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BMW 1 Series 2015 review

Malcolm Flynn road tests and reviews the updated second-generation F20 BMW 1 Series 118i, 120i, 125i, M135i hatch, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.

Describing a BMW 1 Series as good-looking would rank about the same as ‘honest politician’ in terms of rarely-spoken phrases, but the refreshed second-generation model is set to change this.

Unlike the polarising designs of the first two iterations, the cheapest model to wear the propeller badge has been nipped and tucked front and rear to give it the visual appeal it’s always deserved.

The model lineup has also been shuffled, with mechanical tweaks and value improved across the board.

The uniquely rear-drive hatch has also been treated to a fresh focus on the performance models at the top of the range, with the intention of leveraging its dynamic advantage against the front-drive competition.

There’s a good chance the next 1 Series will follow the 2 Series Active Tourer,  X1 SUV and most of the rest of the automotive world in adopting a front-drive layout, so this could be the last rear-drive hatch we ever see.


The improved looks are headlined by more angular headlights to replace the previous sad-looking units, larger kidney grilles and horizontal tail lights that now extend into the hatch. 

New front and rear bumpers also score the more angular look of BMW’s more recent designs, and new wheels feature on all variants aside from the top M135i. 

This could be the last rear-drive hatch we ever see.

Local BMW fans will also appreciate that the designer behind the facelifted F20 1 Series is Sydney-born Calvin Luk, who forged a career with the brand after meeting the right people at the Sydney Motor Show in the 1990s.

The fact that the 1 Series packages a differential and driveshaft under the rear still makes for less rear seat and boot space than either of its Mercedes A-Class or Audi A3 key rivals, but there’s enough room for average height adults and the 360-litre boot expands to 1200 litres with the rear seat folded. There’s no spare wheel though, in favour of a puncture repair kit.


The previous 1’s entry price of $36,900 is unchanged, but the entry model now wears a 118i badge (instead of 116i), the next in-line is called 120i, while the faster 125i and M135i continue from before. The 118d remains the only diesel model, and will join the range from July.  

Related: Full 2015 BMW 1 Series pricing and specifications here.

All models come with boosted levels of standard kit, and even the base 118i now comes with satnav with live traffic updates, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors. Only the top 125i and M135i add front parking sensors.

It’s these performance models that gain the most extra appeal with the update, with the 125i now coming with the M Sport trim package as standard, along with the bigger blue-calipered brakes from the M135i. 

The 125i’s extra kit has only added $900 to its price, and BMW boasts its $48,900 sticker is a value rival for high-spec versions of the Golf GTI, and its 6.2s 0-100km/h claim trumps the GTI Performance by 0.2s. 

The 4.9s 0-100km/h M135i performance flagship has actually scored a price cut of $2030, and rounds off the range at $62,900.

BMW Australia product and marketing boss Shawn Ticehurst confirms that this attention to the upper models is aimed at shifting buyer preference from the previous 118i, aiming for the facelifted 125i to make up 30 percent of sales, and the 125i and M135i responsible for up to 50 percent of 1 Series sales.

Engines / Transmissions

The mid-cycle update has also brought minor power upgrades and slight fuel consumption improvements for most models, with the engine and transmission lineup otherwise unchanged. 

For now, the 2015 118i features the same 100kW/220Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine as the previous 116i. Combined fuel figures also match the outgoing 116i at 5.6L/100km. The four-cylinder 118i will be short lived however, as the entry model will adopt a version of the 2 Series Active Tourer's 1.5-litre three cylinder engine in the fourth quarter of the year.

The efficiency-leading 118d turbodiesel receives an extra 5kW to now total 110kW/320Nm, but the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine also manages to drop 0.4L/100km from its fuel figure to 4.5L/100km combined.

The 120i has a 130kW/250Nm version of the 1.6-litre petrol turbo, which is 5kW stronger than the previous 118i, and a 5.6L/100km combined fuel figure is 0.2L/100km better.

The 125i’s 160kW/310Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine is unchanged, and returns the same 6.3L/100km combined.

The six-cylinder M135i now matches the two-door M235i’s outputs, with an extra 5kW from its 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine to now total 240kW/450Nm. Its 7.5L/100km combined figure is unchanged.

All variants continue to use the clever eight-speed ZF torque converter automatic as standard, and the manual die-hards among us will appreciate that a six-speed manual is still a no-cost option across the board. 


Even in base 118i guise, the 1 Series remains true to BMW’s dynamic ethos. Taught suspension, 50/50 weight distribution and nice steering combine with its compact dimensions to create a chuckable little chassis that rewards keen drivers.  

The skinny 16-inch standard tyres on the 118i makes it quite playful at the limit, despite sending just 100kW through the rear wheels. 

The 30kW-stronger 120i is just as fun with its wider tyres, and its 7.2s 0-100km/h claim would have been considered hot hatch-class not that long ago.

Rear wheel drive? There’s nothing like it.

The 160kW 125i shifts the excitement factor up another couple of notches, with its M Sport suspension and lower profile 18-inch tyres combining to deliver a sharper drive that’s still comfortable enough to live with. 

The 125i’s more aggressive M Sport exterior package also brings an exotic-feeling cloth and Alcantara-trimmed interior to create a very appealing overall package. 

However, the top cocky of the 1 Series lineup is still the M135i. With an extra two cylinders and 80kW over the 125i, it offers performance that would have passed for a full-house M model a generation ago. 

We drove the M135i around a very wet Lakeside Raceway, and sending 450Nm of torque from just 1300rpm through the rear tyres in such conditions is a sure-fire recipe for white knuckles. 

Set to M dynamic mode with the auto flicked across to Sport, the steering, throttle, shift points and suspension are sharpened even further, but the real party trick is what happens to the traction aids.

The stability control is slackened and the traction control deactivated, so you can induce wheelspin, but the wound-back stability control will still catch you if the tail wanders too far off line.

No it’s not as fun as a full-on powerslide, but it loosens the leash enough to give anyone a thrill but still ensures they drive home in one piece. Rear wheel drive? There’s nothing like it.


The previous 116i carried a five star rating from Euro NCAP and ANCAP, and the facelifted models continue with the same dual front, side and full-length curtain airbags as standard.  

The 120i, 125i and M135i add collision alert, lane departure warning and light city braking systems as standard, but AEB isn’t even an option. 


The new 1 Series hatch is the most appealing yet. It’s not drastically different under the skin, but the styling changes and added value make it well worth a look. 

The faster models are a great alternative to many proper sports cars, but the cheapest BMW comes with back doors and a decent boot to make it much easier to live with.

If it’s the last rear-wheel drive hatch we ever see, it’s sure going out on a high note.

Pricing guides

Based on 46 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
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Range and Specs

116i 1.6L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $15,500 – 21,890 2015 BMW 1 Series 2015 116i Pricing and Specs
116i Urban 1.6L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $14,800 – 20,900 2015 BMW 1 Series 2015 116i Urban Pricing and Specs
118d 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $18,800 – 26,180 2015 BMW 1 Series 2015 118d Pricing and Specs
123d High Line 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $36,000 – 46,530 2015 BMW 1 Series 2015 123d High Line Pricing and Specs
Malcolm Flynn
CarsGuide Editor


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