BMW 1 Series Review (2011-2019)

The BMW 1 Series combines premium brand appeal with a great driving experience and surprisingly low running costs.

Published: 15 December 2022

  • White BMW 1 Series driving along a country road

Summary

If you’re looking for a high-quality compact car, the BMW 1 Series is well worth considering. Here, we’re looking at the second-generation version of the 1 Series, which was sold new in the UK from 2011 to 2019, when it was replaced by a newer model.

The 1 Series appeals to many on the strength of the BMW brand alone, but there’s more to the car than that. It’s stylish, smooth and satisfying to drive and most versions give you reasonable running costs. However, it’s not the most spacious or practical car of this type.  

There are three-door and five-door models and a wide range of engines and trim levels to choose from, covering everything from ultra-efficient diesels to high-performance hot hatchbacks.

Pros

  • Smooth and responsive
  • Fuel-efficient engines
  • High-quality feel

Cons

  • Not much back seat space
  • Smaller than average boot
  • Costs more than many rivals
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Interior

Dashboard & tech

The layout of the 1 Series’ dashboard works really well and it’s immediately obvious what all the buttons and knobs do. Models with sat nav have a display screen on top of the dashboard that also shows radio stations and general vehicle information. You navigate around the various options using the ‘click wheel’ controller on the centre console, or you can program the shortcut buttons below the screen to take you to the features you use the most.

Standard features in all models include air con, cruise control, a stereo with a CD player, electric windows and electrically adjustable door mirrors. All models sold from 2014 also have sat nav, and many have heated leather seats.

Comfort

The seats in the 1 Series are really comfortable. They’re low down, which makes the car feel sportier on the move, but it does mean there’s a relatively long drop to get in. Fortunately, the front door openings are quite large, though back door openings are tricker to get through if you’re not particularly nimble. Getting into the back of three-door models requires clambering past the front seats, which requires some agility.

Quality

The 1 Series has a high-quality, premium feel, just like the bigger, more expensive cars in BMW’s range. The materials used throughout the interior feel nice to the touch and the buttons and knobs have a very pleasing, solid action as you use them. Everything feels like it has been built to last.

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Practicality & boot space

Interior space

There’s generous legroom and shoulder room in the front of the 1 Series, so you should be able to get comfortable however tall you are. Be aware, though, that models fitted with a sunroof have reduced headroom, which could be an issue if you’re much more than six feet tall.

The back seats are less roomy. There’s lots of space for most children up to their early teenage years, but older ones and adults are likely to feel a bit cramped. There’s actually a reasonable amount of headroom, but legroom is in short supply. 

If you need to carry small children in the car, there are two sets of Isofix child-seat mounts on the back seats. However, the back door openings are quite small and there isn’t much space to work in, so getting the kids and the seats all settled can be a bit of a hassle.

If you rarely carry back-seat passengers, none of this will be an issue, but if you regularly use the back seats you might want to consider one of the more spacious cars of this size, like the Ford Focus.

Storage spaces dotted around the 1 Series interior include a large glovebox and door bins, a tray in front of the gearstick, a cubby hole under the front centre armrest and two cupholders in the centre console.

Boot space

Like back seat space, the 1 Series boot is on the small side for a car this size. Its 360-litre capacity is enough to hold large amounts of shopping and a couple’s holiday luggage, but  if you’re looking for a family car, rivals like the Skoda Octavia offer greater practicality.

On the plus side, the boot opening is quite large and there’s not much of a drop from the back bumper to the boot floor. That helps when loading in anything really heavy and means that your dog can more easily jump in and out.

Versatility

If you need more space, the 1 Series back seats fold down in two parts, increasing the size of the boot to 1,200 litres. The seats fold virtually level with the boot floor, which makes it easier to slide in bigger things. Some models have boots fitted with nets, hooks and tie-down points to help secure whatever you’ve loaded in.

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Driving

Driving experience

If you enjoy driving, the 1 Series is likely to be right up your street. The steering feels light and responsive, and the car feels agile and keen through corners. It doesn’t get bounced around by bumps and holes in the road, but still gives you a good sense of what state the road is in beneath you. This all adds up to a car that feels safe and secure, whether you just want to relax while you drive or you want to have some fun and feel involved in the process.

