BMW 1 Series variants
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BMW 1 Series (M135i) review - does the A-Class do it better?

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Total cash price £24,999. Borrowing £19,999 with a £5,000 deposit at a representative APR of 9.9%.

49 monthly payments
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6000 miles

BMW 1 Series buying guide

The 1 Series is BMW’s answer to the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class premium hatchbacks. For years, the 1 Series was unique in its class thanks to its rear-wheel-drive layout, but the latest, third-generation (2019 onwards) model adopts the more conventional front-wheel drive of its rivals. For those uninitiated, rear-wheel drive options provide a taste of BMW’s traditional dynamics, but the newer front-wheel-drive examples offer more space in the rear seats and boot, and they still drive well. Indeed, BMW honed its front-wheel-drive art on the post-millennium Mini, which is closely related to the new 1 Series and remains a benchmark for front-wheel-drive dynamics.

What BMW 1 Series trim levels are there?

The entry point into BMW 1 Series ownership is the SE trim. In the last 1 Series, the SE came with BMW’s ‘standard’ infotainment system, and you could upgrade to a bigger screen for extra cost. This time around, all 1 Series models get the same slick touchscreen. SE may be the cheapest 1 Series specification, but it still comes with alloy wheels, push-button start, cruise control, parking sensors and auto lights. Its smaller wheels may make the ride quality better than in the sportier trim levels, too. 

Next up is Sport trim. This adds more equipment, such as sports seats and eye-catching two-tone alloy wheels. On the last 1 Series, the Sport was marked out by natty red interior trim, but that hasn’t been carried over for the latest model.

M Sport is the most popular spec with UK buyers, many of whom see its sportier styling as a must-have. There are bigger air intakes, bigger wheels, a more prominent spoiler and black trim to mark it out, plus blue highlights inside. The M Sport also includes extra equipment to justify its higher price, so you’ll get heated front seats and parking sensors at both ends. If you see a model called the M Sport Shadow Edition, this has tinted lights and darker trim.

BMW offers two fast versions of the 1 Series. The first is the 128ti, a front-wheel-drive VW Golf GTI rival with red exterior accents, and the second is the more powerful M135i xDrive (xDrive is BMW-speak for four-wheel drive). In the 2011-2019 1 Series, the hot version was originally called the M135i but was later named M140i when it received a power boost.

BMW 1 Series interior and technology

If you’re trying to decide between the older and newer 1 Series, we’d recommend spending a little bit more for the more recent car. The newer car’s twin-screen layout feels premium and feels a lot more modern than the older car – unsurprising, given the previous 1 Series went on sale over a decade ago.

Still, entry-level versions of the previous 1 Series don’t skimp when it comes to technology, with sat nav, DAB radio and Bluetooth all offered as standard. Desirable options include the BMW Professional Media package and LED headlamps with high-beam assist – which automatically dips and reactivates full beam lighting in line with oncoming traffic.

Much like its mechanical layout, the latest model marks a radical departure from its predecessor when it comes to technology. Even the entry-level SE is supplied as standard with BMW Live Cockpit Professional hardware, which translates as a digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch screen that can be controlled by touch or with the intuitive iDrive rotary controller positioned next to the gearstick.

You also get BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant – much like Alexa, you wake it up with a ‘Hey BMW’ command, then give it an instruction, whether that’s to adjust the climate control, programme the sat-nav or change radio stations.

While more spacious inside than before, the 1 Series isn’t the most spacious car of its type. Adults should be fine in the rear, but taller friends might have complaints about the head and legroom on offer. The move to front-wheel drive has freed up more boot space, putting the 1 Series much closer to the A-Class and A3.

BMW 1 Series engine range explained

BMW 1 Series 118i petrol

Under the bonnet of a 1 Series 118i is the same 136hp petrol engine that you get in a Mini Cooper. It’s a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine that’s more than up to the job of propelling the compact 1 Series. Acceleration is good, with 0-62mph taking less than nine seconds, while this engine is also pretty frugal – officially returning up to 49.6mpg. Unless you do lots of miles, we’d recommend this engine over a diesel.

BMW 1 Series 116d diesel

BMW still offers two diesel engines in the 1 Series, kicking off with the 1.5-litre 116d. It might have the least power, but it’s still plenty quick enough to keep up with traffic. Its modest 116hp is good news for fuel economy, as the four-cylinder 116d can return up to 62mpg – or more at a steady cruise.

BMW 1 Series 118d diesel

Next up is a 2.0-litre diesel engine that BMW calls 118d. With a useful increase in power and torque, the 150hp engine knocks a good chunk of time off the 0-62mph acceleration figure. Fuel economy suffers a little bit but the 118d is still very frugal, with an official figure of 57mpg.

BMW 1 Series 120d diesel

BMW no longer offers a 120d diesel, but used models with this badging feature a more powerful version of the 118d’s 2.0-litre engine. It produces 190hp and enables a nippy seven-second 0-62mph time, while still offering in the region of 50-55mpg.

BMW 1 Series 128ti

Now we’re onto the fast ones. The 128ti is a front-wheel-drive hot-hatch version of the 1 Series, with 265hp coming from a 2.0-litre petrol engine. It’ll get from 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds, but expect fuel economy between 30 and 40mpg.

BMW 1 Series M135i xDrive

The fastest version of the 1 Series gets 306hp and a four-wheel-drive system that’ll rocket it from 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds. It also gets beefier looks and more interior kit than the regular car, but it’s expensive to buy and it’ll struggle to get more than 30mpg.

BMW 1 Series FAQs

Going back a few years, the BMW 1 Series was offered as a hatchback, a coupe and a convertible. Now, the latter two are badged the BMW 2 Series, with every modern 1 Series being a hatchback. The previous generation (produced until 2019) came with a choice of three or five doors – the rear doors make it easier to get to the back seats – while every post-2019 1 Series has five doors.

The BMW 1 Series has always been a compact hatch but the latest generation is more practical than its predecessors. It’s still a little smaller than its main rivals, though. At slightly more than 4.3 metres long and 1.4 metres high, it’s slightly shorter and lower than a Mercedes A-Class and Ford Focus. The boot is on a par with its nearest alternatives.

The BMW 1 Series has a simple engine range with conventional petrol and diesel options – there’s no hybrid like a Toyota Corolla and no plug-in hybrid like an A-Class or Audi A3.

The BMW 1 Series is built to manage German autobahns so it should be reliable. That’s not to say that every car will be faultless, but any issues that crop up are more likely to be electrical glitches than major engine faults.

Until 2019 the BMW 1 Series was exclusively rear-wheel drive. The latest-generation 1 Series ushered in a move to front-wheel drive, which improved passenger space and running costs. But the 1 Series is still one of the best-driving hatchbacks. The range-topping M135i hot hatch now comes with four-wheel drive.