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2021 BMW 1 Series Review

Author: Cameron | Updated: 15th December 2022

The latest version of the BMW 1 Series has made somewhat of a sacrifice. You see, the first two generations (2004-2013 and 2013-2019) were all rear-wheel drive, offering something of a unique, sporty driving experience that other family hatchbacks weren’t.

This latest version of the 1 Series might revert back to a more mainstream setup then when it comes to its drivetrain, but does this necessarily matter? Well, not really. In fact, BMW’s cheapest model is a great choice if you’re looking for a premium family car that offers luxury at a more cut-throat price than the competition.

Read our full review of the BMW 1 Series and decide whether it’s the right family hatch for you.


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2021 BMW 1 Series design

The all new BMW 1 Series front angle shot
Model shown is the BMW M135i

At first you’re bound to notice that the signature kidney grille of the new 1 Series has been changed from the typical radiator setup, to a mesh grille.

Adding to the car’s sportiness are large intakes at the front, plus more precise body lines that give it a dynamic look.

Out of the premium German hatchbacks, the BMW 1 Series is the widest model out of its nearest rivals – the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A1. It’s also taller, which does a really great job of making it a roomy space for families inside.

The all new BMW 1 Series rear angle shot
Model shown is the BMW M135i

With a variety of trim levels available for the 1 Series, you can even choose whether you want a sporty, hot hatch or regularly styled version of the car. Kicking off the line-up is the SE model which is far from plain. As standard it includes 16in alloy wheels, chrome detailing on the grille and matt black style around the exterior that give it premium apparel.

If you step up to Sport your 1 Series will come with larger 17in alloy wheels, black exterior highlights and a dark chrome exhaust pipe.

Looking to get seriously racy looks with your 1 Series? The range-topping 128ti throws in twin exhaust pipes and unique y-spoke 18in alloy wheels that make it the most aggressively styled model in the range.

A hyper-hot version of the BMW 1 Series exists if you want to take this design even further, badged ‘M135i’. With exclusive M features such as a rear spoiler and plenty of snazzy exterior highlights, it’ll easily impress those of you who like a performance hatch.


2021 BMW 1 Series interior

The all new BMW 1 Series cabin
Model shown is the BMW M135i

BMW is renowned for its sturdy, quality build, even if it is somewhat more reserved than the likes of the A-Class and A3.

You’ll find a lot of soft-touch materials inside the cabin of the 1 Series, while manual switches that are easy to use feel well put together too.

Should you want to add a bit of sporty pizzazz to your family hatch, you can choose the Sport model, which throws in more supportive sports seats. Meanwhile, the more performance-focused 128ti and M135i specs add distinct contrast red stitching that adds a strikingly cool dynamic to the design of the car.

On top of this there’s even a comfortable, snazzy-looking M Sport steering wheel in leather which has three spokes and also has red stitching.

It shouldn’t be too difficult getting comfy in the 1 Series, regardless of which trim level you choose. All specs come with velour floor mats, front and rear armrests integrated into the door trim, plus automatic air conditioning.

You’ll get even more plush kit when you look at higher-spec models in the 1 Series line-up. For example, Sport models and above add two-zone automatic air conditioning so your passengers in the back can control their own temperature.


2021 BMW 1 Series infotainment and tech

The all new BMW 1 Series infotainment system

One area where BMW has always excelled is in how well it develops infotainment systems. The iDrive system is a super easy interface to use, mostly thanks to the very intuitive rotary controller and physical shortcut buttons.

You can choose to tap the standard 8.8in touchscreen to navigate through the menus. However, while you’re driving, this can be very distracting and fiddly.

The display is a decent size, though you have the option of a larger 10.3in screen on most trims if you pay a little extra. Alternatively, it comes as standard on the range-topping M135i if you’re looking at getting behind the wheel of something sportier.

When it comes to flashy tech, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A4 are far superior in their designs. The latter’s turbine air vents and flamboyant dual screen infotainment system is hard to beat when it comes to looks. Similarly, the A3 has a big 10.1in screen that has great graphics and nestles neatly into the dashboard.

Driver convenience tech is prominent across all BMW 1 Series trims, even on the standard SE trim. It comes with the following features:

  • Lane departure warning
  • Cruise control with brake assist
  • City braking function
  • Pull away assistant
  • Speed limit info including no-overtaking indicator
  • Attentiveness assist

2021 BMW 1 Series practicality

The all new BMW 1 Series boot space

The BMW 1 Series matches the Audi A3 when it comes to space in the boot – both have a 380-litre space in the cargo. This is bigger than the A-Class (310 litres), and part of its usable space is underneath the boot floor.

Even room in the back is up from previous 1 Series models, and you’ll be able to fit a pair of regular sized adults comfortably in the back. Anyone over six foot might find that their head is touching the ceiling, but it’s a lot better for space in the rear than rivals. This is especially true when it comes to leg room, which is very generous, allowing passengers to spread out.

Unfortunately there isn’t a great deal of flexibility with the seats, whereas all A-Class models come with the handy 40/20/40-split folding rear seats. Even on the mid-spec A3 trims you can find this feature as standard, whereas for the 1 Series it’s an additional option you have to pay for.


2021 BMW 1 Series driving

The all new BMW 1 Series driving on a country road

Despite ditching the rear-wheel drive system in the latest 1 Series, BMW has still managed to make it a very engaging car to drive. In fact, it’s a better car to drive than the A-Class thanks to its sharper handling.

If you go for the M Sport version you’ll get a stiffer suspension too which means there’s less body lean.

There are a brilliant range of engines available for the third generation of BMW 1 Series, starting with a 1.5-litre petrol engine with 136bhp. Available with a manual or automatic gearbox, is offers great all-round flexibility. Though it’s not quicker than the Audi A4 35 TFSI or Mercedes-Benz A-Class A200, it can still do 0-60mph in 8.9 seconds. So, if you’re not fussed about being the quickest from the lights, it’s a great option and frugal too, with an official combined fuel economy of 50mpg.

Diesel engines are available for those planning on doing a lot of miles, but we’d recommend avoiding the entry-level 116d unit. With just 116bhp and the nearly two seconds slower acceleration time than the petrol engine mentioned above, we’d avoid it.

Instead, look at the more powerful 118d variant, which comes with 150bhp that cuts the sprint time from 0-62mph to just 8.5 seconds. It’s no less fuel-efficient than the 116d model either, with an impressive 60.1mpg return.


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