This is true regardless of what type of journey you’re on. The 1 Series is just as good at threading down narrow city streets as it is at cruising along the motorway for hours on end – driving it rarely feels like a chore. Most versions are rear-wheel drive but you’ll also find models with four-wheel drive (BMW calls these ‘xDrive’).

Performance

The engines available in the 1 Series cover a broad range of power, from 93bhp to 335bhp. Models at the lower end of that spectrum aren’t exactly slow, but the more powerful models accelerate noticeably quicker. The most popular models have around 130bhp to 180bhp, which is enough for sprightly acceleration around town as well as easy overtaking and relaxed 70mph cruising on the motorway. The most powerful models are really very fast and can give high-end sports cars a run for their money.

Changing gear with the 1 Series’ manual gearbox takes very little effort. It feels light and needs only a little guidance to slot into the gear you want. Automatic gearboxes change gear smoothly and respond promptly when you put your foot down.

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Running costs

Fuel economy & CO2 emissions

The 1 Series returns excellent average fuel economy across the engine range. According to official figures, models with a petrol engine can give you an average economy of 36mpg to 58mpg. The high-performance 3.0-litre M140i model is at the low end of that range while the 1.5-litre 118i is at the top.

Turning to the diesel engines, the most efficient model is the 116d EfficientDynamics Plus, which can give you an average economy of 83mpg. The least efficient is the 125d M Sport, which is still capable of 57mpg.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for petrol models are between 112 and 179g/km, and 89 to 128g/km for diesel models. Those numbers correspond to low annual car tax – just £30 per year in many cases and even zero for some models.

Value for money

Being a premium-brand car, the 1 Series costs more to buy than an equivalent Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra. But it’s still pretty good value considering the fairly generous quantity of features included as standard, how it feels to drive, and its high level of quality.

Reliability & Warranty

This generation of 1 Series was last sold in the UK in 2019, so even the most recent models are no longer covered by BMW’s three-year warranty. BMW as a brand doesn’t have a particularly great reputation for reliability  – in fact, it finished last of the major car makers in the J.D. Power 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study.

But that shouldn’t be much of a concern because there are no particular reliability or quality issues to worry about. You should, however, look at the service history of the 1 Series you’re interested in to make sure it has been properly maintained. In models sold after 2014, the service history can be found in the car’s infotainment system

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Safety

Safety features

Safety organisation Euro NCAP awarded a full five-star safety rating to the 1 Series, giving it very high marks for protecting passengers in the event of a crash. Various driver safety features that help you maintain control of the car in an emergency situation are fitted as standard. Many models also have what BMW calls the Driving Assistant pack which includes extra safety features like automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and driver-attention monitoring.

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Trims & Engines

Trim levels

Many different trim levels are available on this generation of 1 Series. The most popular ones include SE, Sport and M Sport. These models all have broadly the same standard features and instead are marked out by different styling details. For instance, M Sport models have distinctive 18-inch alloy wheels, deeper front and rear bumpers, and bucket-style sports seats.

You might also come across models known as EfficientDynamics (ED) and Shadow Edition. As the name suggests, ED models are designed to be as fuel-efficient as possible and are capable of giving you a fuel economy of well over 70mpg. Shadow Edition models have gloss-black exterior and interior styling details.

It’s worth noting that, although all 1 Series models are pretty well equipped as standard, buyers could choose to add more features from an extensive options list. So you may come across used cars with luxuries like electrically adjustable heated leather seats and an opening sunroof.

Engines

A somewhat bewildering array of engines of different sizes was fitted to this generation of 1 Series. As with many BMWs, a car’s three-digit name tells you where its engine sits in the range – the higher the number, the more power it has. 

Those numbers are 114, 116, 118, 120 and 125. Each one is followed with an ‘i’ to indicate a petrol engine or a ‘d’ to show a diesel engine – 118i, 120d and so on. At the top of the range, there’s the high-performance, petrol M135i and M140i. Petrol engines range in power from 100bhp to 335bhp, and diesels from 93bhp to 214bhp.

On top of those choices, you can have either a manual or automatic gearbox with every engine (except the 114i and 114d, which are manual-only). Some models are also available with four-wheel drive, which BMW calls xDrive.

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