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BMW 1 series


BMW I3

Summary

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.

Safety rating
Engine Type1.5L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5.2L/100km
Seating5 seats

BMW I3

I'm confused.

I'm not entirely sure the world needed this car. It's the new 2018 BMW i3s, a new sportier version of the regular BMW i3.

Why am I not sure if the world needed it?

Well, I would have thought i3 buyers were eco-greenies? People who are more into lower emissions than lower 0-100km/h times?

But, what do you know - the new i3s has both of those bases covered. It's more efficient, offers more range - but also happens to be quicker and more fun to drive.

Safety rating
Engine Type
Fuel TypeHybrid with Premium Unleaded
Fuel Efficiency0.6L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

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.


BMW I37.4/10

If you want an electric hatchback that looks like it's from the future, then you should totally look at the BMW i3. There are no real competitors at the moment, and if the Tesla Model 3 production puzzle doesn't sort itself out soon, the i3 could have this part of the market to itself for a while.

This isn't a car for everyone, and it might not be a car for everyday, either. But as a second or third car, it is very convincing. It is unashamedly aimed at city buyers, people who need a car to get around without using fossil fuels... well, if you buy the pure electric model, that is.

The world may not have 'needed' the i3s – but buyers are definitely better off for having the option of the new sportier version of the compact electrified hatchback. This car means they can be eco-friendly and still enjoy the drive.

Does the BMW i3s appeal to you? Let us know in the comments section below.

Design

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.

The cabin isn’t as ‘blingy’ as the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, but it’s not as plain as the cockpit of an Audi A3 – it’s somewhere in between; refined and well designed.

At 4.3m end to end, the 1 Series is 16mm shorter that the A3 Sportback and 20mm narrower, at just over 1.7m across.


BMW I39/10

It's amazing to look at. I'm probably not the only person in the country, or the world, who doesn't think 'wow that's what cars of the future look like' when they see a BMW i3.

That's despite the fact the first-generation BMW i3 is now more than three years into its life, and the rest of the automotive world hasn't shifted quite as far as the i3 pushed things.

From the pillar-less body, carbon-fibre tub, fishbowl rear windows and rearward-opening back doors, this is still a design icon.

And the newly added i3s model has a bit more going on for it than the regular i3, with distinctive blackened wheelarches to help hide the wider tyres (now 20mm wider) on the 20-inch wheels. The entire i3 range finally has full LED headlights - so it should, as a tech-lead car (previously the LEDs were low-beam, and the high-beams were halogen).

If you think this i3 looks a little sleeker than the previous one, that's because there's also been a revamp to the bumpers and daytime running lights, plus you can get it in a range of new colours. And sure, the new rims mightn't have fatty tyres like you get on the back of an X5, but the rims fill the wheelarches nicely.

The i3s model has a black-top finish, and it looks the part -  as much as a semi-sporty electric hatchback can. Forget the sporty bit, though, and it still looks more high-tech than anything else on the market aside from maybe its (actually sporty) sibling, the i8.

The inside? Well, it's next-level amazing in terms of its design... but the space on offer could be better.

Practicality

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.


BMW I37/10

It isn't a family car, and nor should it be considered one. This is more likely to be a second, third or even fourth car - the one that is used to get around town rather than hit the open road for a long-distance trip.

As a car for couples, or an occasional family shopping cart, the i3 has some really positive attributes. And, undeniably, my favourite part of all is the cabin finish and design. It's like sitting in an expensive furniture shop.

It's all very European and chic, and it seems even fancier when you learn that the so-called 'Lodge' interior trim that is fitted as standard uses "natural leather tanned using an olive leaf extract" and that the cabin also has "wool-based textiles" and recycled plastic on the doors and dashboard.

Seriously, if this is where BMW design is heading, I'm all in.

The cabin also benefits from a new 10.25-inch media screen with the brand's latest multimedia system, 'iDrive6', which is a big improvement on the old system. It's easy to use, the screen is clear, and you can get Apple CarPlay - but, cheekily, BMW asks you to pay an optional fee for it. On the plus side, this version is wireless, so no messy cables - a bit like a furniture showroom, really, you never see any exposed wires there!

