristling with feedback like sports cars of yesteryear, is incredibly accurate and intuitively weighted. Grip is seemingly endless, which further adds to the sense of unflappable confidence you get behind the 1 Series’ wheel. All these qualities are amplified in the 128ti and M135i, which gain an even sharper edge making them even more fun to drive.

Is the BMW 1 Series comfortable?

You couldn’t describe the 1 Series as uncomfortable but the ultra-level cornering does mean the ride quality is generally quite firm. That means you feel every bump though the chassis and the base of your seat, with the A-Class doing a much better job of levelling off these intrusions. It’s a good thing then, that the 1 Series’ suspension is sophisticated enough to be able to trim the harshness out of these bumps, even if it can’t mask them entirely.

Your ears won’t be complaining after a long drive, either. Refinement is superb, with road and wind noise being incredibly well insulated, and the engines are almost so quiet you might struggle to tell they’re actually working.

What’s the best BMW 1 Series engine to get?

There isn’t a slow engine in the 1 Series lineup so, if you’re not fussed about having lots of engine power in reserve, you can save money and buy the entry-level engines without feeling like you’re missing out.

The slowest 116d engine manages the benchmark 0-62mph sprint in a shade over 10 seconds, which is fine for day-to-day driving. Jumping up to the 118d drops the 0-62mph run down to the mid-eight-second range helping it feel more relaxed at higher speeds. We’re not convinced there’s much need to step up to the 120d over the 118d – you only lose around a second from the 0-62mph dash in exchange for a noticeable jump in purchase price.

The 118i petrol is a top choice if you cover a mix of urban and motorway driving, with an appealing smoothness, perky performance and the promise of almost 50mpg.

If you want a fast 1 Series, we’d just pick either of the proper petrol-powered hot hatch versions. The front-wheel-drive 128ti gets 265hp and feels urgent and eager in all scenarios. The top-tier four-wheel-drive M135i, however, is a much more serious performance car, with 306hp and genuine pin-you-to-your-seat acceleration if you flex your right foot.

BMW 1 Series performance

Acceleration in any of the regular 1 Series models is a refined and quiet affair. All engines are turbocharged and offer plenty of overtaking power if you explore the top end of the throttle pedal. Diesel versions, in particular, deliver a great swathe of torque for effortless progress, all with such a small amount of engine noise you need to check your speedo to make sure you’re actually going faster.

Of course, jump up to the 128ti or M135i, and we’re talking about a much more serious performance car with far greater licence-losing potential. The latter is so quick, in fact, that we’d be tempted to settle for the lesser 128ti, not just because it’s more affordable, but because its more sensible performance levels mean you can exploit its power more regularly. Conversely, you need to plan ahead if you’re going to floor the M135i, as it’ll very quickly be entering into triple-digit speeds.

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