BMW 1 Series Sports Hatch review

BMW's revised second generation 1 Series may still look a little unconventional but underneath it's business as usual with traditional BMW excellence. June Neary reports

Will It Suit Me?

To be honest, I've never quite gelled with the look of BMW's little 1 Series - though I have to say that the shape is growing on me. The way BMW has developed the car has helped. In 2011, we got a second generation that looked far less ungainly than its predecessor and that design has now been further finessed into the form we're going to look at here. It still has this little car's unique selling point - rear wheel drive. And, as ever, is positioned as a more sporting alternative to cars like the Audi A3. But will it make sense for day-to-day family use?

Practicalities

Unlike most of its rivals, the 1-Series gets its drive from the rear wheels rather than those at the front. One consequence of that is the need for a bulky transmission tunnel in the back of this BMW - which will compromise legroom if you use the back seat for three folk. But how many families ever do in this class of compact car? Very few I'd suspect. If that's not a problem for you, then most of the other practicalities of this model seem to add up. If your only experience of 1 Series motoring lies with the old pre-2011 first generation model, then you'll find this MK2 design to be usefully bigger inside. In addition, there's a good deal more storage space, with large front door pockets, two cup holders on the centre console and a roomy glove compartment. And there's 30 litres more luggage space compared to its forerunner, taking the total to 360 litres. Fold the 60/40 split rear seats flat and this can be increased to a maximum of 1,200-litres. Getting pushchairs and baby buggies in and out should be no problem. Build quality seems to have improved substantially in this improved second generation version. Both the air vents and the controls for the radio and the automatic air conditioning now feature chrome surrounds, while the radio and automatic air conditioning keypads are set against high-gloss black panelling. There's also a standard freestanding, 6.5-inch Control Display. Choose the optional Professional Navigation system and a bigger 8.8-inch display is fitted.

Behind the Wheel

This is where the 1-Series plays its trump cars - rear wheel drive. Whereas most cars of this ilk drive their front wheels, BMW have long stressed the superiority of directing drive aft. Without being tasked with the burden of traction, the front tyres can instead devote themselves solely to steering the car and the result is a beautifully smooth, uncorrupted feel to the steering. Accelerate hard in a front-wheel drive car and the front wheels will judder and squeal, the steering wheel bucking in your hands. There's none of that with the 1-series, just smooth, unruffled progress. Even if you don't drive your car as if you're on the way to the delivery room, it's easy to appreciate the work BMW have put into the ride and handling. It just feels a more premium product than most rivals. The 1 Series petrol-engine range comprises the 1.6-litre 118i and 120i models, good for 136 and 170PS respectively. Then there's the 2.0-litre 218PS 125i, and at the top of the range is the ferocious little M135i, with a three-litre straight six that cranks out 326PS. Pedal this one hard and 62mph flashes by in just 4.9 seconds. The biggest change has come in the diesel range. The 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine in the improved BMW 116d generates 116PS and much more pulling power. Then there's a four-cylinder diesel engine offered in three states of tune: the 118d generates 150PS, the 120d has 190PS, and the 125d, with its multi-stage turbocharging, cranks out 224PS, enabling this model to reach 62mph from rest in just 6.3 seconds. The majority of 1 Series models get a regulation six-speed manual gearbox, but the all-wheel drive 120d xDrive features as standard the eight-speed Steptronic transmission.

Value For Money

You've got used to the styling, you can live with the car's dimensions and you love the way it drives. Here's the big but. The 1-series isn't cheap. Prices start at around £21,000. Still, you get a lot of kit. Even on base SE variants, expect to find remote control central locking, keyless engine ignition, electric window controls, electrically heated exterior mirrors and the Driving Experience Control switch. Also included is automatic air conditioning, a multi-function leather steering wheel adjustable for height and reach, a rain sensor including automatic driving lights control and a front passenger airbag that can be deactivated. A CD and DAB stereo with six speakers and an AUX-In socket, plus Bluetooth audio streaming functionality are other standard equipment features, along with the iDrive operating system. The 16-inch alloy wheels look a bit puny, but then there's always the options list. Or indeed, the Sport model for another £1,000 more. This gets 17-inch rims, ambient lighting, black high-gloss interior trim, Sport exterior styling elements, Sport steering wheel and Sports seats.

Could I Live With One?

There are many bigger, cheaper and quicker cars than BMW's 1-series but few that feel quite so polished without entering into the realms of silly money. It feels like an Apple iPod, expensive but reassuringly solid and something worth looking after.