Storage is really well sorted as well, with a big cubby on the dashboard, a bunch of storage holds and cupholders between the front seats, and big door pockets as well. In the back there is a fold-down armrest with cupholders, and there are door pockets on the rear doors, too.

Let's talk about those doors - suicide, rear-hinged, whatever you want to call them: they're not conventional, and while they might seem fiddly (you have to open the front door to open the rear one, and that can be annoying) the space is surprising in there.

An adult of about my size (183cm tall) can easily climb in the back with less awkwardness than in say, a three-door hatchback. If you have younger kids, loading them in and out could be a bit more difficult than in a small conventional five-door hatch - but there are ISOFIX anchors and top-tether points for kids. Also, it's worth remembering this is a four-seater, not a five-seater.

Coming back to what I said earlier - this isn't the car you buy if you want to move a family and all their stuff. The boot is still quite small at 260 litres, meaning you might have to limit the luggage you take with you. But for a couple heading (not too far) away for a weekend, it could be perfectly suitable.

The interior has three different styles - or "Interior Worlds" - it can come in, too: 'Lodge' (the standard); 'Loft' (a greyer look, at no cost); and 'Suite', a more premium version with brown leather and oak trim ($2000).

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.


BMW I35/10

I don't envy BMW's product team when it comes to laying out the groundwork for the pricing and specs for its 'i' product range. Electric cars are expensive, but buyers are taking a risk... so finding the middle ground can be hard.

I mean, a city-sized, efficient hatchback is an easy thing to come by, and there are some seriously good-value offerings out there. Think the Kia Picanto, which you can get for less than $15,000.

And at the other end of the scale there's the i3s, about five times the price of the Picanto. The battery version (called 94Ah in BMW speak) is listed at $69,900 plus on-roads, while the version with a petrol engine (94Ah with Range Extender) is $75,900.

You can still get a regular version of the i3 if this sportier S model isn't for you – and it's $1200 cheaper in both guises. But if you're asking me, that $1200 is well worth spending to get the S model.

It's easy to justify that extra splurge because - there is no question about it - this is an expensive car. But it's a technological powerhouse, and that famed rondel has plenty of badge cred.

It isn't like the i3s is packed with equipment when you delve into the options list. Obviously Apple CarPlay at $623 is a bit rude, but other things like heated seats ($730) a sunroof ($2920) and tyre pressure monitoring ($370) are items that could arguably be fitted to a high-spec car.

The comfort package is something I think should really be included as standard - it bundles keyless access (unlocking for the doors), seat heating and a 12-speaker harman/kardon sound system. It costs $2000. It should be on the i3s, right?

Still, the standard kit list includes some good (but not ground-breaking) safety inclusions, a new 10.25-inch media screen with sat nav, a four-speaker stereo with DAB+ digital radio, auxiliary jack, USB and Bluetooth, plus BMW's 'ConnectedDrive' online services system, single-zone climate control, LED headlights, auto-dimming mirrors, and auto wipers and lights. All of that is identical to the regular i3.

The i3s - specifically - adds 20-inch light alloys (19s on the regular one), sports suspension (lowered by 10mm), a revised traction control system and a sportier exterior design with flared wheel arches to help tuck those wider wheels in.

As for colour choices, there are two no-cost options, 'Fluid Black' and 'Capparis White', and four metallic versions at a cost of $1090, 'Imperial Blue', 'Melbourne Red' and 'Protonic Blue' (all with 'Frozen Grey' highlights), and 'Mineral Grey' with 'BMW i Blue' highlights.

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.


BMW I37/10

The i3 and i3s 94Ah models are separated by way of different power outputs from their electric drivetrains.

The regular i3 has 125kW/250Nm available from its electric motor, while the i3s pushes that to 135kW/270Nm.

There's no engine in the regular model - but there is in the range-extender version: a two-cylinder (647cc) unit mounted mid-rear.

All i3 models are automatic - a single-speed transmission, so there are no steps or gears to worry about - and rear-wheel drive.

Fuel consumption

BMW 1 series8/10

BMW says its most efficient petrol engine in the 1 Series range is the three-cylinder in the 118i, which uses just 5.2L/100km after a combination of urban and open roads.

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.


