2015 BMW 1 Series Review

The updated BMW 1 Series has a lot to offer, but is it enough to unsettle the Mercedes-Benz A-Class?

The 2015 BMW 1 Series represents a philosophy of vehicle manufacturing that is fast becoming extinct, for the sake of cost cutting.

Small, entry priced luxury-badged cars are going front-wheel drive for a multitude of reasons, the main being the cheaper cost of manufacturing. So then, being the only rear-wheel drive luxury car on the market starting from under $40,000, the updated BMW 1 Series offers something none of its German competitors can match.

But is having torque delivered to the rear-wheels enough of a reason to purchase it over the likes of the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class (or the sleep-inducing Lexus CT200h)? Has BMW done enough with the mid-life model update to entice buyer to forego the A-Class in its favour?

The updated 1 Series looks better than ever before, in fact, it looks a lot like a 2 Series (interestingly, it was designed by an Australian). Completely redesigned taillights and a bigger kidney grille upfront in combination with sharper headlights will instantly differentiate this car from its predecessor.

BMW will also offer LEDs in both the tail and headlights for the first time, in addition to LED daytime running lights.

Those are just a few of the additional features to the 1 Series range, but it does signify that competition is a beautiful thing. In the last few years Mercedes-Benz has been doing so well in the $40-60,000 segment with the A and B-Class that BMW and Audi have been frantically playing catch up. Part of that has been offering better value.

Despite the Australian dollar decreasing in value in the last 12 months (against both the Euro and USD), the updated BMW 1 Series now offers reasonably more standard kit for equal or even less money. Read a full breakdown of the pricing and specifications here.

The range now starts from $36,900 for the BMW 118i, which replaces the 116i. The changes see the addition of the eight-speed automatic transmission, Sport Line package, rear view camera, sport steering wheel, rain sensing wipers, automatic climate control and ConnectedDrive as standard equipment.

For your money you get a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine that pumps out a reasonable 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque, resulting in a 0-100km/h time of 8.7 seconds (fuel consumption rated at 5.6L/100km). BMW will soon switch the 118i to a three-cylinder unit, so best be quick, as this is a sweet little thing.

Starting our range review behind the wheel the 118i during a rainy Brisbane day, it’s fair to say the entry model is a sensible hatch to own. It won’t please the enthusiasts with its acceleration, but it does offer great dynamic ability with excellent grip and confidence-inspiring handling.

It tends to ride a little on the firm side, but we were testing it on mostly rough roads, which means it’ll be best suited to urban and city roads. From a dynamic point of view, it would certainly be our pick over the base Mercedes-Benz A200.

The BMW 118d ($40,300), the only diesel option in the range, will not arrive until later this year so if you’ve got a little more to spend, the 120i petrol (which was the 118i before – in case you weren’t confused) will be the pick at $41,900 (down $1100).

Utilizing the same engine as the new 118i, but in a different state of tune, the BMW 120i is a 130kW and 250Nm of torque affair with a 0-100km/h time of 7.2 seconds, despite using just 0.1L/100km more fuel.

The performance increase is substantial enough to justify the extra $5,000 asking price, as is the addition of better interior upholstery, 17-inch wheels (as opposed to 16s), fog lights, 2-zone climate control, better instrument cluster, storage pack and lane departure and forward collision warning systems and more.

The additional power and torque transforms the car substantially, making it a more than lively hatchback for around town, with enough grunt to perform quick overtaking maneuvers and perhaps most importantly, bringing about a sense of driving enjoyment that the 118i lacks.

Handling is similar to its less expensive brother and the larger wheels don’t seem to upset the ride all that much.

The 120i presents a relatively good choice in the range for those seeking to walk out of the BMW dealer with something in the mid to high 40s. Options you’ll probably want to tick include the proper leather trim at $1,690 (instead of the fake stuff), a sunroof ($2,000) and of course, BMW will ask a cheeky $1,142 for metallic paint.

Stepping up yet again to what we would advise is the pick of the lot, is the BMW 125i, priced at $48,900 (down $2100). If you can somehow stretch to the 125i you will thank yourself on a daily basis for having done so.

The engine steps up to the much-loved 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol (used across the BMW range) with a very healthy 160kW of power and 310Nm of torque. It will do 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds, meaning it's properly quick for what it is.

BMW have now added the M sport package and M Sport brakes (which you would’ve paid more than $4,000 for a few months ago) as standard kit. Compared to the 120i, you also get 18-inch wheels, sportier steering, full LED headlights, front and rear parking distance control (with a visual display), Alcantra upholstery and more.

It’s $7,000 more than the 120i, but if you enjoy driving with a bit of enthusiasm, it’ll keep you properly entertained.

