+ Eco-friendly and high performance versions
+ Usual BMW interior quality
+ Rear- and all-wheel drive options
- Ownership costs
- Limited rear passenger space
- High-spec models aren’t cheap
Verdict: The 1 Series is the gateway to model to the BMW range and while it fits into the hatchback formula, it is quite enjoyable to drive and benefits from the chassis work of its siblings. A variety of engines offer a breadth of performance too.
Used BMW 1 Series (2011-2019) review: the five-minute read
The second generation of BMW 1 Series was launched late in 2011, competing against rivals like the Audi A3, Lexus CT and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Sales began in September 2011, but most of the used models can be found from 2012 onwards.
BMW did move its 1 Series game and this version was larger in every direction. Interior space — an aspect that the first generation model drew criticism for — was improved, thanks to a wheelbase that was longer. Whereas the current model comes only as a five-door hatchback, you could get this 1 Series as a three-door hatch. Its styling may have been more attractive to some, but there’s no argument over the added practicality that having two more doors can bring.
The styling also improved with a more rounded look that featured the trademark kidney grilles that seem tiny by today’s standards of what appears on a 4 Series or X7. It still isn’t what you’d call a classically beautiful car, but the changes did help. Looks are a subjective thing, but the Audi A3 is a more handsome car, but we still think the BMW is better looking than the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. A model range facelift in 2015 did evolve the car’s exterior styling quite a bit and introduced a more mature image so if you can stretch to this newer version it’s well worth doing.
Like in larger BMWs, the 1 Series retains a 50:50 weight distribution and with a wider track both front and rear, the handling was improved. The firmer M Sport suspension helps with the crisper on-road performance, though not everyone will appreciate the ride. These also come with run-flat tyres as standard, but keener drivers aren’t always so keen on them. BMW did offer a Driver Comfort package that added Servotronic steering, which was exceptionally light when manoeuvring though slow urban settings but weighted up nicely on the open road.
When the BMW 1 Series went through the EuroNCAP crash test in 2012 it scored the expected five stars. A respectable 91% rating for adult occupant protection and 83% for child occupant protection will be positive news for potential buyers. It also managed a 63% rating for pedestrian protection and a decent 86% for safety assist due to its onboard driver assistance tech.
When looking at the 1 Series range it soon becomes clear that BMW wasn’t shy in offering a choice of engine. There’s a great variety of power units to choose from, though the 1 Series predates BMW’s move towards electrification, so you won’t find any hybrid or electric versions.
Things kicked off with a 114i that had 101bhp that left it some way down from the 134bhp 116i. The best balance of performance and affordability in the petrol lineup is the 118i, though the sportier 125i is a nice understated way to get around. Then there’s the M135i, a cracking hatch with decent performance and it doesn’t sound half bad either.
The diesel offering is a bit more sensible, again starting with a 114d, but if you’re seeking the ultimate in fuel economy, set your targets for the 116d EfficientDynamics (usually labelled as the ED), which could return great economy and had lower emissions.
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Used BMW 1 Series (2011-2019) interior and infotainment
As you slip into the supportive driver’s seat of the 1 Series what greets you is a familiar BMW style and design. Most of the main surfaces you’ll come into contact with has a reasonably premium feel, but don’t expect that to extend throughout the entire cabin.
Rear passenger space did see a slight improvement over the previous 1 Series model, and obviously choosing the five-door is recommended if you’re going to frequently have people in the back. Climbing into the rear seats in the three-door model isn’t so easy and it has longer front doors that aren’t also so helpful if you’re in a tight car park, for example.
The orange glow of the instrument dials are a boon when driving at night and there’s a nice simplicity to how it all looks. There’s an orderly layout to the centre console too, with the climate controls, radio and favourites buttons and ventilation all clearly delineated. The infotainment system on top is controlled by the rotary iDrive that remains one of the most intuitive setups on the market.
Even the entry-level ES model got the 6.5-inch display. Other standard features in the 1 Series include the BMW Professional radio with a single CD player and DAB radio. Keyless start was also included and from 2015 all models in the BMW range came with sat nav as standard.
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Used BMW 1 Series (2011-2019) practicality and boot space
With BMW being a company that prides itself on creating drivers’ cars, there is plenty of adjustability in the seating position in the front. Even taller drivers should find it easy to get to a comfortable seating setup.
For those seated in the rear space isn’t quite so generous, though it is an improvement on the previous 1 Series model. However, as the BMW is a rear-wheel-drive car, there is a transmission tunnel in the floor that does impeded foot space for whoever is sitting in the middle seat. Both of the outer rear seats feature ISOFIX points, but again, it’s worth considering the five-door if you’re going to be transporting the little ones around.
Measuring in at 360 litres, the BMW 1 Series boot isn’t all that small. It beats the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, which has only 341 litres, while the Audi A3 offers up to 380 litres in five-door guise. Tip the 60:40 split folding rear seats down and the BMW’s cargo capacity swells to 1,200 litres.
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Used BMW 1 Series (2011-2019) engines
The 1 Series range opens with the 114i and 114d, both providing the most modest of power outputs though quite suitable for anyone that is only undertaking urban commutes where power isn’t of prime concern as they claim to return the same fuel economy as the 116i and better the 116d.
For those who love to get the most from every tank of fuel, the award-winning 116d EfficientDynamics variant is one to look out for as it employs BMW’s then-latest technical innovations to maximise fuel economy and minimise emissions. With CO2 output rated at 99g/km and an official consumption figure of 74.3mpg, it was a popular choice for company car drives at the time and still makes for a great economical car. This model was superseded by a 116d EfficientDynamics Plus that saw emissions drop to 89g/km and lowered consumption to 83.1mpg.
At the other end of the spectrum was the 320hp M135i, which could crack the sprint to 62mph in 5.1 seconds and had a top speed of 155mph. The 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six engine is a peach and combined with the eight-speed automatic sends power to the rear wheels incredible well. Over time the power output was increased to 326hp and then came the M140i. With power increased to 340hp and 500Nm of torque, this was the last hurrah of this 1 Series generation and is great fun to drive.
With the 1 Series Life Cycle Impulse (LCI) — that’s BMW lingo for a facelift — the Bavarian engineers introduced a new generation of modular engine design. These used 500cc cylinders and featured improved injection and were both smoother and quieter when running.
Used BMW 1 Series (2011-2019) driving
Among its nearest rivals, the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class, the BMW 1 Series is the one that driving enthusiasts will appreciate the most. From behind the wheel the chassis, suspension, steering and engine offerings all come together to make an attractive package. Of course, choosing the more potent engines like the M135i does make for a far more engaging experience, but even the more modest powertrains put in a good show.
If you’re chasing comfort then it’s best to steer clear of cars in the M Sport specification. These will be more firmly sprung and not all have the optional adaptive dampers. These can make the ride softer in different settings.
The rear-wheel-drive setup of the 1 Series does contribute to the engaging drive, though it isn’t always ideal, especially in challenging weather conditions. Still, BMW did also produce all-wheel-drive models under the xDrive badge, which gives the 1 Series a more surefooted holding on the road.
One of the sweetest aspects of the 1 Series is its steering setup. It’s nicely weighted and responds predictably, always giving you plenty of feedback as to what the front wheels are doing. The speed-sensitive setup means that when you’re in town or parking, it becomes nice and light.
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