BMW shook up the compact hatchback market back in 2004 when it introduced the 1 Series, the only rear-wheel drive car in its class. Now in its second generation, this new iteration seeks to address the shortcomings of its forebear, namely its cramped rear cabin and miserly boot space. spent a week with one to find out if it’s worked.

What is it?

The driver’s choice in the hatchback sector. The 1 Series’ USP of being the only rear-driven compact family car will see it appeal to keen helmsmen, while the kudos of the badge increases its appeal to those looking for something more special than a Volkswagen Golf. It has been made longer and wider second time around, resulting in a much pleasing aesthetic over the love it or loathe it original. The interior is new, too, and has a more upmarket feel in keeping with the car’s not inconsiderable price tag.

Under the bonnet there is a wide range of petrol and diesel motors. Nearly all are based on either 1.6-litre or 2.0-litre units, with a range of power outputs to suit all tastes. The turbocharged 120d is likely to prove most popular with its impressive blend of power and low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, though the petrol models shouldn’t be discounted, particularly if you don’t cover huge mileages each year. The 1 Series is now available with four-wheel-drive for the first time, too, so shouldn’t be discounted by those looking for suitable transport over the bleak winter months.

What is it like to drive?

While BMW does go to some lengths to talk up the 1 Series’ driving prowess, there’s no denying it’s a cracking thing at which to spend time behind the wheel. A well-balanced chassis and minimal body roll allow corners to be attacked with relish, while a well-sorted driving position and slick controls put you at the heart of the action. Our test car was fitted with the M Sport package, which aside from a smattering of additional styling addenda inside and out, bestows the car with firmer suspension. While this a boon if you’re in the mood for fun, it does harden the ride – not something that’s necessarily an advantage when you’re just pottering about town. If crawling in traffic is a large part of your motoring life, we would recommend the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox, which provides seamless self-shifting, but also a manual mode for the best of both worlds.

What is it like inside?

Cosy and cossetting rather than light and airy. While there is certainly enough adjustability in the seat and steering wheel for even very tall drivers to get comfortable behind the wheel, there isn’t the lounging room offered by conventional front-wheel-drive models such as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. This is particularly true in the rear, where passengers over six-foot will find a lack of both head and leg room. BMW has improved plastic and construction quality over the outgoing model, though there are still some cheaper materials dotted around the cabin, and there isn’t quite the luxury ambience found in the Audi A3, the 1 Series’ main rival.

Is it practical?

The tight-fisted boot space of the old 1 Series has been substantially improved upon, now measuring 360 litres, or 1,200 litres with the rear seat folded down. It’s still not huge, however, being some 20 litres smaller than the VW Golf. The narrow side and rear windows can also make parking in tighter spaces difficult. Thankfully, the car’s overhangs are short and the body relatively narrow. Front and rear parking sensors are available as optional extras, which may save a few blushes.

Should I buy one?

If you’re looking for a stress-free family run about, then the 1 Series is difficult to recommend, with more mainstream rivals offering greater practicality. The same can be said if you’re merely looking for greater luxury, without trading up to a bigger car, as the 1 Series can’t compete with the interior quality of its premium German hatchback rivals. If, however, you’re looking for an entertaining drivers car, which is at home going to the shops as it is on your favourite B-road, and that won’t cost the earth to run, the 1 Series is spot on.

Don’t want to buy new? You can browse for a used BMW 1 Series in our classifieds here.

The facts

BMW 120d M Sport

List price: £26,135
Engine: 2.0-litre, four cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 181bhp, 380Nm
Top speed: 142mph
0-62mph: 7.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 52.3mpg (urban), 76.3mpg (extra-urban) 65.7mpg (combined)
Emissions: 114g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: 5 stars

Daljinder Nagra


December 23, 2013

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