BMW 1 series VS Audi A1
BMW 1 series
- Rear-wheel drive
- Great engines
- Fun to drive
- Low on standard features
- Run-flat tyres
- Limited rear legroom
- Character-filled car
- Sporty performance
- City-friendly dimensions
- Fuel use a bit high
- Back seat lacks amenities
BMW 1 series
If you think it’s a Mercedes-Benz A-Class you want or maybe an Audi A3 Sportback or even a Volkswagen Golf, then stop and read this first before making a purchase.
The BMW 1 Series alternative isn’t just another prestige little car, because there are some fundamental differences between this 1 and those others, and they could cause you to totally rethink your decision.
If you’re already keen on getting a 1 Series then you need to read this, too, not only to help you find the right one, but also to alert you to what might be a couple of uncomfortable truths.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Audi A1 2020 range offers something for everyone, and in the case of this particular variant, it’s the one you buy if you want as much grunt and gear as you can get.
It’s the top-of-the-range Audi A1 40 TFSI model, which gets the zestiest engine, the lengthiest equipment list, and offers performance to match some hot-hatches out there. It’s essentially an Audi-ised version of a VW Polo GTI.
This test wasn’t so much about the wow-factor, though. We put it through its paces as an urban runabout to see how it coped as a real-world city car.
Read More: Audi A1 2020 review
|Engine Type||1.8L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW 1 series7.5/10
I’m the first to say the 1 Series is kind of the ugly duckling of the BMW family, but those looks grow on you, especially when you consider that this is exactly what a BMW hatch should look like. That this is one of the only rear-wheel-drive hatches left on the planet makes it even more special – and of course engaging to pilot. The downside is the price and the lack of value from a features perspective, plus safety could be bolstered with more technology. Still, anybody who likes to drive will commend you on your choice of a BMW.
Is the BMW 1 Series better at doing the small prestige hatch thing than the A-Class or A3 Sportback? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
If you’re eager for a sporty compact hatchback with premium design and luxury car badges, the Audi A1 40 TFSI is a very, very strong contender. It’s fast, fun, and functional for a little hatchback. It’s just very expensive, and for most people the $10K cheaper 35 TFSI model will tick most of the boxes. I’d recommend you drive it before signing on for the top-spec model.
BMW 1 series8/10
The 1 Series looks exactly how a BMW hatchback should. I know that sounds silly but what I mean is BMW could easily have designed something that was proportioned more like other hatches; that popular sort of bubble on wheels.
Instead, what you have is a hatch that retains BMW’s traditional attributes – there’s the long nose, the cabin set back, the high sides and the wheels placed almost at the very corners.
Seriously, look at the image of the orange 1 Series side on, now hold your out your hand and use it to cover just the windows – see, it looks just like a BMW 2 Series convertible. Does it look good? To me it does, right up until you get to the hatchback, and then it looks a bit awkward. But I do admire BMW’s designers for creating something unique looking.
That orange 120i ('Sunset Orange' is the official colour) is the most recent 1 Series I’ve tested. Those wheels aren’t standard, they’re 18-inch M ones and they are part of the optional 'M Sport Package', which also includes the body kit, complete with side skirts and the lower grille in gloss black.
The 1 Series is as affordable as BMWs get, but it’s still a real BMW. The cabin, for example, looks much like every BMW, only smaller.
There’s the large, slab-like dash with the display sitting atop, below are the air vents and below that is the radio and then the climate-control dials. It’s a stack that’s kept its familiar order and shape on nearly all BMWs for what seems like forever.
The centre console has a similar layout as the one in a 3 Series or 5 Series or any Series, with the shifter and rotating media controller. Even the doors have the same design as those cars higher up in the BMW family, with the big moulded pockets and large pull handles.
That steering wheel is part of the M-Package too, but the leather upholstery is a separate option.
The signs that this isn’t a more expensive BMW are the manual handbrake, the compact instrument cluster with analogue dials, the small dash-top display and the fact that there’s a lot less real estate to be covered by trim pieces and material, which doesn’t have the same high-quality feel as those fancier models.
I don’t think I’ve seen a better transformation between generations than the current A1. In its previous guise it was bubbly and cute, but now it’s an angular brute.
This version’s S line sports body kit and funky 18-inch alloy wheels certainly help in that regard, but even the standard lighting signatures - LEDs front and rear - make it stand out as anything but a cutie pie city car.
