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The big test

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The new 1-Series makes practicality strides by going front-wheel drive.  But does that change the driving experience of BMW’s baby hatch?

The Big Test - BMW 1-Series - 2019 - Gallery Image 13

On the road

On the road

One change stands out above all others with the new BMW 1-Series, and it’s the one that concerns which wheels actually propel the car.

Generations one and two of the smallest model in BMW’s line-up were rear-wheel drive to maintain the brand’s reputation as the driver’s car of choice in the segment. However, with this third-generation 1-Series, BMW has (and draw your own conclusions as to which reason is more powerful) succumbed to criticisms about the car’s space and practicality and, it claims, improved its proficiency in terms of producing a front-drive platform that maintains the driving characteristics owners expect.


1. It seems odd for the speedo to only have markings in 20mph increments, making it difficult to spot 30mph at a glance.  Good job the digital display can show speed.

2. There's enough nice quality soft-touch material across the cabin to make the car feel good, especially the softer feel to the dash-top and interior door handles.

3. It's great that the presets can be used for phone and navigation memory as well as radio.

To be fair to the company, the 1-Series is definitely more practical than the old car, thanks to the new powertrain freeing up cabin and boot space previously taken by having to get power to the rear wheels. And it’s also still excellent to drive; a decent percentage of buyers will have no idea that anything so fundamental has changed.

Other things are less different, with the five-engine line-up being carried over from the previous car, although the efficiency figures are slightly better. There are three diesels in the form of the 116hp 116d, 150hp 118d and 190hp 120d, the last of which comes only in xDrive four-wheel-drive form at this stage.

They are complimented by a pair of petrol engines – the 140hp 118i, which will be the most popular choice overall, and the range-topping M135i which, at 306hp, is the most powerful four-cylinder engine BMW has ever built.

The 118i and 116d have the option of a six-speed auto for an extra £1350, while the 118d can be had with a seven-speed auto for £1600.

The 116d is expected to be almost entirely company car sales, helped immensely by the fact that it is the only diesel in the range that meets the RDE2 standard, so as well as already being one company car Benefit-in-Kind band better than its more powerful 118d sibling due to the 100g/km emissions figure, it also avoids the Government’s punitive four-band penalty for non-RDE2 units. The other diesels gain RDE2 compliance next spring to redress some of that.

The Big Test - BMW 1-Series - 2019 - Gallery Image 31

Still, the 116d’s 100g/km figure is excellent, and beats those of its Audi A3 Sportback and Mercedes A-Class diesel rivals, and even that of the hybrid Lexus CT200h.

The new 1-Series comes with a choice of three trim levels, kicking off with the SE and running through Sport for a £1000 increase that brings 17-inch alloys, sports seats and dual-zone climate control. M Sport trim is expected to be popular at an additional £1800, adding 18-inch alloys, heated leather seats and folding mirrors, plus the M Sport-specific bodykit and sports suspension.

All cars come with an 8.8-inch touchscreen, front and rear parking sensors, 16-inch alloys and what BMW calls Active Guard Plus, which means front-collision warning with brake assist, lane-departure warning and speed limit assist.

Apart from the increasingly prominent grilles BMW is plunging itself into, the car is a successful development from a styling point of view. There are still plenty of crease lines and details, but it’s a lower, more muscular design that has a more distinctive character than its predecessor but which is also more clearly linked to siblings such as the X1 and X2 crossover models.

The Big Test - BMW 1-Series - 2019 - Gallery Image 19

The car is 10mm shorter than the one it replaces, but BMW is claiming that the better packaging of the powertrain means the bulkhead can move forward to create extra cabin space, including 33mm of extra legroom in the rear. Although it’s still not the most spacious of places to be, the extra in the back is noticeable. The flat rear bench even makes carrying three small rear passengers a possibility. It’s a shame the downward slope of the roofline means taller passengers will find their eyeline meets roof lining rather than window, but it’s now at least on par with the likes of the A-Class.

Indeed, the BMW also beats the Mercedes for boot space now, with an additional 20 litres boosting the 1-Series to 380 litres, 10 up on the Merc and also matching that of the A3 Sportback.

