Review: BMW 1 Series (2004 – 2011)

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Great to drive and superbly built. Wide choice of models, improved from 2007 with Efficient Dynamics. 118d is super economical.

Not much room in the back. Firm ride on Sport and M Sport models. 116i petrol is fairly lacklustre. Coil and injector problems on later 4-cylinder petrol engines. Timing chain failures on N47 diesel engines becoming very common. Failure of the cat converters on a 118i N42B20 very expensive at dealer prices.

BMW 1 Series (2004 – 2011): At A Glance

When the BMW 1 Series was launched in 2004 the most controversial aspect was the styling which certainly divided opinion. Whether it will become a design classic remains to be seen, but it certainly hasn't put people off and the BMW 1 Series has become one of the most popular premium hatchbacks around.

The first impression you get from the BMW 1 Series is an air of solidity. Like all BMWs, it feels superbly engineered and incredibly well built both inside and out. Just because it's the cheapest model in the BMW line-up, doesn't mean it's a poor relation to the larger cars.

As you'd expect, this BMW is also great once you get behind the wheel. It's rear-wheel drive, which is ideal for grip and agility, so the 1 Series is composed in corners and good fun to drive, even with the smaller engines. That said, the original 116i is best avoided unless you're on a tight budget as it's fairly lacklustre and lacks low down punch. The 118i or 118d are much better choices.

It's certainly not the most spacious of cars either - particularly for rear seat passengers where there's a shortage of leg and headroom for adults. The boot isn't a bad size though and the large tailgate means you can carry some sizeable loads. For practicality there are better cars, but as premium hatchbacks go, the 1 Series is the best all rounder with a great choice of efficient engines.


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What does a BMW 1 Series (2004 – 2011) cost?

List Price from £24,435
Buy new from £20,644
Contract hire from £222.56 per month

BMW 1 Series (2004 – 2011): What's It Like Inside?

Length 4227–4239 mm
Width 1748–1759 mm
Height 1421–1430 mm
Wheelbase 2660 mm

Full specifications

There have been reports that it's cramped. To which my reply is I'm 5' 9" and can happily sit behind myself. The boot is far from tiny either. And the rear seats flop down easily for carrying things like golf clubs if they won't lie across the boot. A One Series isn't space-efficient in the manner of a Honda Jazz or new Mitsubishi Colt. But a front-drive Golf isn't space-efficient either.

It comes as a bit of a surprise to find that Ones come with no spare wheel. There's nothing under the boot floor apart from a battery. Not even a Tyrefit kit. The reason is they're all on run-flat tyres. But not the run-flats that gave a harsh ride on Five Series. On my car they were Michelin Pilot Primacys: grippy, supple, with low rolling resistance.

Child seats that fit a BMW 1 Series (2004 – 2011)

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What's the BMW 1 Series (2004 – 2011) like to drive?

The steering is heavy duty, too. And what it lacks in lightness it makes up for with the sort of feel you forget when driving front wheel drive cars. It's totally uncorrupted and very nearly perfect. To the extent you immediately feel at one with the car. That's what BMW is advertising. That's what the car is about.

The ride quality's good, too. At least it is on the standard 16" wheels with 205/55 tyres fitted to the 120dSE I drove. And not a shake or a rattle anywhere.

BMW has squeezed an extra 13bhp out of its 2.0 litre diesel, plus a total of 340Nm torque at 2,000rpm and puts it through a 6-speed manual box. That means that you're through 2nd gear very quickly, but you soon learn to short-change into 3rd. 6th gives you 37.5mph per 1,000 rpm on the speedo, so at motorway speeds you're bang on peak torque and the car whispers along delivering well over 40mpg. Unless, of course, you decide you need a bit more speed. But even at 90mph you're still under 2,500rpm so you're not going to be visiting the pumps in a hurry. According to the trip computer I wound up averaging 40.3mpg.

The more I drove the 120d the more liked it. I got used to the touch or click indicators that are supposed to make autobahn overtaking easier. Block-changing the six-speed box is a cinch. 4th is an awesome gear for clearing traffic when joining a motorway. And the balance of the car on a fast long bend is fantastic. About the only thing I didn't like was the stink of the interior. Not a South Korean smell. Much sharper. Like Evo-Stick. And when you're driving a car like the 120d the last thing you need is to be sniffing glue.

BMW has also been cleaning up its act. Reducing CO2s, which goes hand in hand with improving economy. Yet also boosting power and performance.

