BMW 1 Series Review 2021 | Top Gear
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BBC TopGear
Car Review

BMW 1 Series

£ 22,835 - £ 39,515
Published: 16 Jul 2019
BMW 1 Series review: switch to FWD is no bad thing. The new 1 Series is a good car from the bottom up.

Good stuff

Powertrains, neat dynamics, great ergonomics, enough room now

Bad stuff

Less engaging than a rear-drive BMW or yet a Mini


What is it?

The new 1 Series no longer has a RWD version. They're all FWD or AWD, with transverse three- and four-cylinder engines. Just like any other hatch, then.

So now it's got usefully more space, and less weight, and more efficiency.

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After all only one in 20 of the old 1 Series sales were six-cylinders. And really, it was only those that saw much dynamic benefit of being rear-drive. Meanwhile the other 19, the 95-per centers, had to suffer the reduced space and extra weight. And it turns out most of those didn't even know why, because they didn't know which wheels were actually being driven.

BMW has understandably concluded that it's not great business to give 95 per cent of 1 Series people a bum deal. This thoroughly conventional hatch then, is all about the detail.

It's a good-looking hatch (though are we unusual in seeing Volvo V40?). It certainly hides its nose-heavy front-proportions cleverly. The front is set into a shark's mouth negative rake. Along the sides, light catches suggestive swellings in the metal above the wheels, and the windows taper rearwards. The Hofmeister kink is moved to the C-post.

Under the bonnet, the low-powered petrol and diesel engines are three-cylinder, while the 18d and 18i and above are four-cylinders. The 20d and 35i have all-wheel-drive – say goodbye to wet-roundabout understeer embarrassment!

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The 1 Series shares its platform with the X1 and X2, the 2 Series Active Tourer, the Mini Clubman and Countryman. But you sense that they've saved the best til last, as the 1 Series has some clever traction-control tweaks and extra bracing in the chassis, just to make sure we don't complain about the dynamics.

It's also got multi-link rear suspension in every model, whereas Mercedes, Ford and VW put simpler torsion beams under the low-power versions of their hatches.

People who call FWD 'wrong-wheel-drive' (have they never driven a Golf GTI or a Mini Cooper?) are just going to have to accept that the world has moved on. Or they can wait a little for the new 2 Series Coupe, which will still be RWD and will still spawn an M2. No M1 will emerge.

The fastest of the new hatchbacks is the M135i, a 300bhp all-wheel-driven rival to the Mercedes AMG A35 and Golf R.

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

BMW's switch from RWD to FWD for the new hatch is no bad thing. This new 1 Series is a good car from the bottom up.

The 1 Series's switch to transverse engines has meant the mainstream versions are super-competent. They've enough room now, and really you'd hardly know which end is driven anyway.

And that applies to all engines: unlike the base-model A-Classes, which have nasty engines, clunky transmissions and duff chassis, the 1 Series is a good car from the bottom up. The 95 per centers will be chuffed.

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