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The Top Gear car review: BMW 1 Series

£17,720£34,410
7/10
Overall verdict

For: 

Well engineered, great to drive, good image, facelift makes it much prettier

Against: 

Still a bit small in the back
A brilliant premium hatch that appeals to both keen drivers and the economically minded.

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Our choice

BMW

118d SE 5dr

£19,687
N/A
50mpg
10.00s
122bhp
150g/km

What we say: 

The latest 118d is swift enough. SE trim is a good all-rounder if the focussed manners of the M Sport aren't for you

What is it?

BMW has taken heed to critics of the 1-Series, who grumbled that the looks were challenging and the engine range spiralling. Solution? Its biggest facelift ever, introducing a far sharper nose, a much nicer rear end and some stonking new engines that further its performance and eco credentials over rivals. The 1 has never been better.

It still comes in three-door and five-door guise, with badges aligned to the 2-Series (so they bear little relation to engine capacity…) and BMW’s simplified the trim line-up. The old one was a top 10 best-seller regular. BMW’s aiming for more of the same with this.

Driving

When the 1-Series first appeared back in 2005 there was a high level of champing from hacks and punters alike. Here was a hatchback, from handling maestros BMW no less, with rear-wheel drive. However, the reality was rather muted. It didn’t handle anywhere near as well as a 3-Series.

This second-gen car has revised and lighter aluminium suspension components. These reduce unsprung mass, significantly improving ride quality. On board, a ‘driving experience switch’ offers you Comfort, Sport or fuel-saving Eco Pro driving modes. These remap the engine and stability control and alter the optional auto ’box to suit the desired driving style.

The upshot is greater levels of comfort and refinement rather than a more-focused driver’s car. The 1-Series will still wag its tail under provocation, but, for better or worse, this is not what this car is about these days. Saying that, BMW has now launched an M135i variant which, with 320bhp from a turbocharged 3.0-litre straightsix, does bring a welcome dose of classic BMW enthusiasm.

On the inside

The most important element of the latest 1-Series interior is space, and whether or not BMW has managed to improve it. Yes it has, but not by much. The wheelbase has grown by 30mm, but it still feels cramped in the rear. This is due to the compromises in providing RWD, something BMW may be dropping for its future small cars.

The cabin itself is impressive. It’s clearly of high quality, in terms of design and materials. It was, for a brief time, the class benchmark. With the new A3, Audi’s restored its leadership, but the 2015 facelift for the 1 does narrow the gap again.

Owning

BMW’s new directive is towards efficiency and the engines it’s now offering, particularly the diesel variants, are nothing short of remarkable - with the margin growing yet more with this facelift. Even the 190bhp, 7.1sec-to-60mph 120d averages 65mgp and the new 1.5-litre three-cylinder (yes, really) 116d EfficientDynamics Plus averages a staggering 83mpg, emits 89g/km CO2 yet still does 0-60mph in around 10 seconds. It’s one of the greenest diesel cars you can buy - staggering.

Highlights from the range

Title 0–62 CO2 MPG BHP Price
The fastest
M135i 3dr Step Auto
4.9s 175g/km 37.7 326 £32,465
The cheapest
114i ES 3dr
11.2s 127g/km 49.6 102 £17,720
The greenest
116d EfficientDynamics Plus 3dr
10.4s 89g/km 83.1 116 £21,975

Wildcard

How about something completely different?

Wildcard

9/10

Subaru BRZ

£22,090£26,260
If you like how the BMW drives, you'll love the rear-drive Subaru BRZ and Toyota GT86 duo