The results are a 130 mph diesel capable of 60 mpg. A 130 mph petrol model that squeaks into the 15% BIK bracket for 2007 to 2008. And similar improvements to the 120i and 120d.

How BMW has done it is by a series of modifications that they collectively call ‘Efficient Dynamics'. These include ‘Brake Energy Regeneration' by which they save 3% of power and CO2 by clutching the alternator so it only charges on engine over-run. (Effectively getting electricity for nothing.)

The power steering is now variable electro-mechanical, so absorbs no power at all in the straight-ahead position and very little at speed, giving a pleasant ‘meaty' feel to the wheel.

The car has auto stop-start, which shuts down the engine when stationary and starts it again as soon as you press the clutch. There's an ‘Optimum Shift Indicator' for gear changes.

Radiator flaps which shut off airflow on start-up so the engine gets to temperature more quickly, and also shuts off airflow when the radiator doesn't need it. Low rolling resistance Michelin Primacy ZP 205/55 R16 Runflats. Lightweight materials used wherever feasible. And raised gearing giving around 39mph per 1,000rpm in 6th, in the 118d.

To drive, it's the same carved-from-solid 1-Series as before, with good steering and excellent, predictable rear-drive handling (that saw off a Cooper S on 17" wheels, so must be good). On the motorway, it's uncannily quiet with very little noise coming from the tyres or the engine, turning less than 2,000rpm at 70. Yet it's got enough grunt if you need it.

However, since it's very pleasant to drive at more relaxed speeds, I suspect that's how most of them will be driven, and why some drivers will actually average close to 60mpg.

As tested, the cars have shed a pair of doors. There's still just about enough room inside for four 5' 9" people, though taller people will have to find shorter friends. And the boot takes a perfectly adequate 330 litres.

Unfortunately prejudice against diesels have left them BIK taxed at 3% more than petrol engined cars. So company man is more likely to want the 118i at BIK on 15% of list than the 118d at BIK on 18%, even though BIK for the petrol engine goes up to 16% in 2008-2009

But even if company accountants force them into 118ds to save on fuel, they won't be short changed.

It's a seriously good little car.

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
116d 63–64 mpg 10.2–10.3 s 118 g/km
116i 38–46 mpg 9.8–10.9 s 143–180 g/km
116i Automatic 43 mpg 10.7–10.8 s 154 g/km
118d 50–63 mpg 8.9–10.0 s 119–150 g/km
118d Automatic 53 mpg 9.0–9.1 s 140 g/km
118i 39–48 mpg 8.7–9.4 s 140–176 g/km
118i Automatic 43 mpg 9.2–9.3 s 154 g/km
120d 50–60 mpg 7.5–7.9 s 125–152 g/km
120d Automatic 53 mpg 7.7–7.8 s 140 g/km
120i 38–44 mpg 7.7–8.7 s 152–181 g/km
123d 54–55 mpg 6.9–7.0 s 135–138 g/km
123d Automatic 51 mpg 7.0–7.1 s 145 g/km
130i 31–34 mpg 6.0–6.1 s 197–221 g/km

Real MPG average for a BMW 1 Series (2004 – 2011)

Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.

Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Average performance


Real MPG

22–60 mpg

MPGs submitted


Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.

What have we been asked about the BMW 1 Series (2004 – 2011)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

Can we dispute the amount our insurer has valued our written off car at?

My daughter's BMW 118d 2009 was written off. She refused the insurers offer of £4000 but they still sent her a cheque. How does she stand if a direct replacement is more?
Contact the insurer and advise that you accept payment on a "without prejudice basis" only (this is if the vehicle is definitely a total loss, i.e the repair costs are more than the car). Advise the insurer that you wish to raise a complaint and dispute the market value. Ask them to provide screen prints of both Glass Guide and CAP guide showing how they valued her car. Then obtain the same your self from another independent source (ask a nice car dealer). You can always if you wish not cash the cheque. I do sometimes recommend this if it may be possible to get the car repaired.
Answered by Tim Kelly
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What Cars Are Similar To The BMW 1 Series (2004 – 2011)?

Key attributes of the this model are: Economical and Small family.

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What do owners think?

Our view gives your our opinion, based on driving hundreds of cars every year, but you can't beat the views of someone who lives with a car day-in, day out.

  • 5 star 17%
  • 4 star 50%
  • 3 star 33%
  • 2 star
  • 1 star

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