The good news is that it hasn’t grown too much, either. Sure, it is a bit bigger, measuring 4029mm (on a 2563mm wheelbase), 1740mm wide and 1409mm tall. The last one was smaller (3973mm long on a 2469mm wheelbase, 1746mm wide and 1422mm tall), but this one isn’t elephantine in its proportions and so remains simple to park and squeezy enough to be considered a Light Car by industry standards.
And there are some really, really playful colours available. Like this Turbo Blue (which is only for this spec), and Python Yellow. There’s also black, green, red, three different greys, and two whites. The only issue is that flat white (Cortina White) is the only no-cost paint option. The rest will set out back $490 (for Tioman Green or the blue you see here) or $990 (for the rest).
And then you can option the paint with a black roof, for $1380 combined with blue or green, or $1880 in all the other colours. The black exterior styling pack adds black highlights around the grille and on the front and rear bumpers. Those little Audi four-ring stickers on the rear doors are standard on this spec.
But to be honest, it stands out no matter what colour you choose, and that’s enough to get people’s heads turning on the street. And the interior design? Well, it has some good and bad points. See the interior pictures below to make up your own mind.
BMW 1 series7/10
The 1 Series’ boot has a cargo capacity of 360 litres, which is more than the boot space of the Audi A3 Sportback (340 litres) but less than the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class’s 370 litres of luggage room.
What does that mean in real-world terms? It’s not a lot of space, and you might struggle to get a pram in, so check that beforehand if you have small ones. That said, there was enough room for two carry-on sized bags, a computer bag and a scooter when my wife and I went on a weekend away with our four year old.
Space in the second row is also limited. Headroom isn’t too bad, but at 191cm tall I can’t sit behind my driving position without my knees digging into the seatback. I can just fit back there in the A3 and I have even more room for my knees in the A-Class.
Room up front is good with plenty of shoulder, head and elbow room for somebody my size.
Storage could be better: you’ll only find cup holders up front (two of them), the centre-console storage bin is small and so are the door pockets in the rear, but all is not lost because the door bottle holders in the front are massive, the glove box is a decent size and there are nets on the backs of the front seats.
It’s good to see directional air vents in the second row and a 12V power outlet, but there aren’t any USB ports back there – if you want to plug in a device there’s only one and it’s up front, along with another 12-volt outlet.
The rear doors appear large from the outside but the aperture to get in and out isn’t huge – again look at the images to see what I’m on about.
There are elements of the A1’s cabin design that are tremendous. And other bits that are not so tremendous.
The bad bits include the fact you’re paying about $50,000 on the road for a car that has hard plastic just about everywhere the eye can see.
The good bits are that the textured plastics on the dash are beautiful, and so are the designed elements on the doors. I love the door handles, I love the metallic finish, I love the layout and I love the way it makes you forget that you’re in a luxury-branded car with hard plastic all around you.
The media screen and digital dashboard help, too - it feels technical and premium in the driver’s seat as a result. The graphics are crisp and clear, the menus are mostly easy to navigate, but I had some issues getting Apple CarPlay to work. It has wireless CarPlay, and I had it plugged in, so perhaps that was confusing things.
But the Audi media system also includes Audi Connect in this spec, meaning there are realtime map, traffic and hazard updates, plus a Wi-Fi hotspot, fuel prices, parking, weather and Google maps and services. It’s high-tech, and if that’s what you like, this is definitely going to please you more than a Mini Cooper.
Practicality is good, with bottle holders in all four doors, cup holders between the front seats and a covered centre console and wireless charging bay in front of the shifter. In the back, storage is sparse: aside from the door pockets, there’s nothing - no cup holders, no map pockets.
There is enough space for four adults in the A1, so if you plan to take your mates to brunch or if you’ve got young kids, you should be comfortable enough in here.
I had the driver’s seat set for my own height (182cm) and I was able to slide in to the rear seat without much fuss at all, with adequate knee and toe room, and decent headroom too. Try and fit three across the back and it’ll be uncomfortable, unless those three are very slim.
There are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points and three top-tether points, and the seat structure is pretty flat, making fitment of these types of seats simple enough.
The boot capacity is good for a car of this size at 335 litres, which is a solid 20 per cent bigger than before. You won’t find a spare under the boot floor, though, as all A1s have an inflator kit. The back seats fold down to allow 1090L of cargo capacity, but there’s a ledge you have to contend with if you’re trying to load larger items in. Maybe skip the IKEA trips in this one, then.