BMW I39/10

Running costs could be very low in the BMW i3s, particularly if you have your own solar set-up. Even if you don't, the cost of recharging the battery (33kWh x $0.22c) is very cheap: $7.26 for 200km of driving. By my maths (with fuel being about $1.35/L) a petrol or diesel car would have to be getting 2.7L/100km to be close to that.

And to speak in geeky electro-talk for a second, the i3s's power consumption is rated at 14.3kWh per 100km.

Bit more geek-talk coming up: charging can be done by way of a Type 2 CCS plug. You can recharge using a regular powerpoint (single-phase, 7.4kW), a three-phase charger (which you can get as a wall-box from BMW, 11kW) or a 50kW fast charger (if you can find one).

BMW claims that you will see 'everyday range' of up to 200km for the regular i3 and i3s - not bad, but not Tesla-rivalling... but nor is it Tesla-priced.

The range-extender model has 330km of claimed range thanks to its nine-litre fuel tank and two-cylinder petrol engine. Claimed consumption for that drivetrain is 0.6L/100km for the i3 and 0.7L/100km for the i3s.

Driving

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.


BMW I38/10

Enjoyable. That's the word that sprung to my mind. Not sporty. Not crazy fast. Not unpleasant. It is really, really enjoyable.

We didn't spend time in the range-extender version - instead, our short drive was limited to the plain EV model.

Either way, though, you get that whooshy feeling of instant torque from a standstill because it's an electric car (the range extender model will just kick its two-cylinder engine into life to help charge the batteries up and keep you moving on electric power alone).

Apart from a slight whirring from the electric motor when you push the throttle, there's not a lot of noise to speak of - a bit of wind noise from the side mirrors (it was a gale-force windy day in Melbourne at the launch), and a little bit of tyre roar from those new shoes.

Speaking of the tyres, they're now 20mm wider to enhance the stability and handling of the i3. Not only does that add extra width to the car's footprint, the i3s has lowered sports suspension with new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.

The existing model looked like it was rolling on bicycle wheels, but the new rubber definitely has an impact on the levels of grip available and stability in corners. The previous version (and the regular regular i3 below this one) were/are fitted with slimmer tyres that can make it feel a little skittish at times, but these new broader contact patches help out a lot.

Being rear-wheel drive, and because it doesn't have gears to get in the way of driving like in a conventional car, the i3s is a pretty sporty experience. There's even a Sport mode to help justify some lead-footedness, which is pretty exciting if you like to drive... and I do.

You put your foot down, and it throws you back in your seat - not quite to the degree a Tesla does, but it's definitely rapid enough. BMW claims the i3s can now sprint to highway pace in just 6.9 seconds - which is four tenths faster than the regular i3.

And with its aggressive regenerative braking system you pull up pretty swiftly too. It can take some getting used to, because it slows you up faster than you might think.

Just like any sporty car, though, you can only have fun in it for so long before you start to think to yourself 'wow, I'd better go easy or I'll run out of juice'... it's just that in the case of the i3s, you run out quicker because its 'tank' isn't that big, and you're refill isn't as easy as heading to the servo and topping up in a matter of minutes.

Safety

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.


BMW I36/10

The BMW i3 was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2014 when it was tested. It remains a five-star car with this update.

The i3 includes six airbags (dual front, front side, curtain), an integrated roll-over sensor with a battery shut-off function, a reversing camera, parking sensors all around, forward collision warning and pedestrian detection, auto emergency braking (AEB), active cruise control, and lane-keeping assist.

The i3 base model gets semi-automated parking assist, but the i3s misses out on that. And, oddly, no i3 model comes with lane-keeping assist or lane departure warning, and nor can you have one with blind-spot monitoring or lane-keeping assist.

Ownership

BMW 1 series6/10

The 1 Series is covered by BMW’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is condition-based – the car will let you know when it needs a check-up.

BMW offers two service packages, which cover the car for five years/80,000km: the Basic is $1340 and the Plus costs $3550.


BMW I38/10

BMW uses a so-called 'condition based servicing' program, whereby the car alerts the driver as to when maintenance may be required. And with fewer moving parts than a conventional car, costs should theoretically be lower.

The car itself is covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, while the battery has a 'certificate' for eight years/100,000km.