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The 1-Series became the entry point for the BMW range when the first-generation car (pictured) was launched in 2004, replacing the 3-Series Compact as the smallest car in the company’s line-up.

Unlike its rivals in the segment, it was rear-wheel drive, which also followed through to the second-generation model.

The first car came in four different bodystyles of three-door, five-door, coupe and convertible, codenamed E81/E20/E87/E88 respectively, and ran until 2011 when the car was replaced by the new model codenamed F20/F21. At that point the coupe and drop-top models switched to a 2-Series designation, as was the case with the 3-Series and its 4-Series coupe and convertible siblings.

The second 1-Series also brought four-wheel drive to the range for the first time.

The new model, codenamed F40, shares underpinnings with the X1 and sister brand Mini’s Countryman.

Although BMW admits its smallest model hasn’t the heritage of its iconic 3-Series, the car has a vital role; it draws in a huge number of conquest customers from other brands, as well as accounting for around 20% of the company’s sales.

The Big Test - BMW 1-Series - 2019 - In Context - 2004 First Generation BMW 1-Series

What they said

What They Said

“The switch to front-wheel drive leads to an improvement in space and functionality. All passengers will now enjoy more space and improved practicality with 60/40 rear seat split and a larger boot with an optional electric tailgate."

“It is packed with the latest technology, including the option of two 10.5-inch display screens, head-up display and much more."

“The best part for Company Car Today readers? It features a range of enhanced combustion engines and gearboxes with reduced CO2 output, meaning lower BiK rates.”

Charles Turner, product operations manager (small cars), BMW UK

Charles Turner, Product Operations Manager (small cars), BMW UK

Comparatively speaking

The Big Test - BMW 1-Series - 2019 - Comparatively Speaking Chart

Need to know

The Big Test - BMW 1-Series - 2019 - Need to Know Chart


Three things we like...

The Big Test - BMW 1-Series - 2019 - Three Things We Like - 1 - A wider boot aperture comes thanks to a new split tail lamp

A wider boot aperture comes thanks to a new split tail lamp

The Big Test - BMW 1-Series - 2019 - Three Things We Like - 2 - The optional wireless charging pad holds a phone nicely, but nabs space

The optional wireless charging pad holds a phone nicely, but nabs space

The Big Test - BMW 1-Series - 2019 - Three Things We Like - 3 - The optional interior lighting is a neat touch in a much-improved cabin

The optional interior lighting is a neat touch in a much-improved cabin

...And one we don't

The Big Test - BMW 1-Series - 2019 - And One Thing We Don't - As nice as the squat rear end looks, the narrow window isn’t great for rear visibility

As nice as the squat rear end looks, the narrow window isn’t great for rear visibility



Drive  9/10

The shift to front-wheel drive hasn’t altered the 1-Series’ position as the driver’s choice in the class.

Efficiency  9/10

The new hatch jumps to the head of the pack for emissions, although only the entry diesel is RDE2-compliant for lower BiK bills.

Practicality  7/10

Much-improved packaging means reasonable rear passenger space and a slightly larger boot.

Equipment  8/10

There’s not too big a jump between trim levels, and standard kit is improved over the previous version. 

Looks  8/10

The latest car is a more muscular and less awkward-looking car. But it does succumb to BMW’s moves to ever-larger grilles.

Comfort and refinement 7/10

Ride quality is hard but much better on the Sport spec than M Sport, thanks to the smaller wheels and more compliant suspension. It’s a step forward from the previous car.



Cabin  8/10

Quality is ahead of before and decent materials are present through the cabin. A bit more stowage space wouldn’t hurt.

Infotainment  7/10

Media connectivity isn’t the best, although BMW’s latest iDrive system and app technology is packed full of useful features.

Whole life costs  8/10

The higher P11D price reflects that the 1-Series is a newer car than its German rivals, but decent efficiency and running costs make for a model that will keep the finance director on side.

CCT opinion  9/10

Plenty of plus points and few negative ones make for a new 1-Series that should enhance its position as an attainable goal.


The new 1-Series addresses the weaknesses of the previous car, particularly the packaging, and maintains the driving enjoyment despite changing to front drive.