The 2020 BMW 1 Series
The 2020 BMW 1 Series on location in Ireland

Caroline drives the new BMW 1 Series!

Created as a stylish hatchback for the first time back in 2004, the BMW 1 Series was a prestigious first step on the BMW ladder for many young, aspirational buyers. The 1 Series packaged the quality, prestige and exciting driving dynamics of a classic BMW saloon into a compact hatchback that marked a more affordable entry into the BMW range.

BMW is not unique in this respect, every year the 1 Series squares up to the equally smart Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3. Competition is high in the race to capture the hearts and minds of well-heeled young professionals. Style and premium features are a given but in recent years this race has intensified as digital natives become the target audience.

So enter the latest generation of the 1 Series. Pricing kicks off from €33,864 in Ireland, putting it in premium territory. Yet the brand has reworked the 1 to make it a better prospect, at least in practical terms, and this feels like new beginnings for the prestigious German hatchback.

For a start the 1 has switched from a sporty rear wheel drive layout to a less exclusive front wheel drive layout. The key positive to this is that a front wheel drive layout makes it easier for designers to create more space inside the vehicle. The 1 Series now shares a platform with other front wheel drive BMW Group products like the MINI Countryman and the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer.

The new 1 Series goes on sale in Ireland
The new 1 Series goes on sale in Ireland from €33,864

The BMW 1 Series range in Ireland

Being related to an MPV doesn’t sound exceptionally glam, but you can be sure BMW has some tricks up their sleeve for the sporty 1. But first, there is lots on offer in the 1 Series range – from demure diesels to rip roaring performance petrol variants. In Ireland, the new 1 Series range is made up of three trim levels – SE (from €33,864), Sport (from €35,245) and M Sport (from €37,715). You can choose from the 118i petrol (140 hp), 116d diesel (116 hp), 118d diesel (150 hp) or rev it up with a more powerful 120d diesel (190 hp) or the top of the range M135i with 306 hp and all wheel drive (from €52,850).

In terms of design, the new 1 Series has a different vibe to what has come before. It looks bigger and has all the hallmarks of the brand’s new design language. Angles here and there, a larger BMW kidney grille at the front and an epic rear end with new horizonal light clusters. The new 1 Series looks its best in M Sport trim, which sits lower on the road with a more aggressive body kit and 18” alloys as well as satin aluminium struts in the kidney grille.

What’s it like inside?

This car feels young, fresh and current inside, and trendsetters will love it. The new interior takes all the best bits from the larger 3 Series with a few new additions such as glam backlit trim elements. Quality is very impressive for a compact, making this feel like a car from the class above. It’s an interior very worthy of the BMW badge. You sit quite low among a driver-oriented cockpit with all of BMW’s latest digital technology at your fingertips. It’s in its best iteration with the BMW Live Cockpit Professional incorporating a digital instrument panel and 10.25” Control Display. Another neat feature is the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, which allows you to alter the car’s settings, ventilation or find a list of local restaurants for example using a simple summons of ‘Hey BMW’.

Inside the new BMW 1 Series
Inside the new BMW 1 Series

Some purists might baulk at the new space saving front wheel drive layout but it has reaped dividends for interior space inside the vehicle. Now the BMW 1 Series can attract family buyers because there is more space in the rear and the boot. Access to the rear is easier and there is extra kneeroom, headroom and elbowroom available. The boot capacity has been improved by 20 litres to 380 litres, with a wider opening than before. An electrically operated tailgate is now optionally available for the BMW 1 Series for the first time.

On the road in the new BMW 1 Series

BMW has shaved up to 30 kg off the weight of the new BMW 1 Series compared to its predecessor but increased the rigidity. This is thanks to an aluminium bonnet and boot lid, combined with high-strength steels. Much has been made of the switch to a front wheel drive layout. But BMW engineers have worked hard to ensure the 1 Series drives like a classic BMW saloon. ARB technology first used in the BMW i3 comes as standard on the 1 Series to improve traction, reduce wheel slip and understeer. In fact, it’s the first time it has been used in a combustion engine BMW.

The result is good. The 1 Series can take on corners with gusto, with an impressively tight turn in and stability while doing it. It is a very good front wheel drive hatchback. It lacks the dynamic fluidity of a rear wheel drive BMW, for example the larger 3 Series, because the steering just doesn’t translate the same sensations to your fingertips.

Overall refinement is excellent and this car covers the tarmac well, despite the M Sport treatment giving a tad firmer ride. Long distance motorway cruising is very pleasant behind the wheel of the 1 Series. The 118i does a fine job here for a three cylinder petrol engine. Modifications to this 1.5-litre petrol engine have cut CO2 emissions by 29g/km, at the same time boosting maximum power output by 4 hp to 140 hp. The engine feels lively enough and smooths out well at speed. Gear changes through the new 7-speed automatic are well judged. Over a week of driving my fuel consumption averaged at 6.5l/100km, which is decent enough for a petrol engine.

The new M135i with 306 hp and all wheel drive!

Did you like it?

The BMW 1 Series has grown up, becoming a better prospect despite a somewhat more muted drive. The rear wheel drive playfulness is gone but BMW has created a good front wheel drive hatchback. The boost in practicality and space inside the vehicle just makes so much more sense for buyers and it can now function as a respectable family hatchback.

The biggest surprise for me with the new 1 Series is how well the new generation BMW interior fits in here. The cabin experience is now one of the most successful features of this car.

While there are a good selection of trims and engines available, the 118i M Sport is a nice spot in the range combining a sporty look with affordability and quiet petrol power.

The 1 Series has always been an aspirational car that gets you on the ladder and theoretically *should* convert you to BMW for life. For that BMW has created a fine hatchback for the 2020s that its younger buyers will love!

The BMW 1 Series is a smart and stylish premium hatchback
The BMW 1 Series is a smart and stylish premium hatchback

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: BMW 1 Series 118i Automatic M Sport
€37,715 (from €33,864)
Engine: 1.5-litre turbo petrol
Torque: 220 Nm
8.5 seconds
Top speed: 213 km/h
CO2 emissions: 122g/100km
Motor Tax: €270 per year