Price and features
BMW 1 series7/10
So, it’s a little BMW, does that mean the price is little? Nope. It’s like asking if a little Rolex is cheap. it might be cheap for a Rolex, but not for a watch in general, and it's the same for the 1 Series.
The 1 Series range starts at $39,990 for the petrol 118i, while its 118d diesel twin is $44,990. Both come with the standard Sport Line package, which adds 16-inch light alloy wheels and LED headlights, while in the cabin it brings cloth upholstery, sports seats and a leather sports steering wheel, high-gloss black trim and BMW scuff plates. Other standard features include a 6.5-inch display, with sat nav, reversing camera, six-speaker stereo, a digital radio and air-conditioning.
For another $7000 you can get into the 120i grade, which lists for $46,990 and comes standard with the Urban Line package, which fits 17-inch alloy wheels in the double-spoke style, adds front and rear bumpers with matt finish air intakes, plus dual chrome tail pipes, while the cockpit gets leather upholstery, and gloss-black and pearl-effect trim.
Along with the Urban Line gear, the 120i has all of the 118i’s standard features and adds more of its own, including front and rear parking sensors, LED fog lights, dual-zone climate control, the interior lights package, plus smart phone connectivity with voice control.
The 125i is only a tempting $3000 above the 120i at $49,990 and it comes standard with the M Sport Package, which is what our most recent test car was fitted with (see the images of the orange 120i). The M Sport pack adds 18-inch light-alloy wheels and the tough body kit, the M Sport steering wheel and aluminium trim to the interior.
Apart from the M Sport package, also standard is an 8.8-inch screen with a DVD player and, somewhat disappointingly, cloth and Alcantara seats. Sure, they look nice, but how did the 120i get real leather and the 125i didn’t?
Still the 125i comes with more impressive performance hardware than the grades below, such as sports suspension, variable steering, M Sport brakes (inner vented rear discs) and blue calipers.
At the top of the 1 Series range is the M140i and while it’s getting into pricey territory at $59,990 (don’t forget that’s not including the on-road costs), you are getting what I’m predicting will be a sought after car in years to come. And possibly even a collector's item.
The M140i isn’t a fully fledged M car – it’s a diet version from the M Performance section of BMW, which gives cars a bit of a taste of the hardcore world of beasties like the M2 and M3, without costing as much or being quite as brutal to drive.
I’ll talk about the high-performance parts more in the sections on driving and engines, but briefly, you might like to know the M140 gets adaptive suspension and a six-cylinder turbo petrol engine – yes in a tiny hatch. Powerful.
The M140i also has the standard features of the 125i and adds its own, such as the 18-inch alloy wheels, black chrome tail pipe, adaptive LED headlights, leather upholstery, keyless entry, power front seats and a Harmon/Kardon 12-speaker stereo.
So, is the 1 Series good value? The price is bang-on compared to rivals such as the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3 (click those to see my reviews of them, too), but the 1 Series gets less in standard features compared to the Benz (such as Apple CarPlay) and about the same level of equipment as the A3.
If you’re a fan of black and white, you might be relieved to know these are the only two colours you won’t have to pay for. The rest, including Sunset Orange (see the images), Seaside Blue, Melbourne Red, Glacial Silver and Mineral Grey cost $1190.
The Audi A1 40 TFSI model is far from affordable if you’re looking at city-sized hatchbacks.
The list price for this model is $46,450 plus on-road costs, and for that you don’t even get leather trim! And heated seats? Optional...
You can option the S-line interior package to get a flat-bottomed steering wheel and leather seat trim, but as standard, even on this top-spec variant, you get cloth seats and a boring old round wheel.
As tested our A1 40 TFSI was $49,720 before on-roads (making for a circa-$55K drive-away price as you see it), because it had the optional blue paint ($490) and black roof ($890), plus the black exterior styling package ($790) and 18-inch Audi Sport wheels ($1100).
It already has 18-inch wheels as standard, plus the S-line exterior body styling pack with sportier front and rear bumpers, sill trims and a rear spoiler.
Plus there are LED headlights and tail-lights, dual-zone climate control, a 10.25-inch digital dashboard, a 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen with Android Auto, digital radio, built in sat-nav, built-in Wi-Fi and wireless Apple CarPlay.