Around the twisty mountainous roads of Mount Glorious and Nebo in outer Brisbane, the 125i performed superbly. The out of corner acceleration, the enormous grip, the unobtrusive traction and stability control all came in to play to provide a thoroughly enjoyable drive. It’s the perfect “grown-up’s” hot hatch.

Despite having the variable steering system, we did find it at times lacking a bit of desired feedback, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the experience.

Last but not least, is the range-topping BMW M135i at $62,900. The car for the true enthusiast that really wants an M3 (or the upcoming M2) but has to settle for this. Thankfully then, it doesn’t feel like a poor-man’s M3 (even if it does cost almost $100,000 less).

Sporting a 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine (same family as the one used in the M3), the M135i will destroy the 0-100km/h sprint in just 4.9 seconds. That’s largely thanks to its 240kW of power (+5kW more than before) and 450Nm of torque. That’s a lot for a car that has a kerb weight of 1450kg.

To be fair, the M135i is wasted on public roads. It’s too tempting to exploit its full potential, which means it’ll become a constant reminder of having to live with Australia’s draconian speed limits. Thankfully then, we came to Lakeside raceway to find out what it’s really made of.

From a first impressions perspective, the M135i is superb in almost all that it does. Compared with the more expensive Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG ($75,800), the M135i is more playful, easier to live with and generally a more well rounded choice. You can read our comparison of the pre-facelift M135i against A45 AMG here.

At around $70,000 out the door, it’s also a lot of bang for your buck even just from a performance perspective and that’s in addition to having a BMW to brag about.

The M135i’s driving characteristics around a very wet lakeside left a lot of smiles on this writer’s semi-terrified face. It’s no M car, let's be frank, it doesn’t have that solid “I-want-to-go-faster-and-faster” (said in a humourless German accent) feel you get in every BMW M car, but it’s not exactly far off.

Even on a drenched track we found the grip levels almost beyond comprehension. BMW offers an AWD model of the M135i in Europe – which would be even better suited to a rainy day - but we don’t get that in Australia.

It could do with a dual-clutch transmission to make it that little bit more special, but considering the asking price, it’s hard to complain.

Overall, all model variant differences aside, the entire 2015 BMW 1 Series range offers a practical hatchback choice for those that want something more special and prestigious than a top-spec Volkswagen Golf or Mazda 3 and appreciate the rear-wheel drive and dynamically-capable nature of BMW’s chassis architecture.

Is it better than the A-Class and A3? We will put them to the test soon enough, but it’s more a case of right buyer for the right car and the 1 Series offers a little bit more practicality and performance than its rivals but perhaps it still doesn’t have the interior refinement of the new A3 or the styling power of the A-Class (and A3).

Speaking of the interior, iDrive remains the easiest system to use amongst the three Germans, though the satellite navigation display in all but the M135i is starting to look somewhat dated.

The front seats are comfortable and the rear seats, though somewhat cramped if you’re taller than around 175cm, can accommodate two adults without much complaint.

Then there’s the 360L boot, which can grow up to 1200L in size if you fold the rear seat flat. It will handle a decent-sized pram (though if you have kids and appreciate a higher riding vehicle, we suggest you either jump up to the X3 or wait for the updated X1 later this year) or the week’s groceries.

There are some complaints across the range though, such as basic features like heated seats still being a damn option. How can even the M135i still ask you to tick an option box for something as simple as heated seats?

You’ll also likely get stuck trying to get certain features on their own which are only available in a package.

On the plus side, BMW has eased the fear of expensive servicing by offering what it calls condition based servicing (CBS) and BMW Service Inclusive (BSI). Essentially the 1 Series’ computer will tell you when you need to service your car, so if you don’t drive often, it’ll cost you less.

Meanwhile you can also pay for your services upfront, picking from two packages, either basic for normal servicing or plus which also adds common parts. It’s essentially a fancy way of having fixed-priced servicing, with the disadvantage of having to pay it before hand. Nonetheless, at least there are no nasty surprises come service time.

The 2015 BMW 1 Series offers a lot of compelling reasons to be the pick of the bunch for entry-model luxury cars. Be it the rear-wheel drive architecture, expanded feature list, performance credentials or just its sheer practicality. If you’re in the market for car of its kind, there’s absolutely no reason to not have the Bavarian’s offering on your test-drive list.

The main 8/10 score represents the whole range. We will more thoroughly review each variant in the coming weeks but initial individual scores are below:

  • BMW 118i - 7.5/10
  • BMW 120i - 7.5/10
  • BMW 125i - 9/10
  • BMW 135i - 8.5/10