BMW 1 Series (2011 – 2019) Review

BMW 1 Series (2011 – 2019) At A Glance

Honest John Overall Rating
It’s not perfect, and there are more well-rounded choices, but in terms of putting a smile on your face, no posh family hatch does it better than the BMW 1 Series.

+A very entertaining car to drive, efficient yet powerful engines, superb infotainment.

-Not very practical, a few cheap plastics inside, you have to pay a premium for the most desirable ones.

Insurance Groups are between 12–41
On average it achieves 75% of the official MPG figure

A ‘real’ BMW with rear-wheel drive, this iteration of 1 Series, for enthusiasts, marks the end of an era. Its successor – the current model – switched to front-wheel drive. BMW’s posh alternative to a Volkswagen Golf, the 1 Series clearly hit the mark in the UK, becoming a fairly regular entrant into the top 10 best-sellers list.

This means there’s plenty of choice on the second-hand market – and as BMW also offered many different trims and engine options, there are plenty to pick and choose from. We prefer the facelifted cars from 2015 onwards, as they have a better-looking front and rear, but there’s little difference inside – and they’re all as good to drive as one another. The all-new BMW 1 Series is here, but the 2011-2019 version is still worth a look. 


The idea behind the 1 Series was simple: make a smaller, cheaper, hatchback version of the BMW 3 Series. BMW picked the perfect set of tools to achieve that, too – the architecture of the 3 Series itself, no less. This means 1 Series buyers really were getting a premium-grade car at a (slightly) more mainstream price.

Retaining the rear-wheel-drive setup was good news for handling, making the 1 Series a rarity in this sector – both Audi and Mercedes-Benz use front-wheel drive (with all three also building all-wheel drive versions as well). The extra balance and purity this endowed the BMW with was obvious from the first turn of the wheel.

The trouble is, rear-wheel-drive cars are not as space-efficient as their front-driven counterparts. That’s less of a problem in a larger car such as the 3 Series, but it did lead to compromises with the 1 Series. Most notably, in terms of rear-seat space. It’s pretty cramped back there, with the boot being similarly compromised.

There were fewer complaints up front. The driver-focused layout feels good, with seats that drop nice and low, a chunky steering wheel and a nice high-mounted gearlever. That this is backed up by such an entertaining drive makes it easy to see why the 1 Series appealed.

Most engines, even by today’s standards, are very good on fuel. The diesels are real misers and the four-cylinder petrol versions aren’t bad either. That’s despite nearly every engine serving up a surprising amount of pulling power, making even a mainstream 1 Series hatch a swift car.

The most driver-pleasing version of all is the M135i, later improved to M140i guise. Both have a wonderful 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo engine, and suspension breathed upon by the experts in BMW’s M performance car division. It’s great fun to drive, with superb sound effects, plus performance and handling more akin to a sports car than a hatchback.

Early BMW 1 Series of this era did have slightly ‘difficult’ front-end styling from launch. The headlights were too big and the rear lights too weedy. An extensive overhaul from 2015 fixed it at both ends – this was the better-looking model that began its ascent up the sales charts.

BMW also continually improved onboard infotainment systems, maintaining its leadership over rivals in this area. The best became ever-better, and it’s well worth your while to keep an eye out for second-hand models featuring the ‘widescreen’ premium navigation upgrade.

With the latest 1 Series becoming that bit more mainstream in its focus, this model is likely to remain sought after by a core of loyal buyers for some time to come, particularly in M135i and M140i guises. 

Ask Honest John

Why does my car keep slipping out of 3rd gear?

"I own a 2011 BMW 118d and recently the gearbox kicks me out of third gear but all gears are working fine with no issues. I am just wondering what it could be before I start spending money on unnecessary things which are irrelevant?"
The reasons for the gear to jump out on a manual gearbox could be that the engine/gearbox mounts are worn (more so if you are off throttle), the gear selector linkage is worn or the detent spring /ball (inside the gearbox) is weak/broken. It's best to get a reputable garage to diagnose the issue and go from there.
Answered by Alan Ross

Will my car fail its MoT because of a broken fog light?

"The front offside fog light glass on my BMW 1 series is cracked following a stone hit. The light still works. Will this result in an MoT fail please?"
You can read the specifics of the MoT regulations for fog lights on the government website here: but front fog lamps are only inspected if the vehicle was first used on March 1st 2018, so if you car is older than this then it should not fail. However if you car is young enough, it could fail if the lens is defective or it is not securely attached.
Answered by David Ross

What's the most fun hatchback for £10,000?

"As I will buy one last non-EV as a runabout before most probably switching to battery power within a couple of years, what would you recommend as a used buy under £10,000, as a ‘last hurrah car’ with a petrol engine and manual gearbox to give the most enjoyable drive? It can be any age as long as it is reasonably reliable, doesn’t have to be especially fast, just brisk with the right steering, ride and handling quality to give a lovely driving experience. "
A BMW 1 Series would tick the box nicely. Look for a facelifted example of the last-gen model (from 2015 onwards) - even the BMW 118i is fun to drive, with a punchy 1.5-litre petrol engine and eager, rear-wheel-drive handling. Otherwise, you might be surprised how well a SEAT Leon or Ford Focus drives - and you'll get for your money compared to the BMW, too.
Answered by Andrew Brady

Should I buy a BMW 1 Series or Mercedes-Benz A-Class?

"I'm currently driving a BMW 4 Series which is lovely in terms of comfort, noise insulation and a smooth responsive engine but it's now got 75,000-plus miles and I would like to upgrade the infotainment but maintain the low engine noise in the cabin, no issues with a smaller engine. I'm looking at BMW 1, 2 coupe, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and have budgeted around £20,000.Any suggestions?"
If you can find one within budget, we'd recommend the latest Mercedes A-Class (launched in 2018) - ideally with the optional 10.25-inch infotainment system and 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster. This'll feel a lot newer than a BMW 1 Series or 2 Series for the same price (both will be the previous-generation model) and should be just as comfortable and refined as your 4 Series.
Answered by Andrew Brady
More Questions

What does a BMW 1 Series (2011 – 2019) cost?