That’s in addition to push-button start, keyless entry, 2xUSB ports (USB-A and USB-C) ambient lighting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, wireless phone charging, front and rear parking sensors, semi-autonomous self parking, auto lights and auto wipers, heated and folding mirrors with kerb-side dipping, and a few safety spec items you’ll find in that section below.
Engine & trans
BMW 1 series8/10
As you step up through the grades the engines become more powerful. The entry-grade 118i has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol making 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque, while its diesel twin has a 2.0-litre turbo-four making 110kW and much more torque at 320Nm.
The 120i has a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder and an output of 135kW and 270Nm. Then above that is the 125i, which is getting into performance territory with its 2.0-litre turbo four petrol making 165kW and 310Nm.
But all hail the M140i and its beautiful 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-petrol, with 250kW and 500Nm that it wants to share with you.
All cars are rear-wheel drive and all have an eight – hang on, that’s important: all cars are rear-wheel drive. Do you know how many other hatchbacks are rear-wheel drive? Try next to none – not the A-Class, not the A3, not the Golf. Rear-wheel drive is favoured for performance cars because it offers better balance and better acceleration thanks to the weight shift to the rear of the car. BMW has long claimed that RWD is one of the keys to its "sheer driving pleasure".
Now let me finish the sentence... all have an eight-speed automatic, and it’s a beauty – a little slow, but smoother for driving than a dual clutch, and way more fun than a CVT.
But wait, because there’s a manual gearbox, too. It’s a no-cost option and you can get it on any variant apart from the 125i.
This 40 TFSI model is the big humdinger in the range. It has the donk, right?
Yeah, it’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, which is a full litre bigger in capacity than the base model car. And it’s the same engine fitted to the Polo GTI - a proper hot hatch!
It doesn’t quite have double the power and torque of the entry-level 30 TFSI model, but it does have solid outputs of 147kW (at 4400-6000rpm) and 320Nm (from 1500-4400rpm). That’s enough to slingshot this A1 from 0-100km/h in a hot-hatch-rivalling 6.5 seconds, according to Audi.
Unlike the lower grades, it runs a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, which it needs because it has so much torque. The 30 and 35 TFSI variants have a seven-speeder. All of them, including this one, are front-wheel drive.
BMW 1 series8/10
The diesel unit in the 118d will use 4.2L/100km. Let that sink in for a moment – petrol engines are becoming so fuel efficient that they’re rivalling diesels, which have long been lauded for their frugality.
So don't just buy the diesel just because it’s more efficient, because you may never recoup the extra money you paid over the 118i.
Thirstier but still super-efficient is the 2.0-litre in the 120i. BMW’s claim is 5.9L/100km. During my week with the 120i I put 413km on the clock and used 15.57 litres doing so (measured at the pump), which comes to 7.7L/100km. The car’s computer said 7.8L/100km.
That’s great fuel economy, even if it is higher than the claimed figures. The 125i’s official fuel consumption is also 5.9L/100km.
It’s not surprising that the M140i, with its 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, is the least fuel efficient but its official figure of 7.1L/100km is still low.
Claimed fuel consumption is rated at 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres. You might see close to that on a highway drive, but if you’re primarily city-dwelling like me, then expect higher.
I saw an average of 10.1L/100km during my urban review of the A1 40 TFSI. That was with stop-start engaged the whole time, and the occasional squeeze of the accelerator to test out the claimed acceleration.
Fuel tank size for the A1 is just 40 litres, so if you’re doing what I did with this grade of A1, you can expect to visit the servo every 400km or so.
BMW 1 series8/10
If I could run into a showroom and take whichever 1 Series I wanted it’d be the M140i – and not just because it would give me the best chance of outrunning the police after they discovered the break-in, but because the thing is so much fun to drive.
It’s also the most expensive, of course, but it’s worth it for that screaming straight six and for its agility.
You’ll have fun, though, in every grade of the line-up – they’re all engaging to pilot with great driving positions, good pedal feel and that eight-speed auto is smooth in traffic yet will shift hard when you have your race face on.
You might find the 118i, with its three-cylinder, a little under powered, especially with five people and their bags on board. If you’re keen on this grade, then consider the diesel, which will give you more torque. Our 120i test car proved to have enough oomph for overtaking and moving quickly when needed.
The 125i is less tame, with its throatier exhaust note, firmer ride and better handling thanks to the M suspension.
If you plan on choosing the M Sport Package for, say, the 120i keep in mind that you’ll lose the comfortable ride these cars have on their standard tyres.
