With prices ranging from £3000 to £30,000 and engines in more capacities and outputs than you can shake a stick at, there’s probably a used BMW 1 Series for you. We’re talking about the generation built from 2011 to 2019, punctuated by a 2015 facelift that substantially raised the car’s game.
But first a word or two of warning: it’s not the best-packaged hatchback. Blame the fact that it’s rear-wheel drive, although from a driving perspective this should be a positive. It’s a classic rear-drive BMW; ergo, it should be a hoot, right? Sadly, it’s not, quite. A front-drive Audi A3, Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus are more agile more of the time.
Those quibbles aside, we can get on with appreciating the 1 Series’ abundant qualities. They include a range of great diesel engines (okay, they’re no longer fashionable but you’ll love their efficiency), a beautifully built cabin, generous kit levels and sporty good looks (post-facelift, at least). And on the right road, the M135i and M140i are giant-killers.
The model arrived in 2011 in five-door form first, powered by a choice of mid-size petrol and diesel engines. The following year, the three-door landed along with xDrive four-wheel-drive versions of the 120d. The 1.4i and, at the other extreme, the M135i also made their appearance.
The diesels, in particular the 118d, were the biggest sellers and M Sport the most popular trim. A 2013 118d M Sport auto with 44,000 miles costs around £10,700. It’s a well-rounded car with economy nudging 60mpg and 0-62mph in 8.9sec. On the petrol front, the three-pot 118i is a smooth, sprightly and economical engine shared with Mini. Around £11,000 snares a 2013-reg M Sport automatic five-door with 44,000 miles. Talking of autos, from 2014 cars equipped with sat-nav got the Proactive Drive system that tailors gearchanges more precisely. Throughout this time, trims were ES, SE, Urban, Sport and M Sport. Ignore base ES and even hard-riding M Sport, although it does look good, and go either for SE or the better-equipped Sport.
The 2015 facelift meant sharper looks inside and out, new engines with EfficientDynamics technologies, a tweaked chassis, more standard kit, including sat-nav for all, better infotainment… If you can afford it, stick your neck out for one of these later cars. How far? Well, a 2014 118i M Sport with 34,000 miles is £12,500 and a 2015-reg 120i M Sport with the same mileage around £1000 more.
A noteworthy version from this time is the super-efficient 116d ED Plus. One registered before 1 April 2017 attracts zero road tax, it’s that clean. We found a 2016-reg example with 47,000 miles, one owner and a full BMW service history for £9800. Expect at least 70mpg.
The 1 Series has its faults, not least a cramped rear cabin and a smallish boot, and it’s a little pricier than rivals, but there’s no arguing with the efficiency of its engines or the appeal of that badge.
Engine Listen for a noisy timing chain on the N47 2.0-litre diesel (it's a well-documented problem). It's rare at this age but mud sticks. Timing chain issues not unknown on other engines, too. Check the radiator for damage.
Transmission Feel for clutch judder when pulling away on a cold engine.
Brakes Check if the car has had a new brake fluid cap (the original allowed water to enter the reservoir).
Steering Listen for knocking sounds from the rack.
Interior Check for water in the rear seats and boot.
Body Bulkhead drains can become blocked, soaking the wiring that's around there.
Need to know
Examples of petrol-powered 1 Series models up to five years old rank a respectable seventh place out of 31 in the latest What Car? Reliability Survey. Diesel versions, however, are a lowly 29.
The 1 Series has been the subject of a surprising number of recalls. Make sure they have all been attended to.
Check you can live with the three-door version’s poor rear cabin access before committing.
Rather than following a schedule, 1 Series servicing is condition based, meaning the car only requires fettling when necessary. The service history is stored in the car’s memory.
The options list is long so be careful to check precisely what your chosen 1 Series has in terms of extras when comparing it with other possible buys.
BMW 116d Sport Auto 5dr: It’s a diesel so not the most fashionable choice, but it’s Euro 6-compliant and you’ll love its 70mpg and easy driving manners. From £10,000 for a 2016-reg with 60,000 miles.
BMW M140i Auto 3dr: The 1 Series’ rear-drive chassis was made for this. The 3.0-litre six produces 335bhp for 0-62mph in 4.6sec. A Golf R is more secure, but on the right road the M140i is more fun.
Ones we found
2012 116d ES five-door, 125,000 miles, £3989
2014 116i Sport three-door, 44,000 miles, £8300
2016 118i Sport five-door, 25,000 miles, £11,000
2018 120d Sport five-door, 15,000 miles, £15,250