Our 120i had the pack and while the body kit looks tough, the 18-inch alloy wheels shod in low-profile rubber (225/40 R18 Bridgestone Potenza 5001s front and 245/35 R18 at the rear) meant the ride was overly jarring on bad roads.
Given that Sydney was my test bed for the 120i and its roads are shocking, the ride was less than comfy. The M-sport suspension will only make the ride less comfortable, but in return you’ll have a 120i with better handling.
Run-flat tyres are common on BMWs and you may have heard of a few issues surrounding noise and a harsher ride. While that can be true, it's the price you pay for having a tyre you won’t immediately have to change if you get a puncture. Only the 120i and the M140i don’t have run-flats as standard.
You shouldn’t be surprised to know that the A1 40 TFSI feels a lot like a Polo GTI to drive. It’s quick, it’s entertaining, it’s refined… it’s just about 50 per cent more expensive.
That mightn’t matter to you or factor into your considerations. I just want to point out that you can get a car that’s just as good to drive as this one, and still with a premium German brand attached to it, for a lot less.
The A1 does have it’s own spunk, though. It has a more masculine character, more aggressive styling, and more delightful interior design.
But it also has steering that is predictable and easy to judge, helping it feel nimble and grippy. From tight twisty roads to roundabouts, you’re going to be having fun in the A1 if you’re tooling around town.
It feels planted and grippy - aside from some front-wheel spin during take-offs if the tyres are cold - and you might notice the suspension can be a touch noisy as it pitter-patters over inconsistencies in the road surface, but the ride is firm yet controlled, offering enough comfort over potholed city roads and speed humps for this tester. And there are several of each of those obstacles on my daily drive to work.
The engine is a sweetheart, offering brilliant linearity to its power delivery. It pulls hard from low in the rev range, meaning you’ll be able to zip through traffic without much hassle at all. The powertrain is super responsive to inputs at speed, especially if you put it in Dynamic mode, which also allows you to hear some pops and crackles from the exhaust system.
That said, there is some vibration, shuddering and hesitation at low speeds, which is a combination of the stop-start system kicking in and out, a small amount of turbo-lag from the engine and some shuffling behind the scenes from the dual-clutch transmission. You might find the lurchy nature of the first-gear take-offs to be a bit hard to get used to, especially if you spend a lot of time in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
While this is an Urban Guide review focused on city driving, I thoroughly recommend you find a quiet stretch of twisty road outside the city limits. You won't be disappointed.
BMW 1 series8/10
The BMW 1 Series has the maximum five-star ANCAP rating, but this was awarded in 2011 and a lot has changed since then – particularly expected levels of safety.
BMW has updated the advanced technology to keep up with AEB (city) with pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning standard on all grades. It would be good to see more safety tech in the form of blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and lane-keeping assistance.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points across the rear row.
A spare tyre is not something you will find – all apart from the 120i and the M140i have run flats, while those two have puncture-repair kits.
The Audi A1 range scored a five-star ANCAP crash test rating in 2019, and it comes kitted out with some impressive safety tech.
You don’t get adaptive cruise control as standard, even on this expensive top-spec model. You can option it but you shouldn’t have to.
There’s no blind-spot monitoring or rear-cross traffic alert, which mightn’t seem like a big issue for a little car, but you’d be surprised how handy that tech can be when you’re reversing out of a parking space or trying to merge.
And while the previous A1 never came with a reversing camera, the new one does - it has guidance lines displayed on the screen, and there are front and rear parking sensors, too. Very handy for the urban jungle.
All A1s have six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain).
BMW 1 series6/10
BMW offers two service packages, which cover the car for five years/80,000km: the Basic is $1340 and the Plus costs $3550.
While the VW Polo GTI that this spec of A1 shares plenty with is backed by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, the Audi-badged compact hatch still has a lesser three-year/unlimited kay cover.
The A1 requires servicing every 12 months or 15,000km (just like a Polo), and there’s a pre-pay service pack you can roll into your finance if you so choose.
That service plan covers either three years/45,000km of driving ($1480) or five years/75,000km ($1990). In the case of the five-year plan, Audi is actually better value than the Polo GTI (which costs $2200 for pre-pay).
Where is the Audi A1 built? You might be surprised to learn the answer is Spain.
Concerned about reliability? Got questions over resale, problems, issues, faults, recalls or something else? Check out our Audi A1 problems page.