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Used BMW 1 Series review: 2004-2012

2011 BMW 118d
EXPERT RATING
7

Even in its smallest model, the 1 Series, BMW has stuck to its guns in providing pure driving pleasure. Witness the use of rear-wheel drive to provide the sort of chassis balance that keen drivers just love.

The downside of RWD is that there isn’t a lot of room inside a BMW 1 Series because of the long engine bay needed to house straight-six engines, space for a driveshaft under the floor, and a differential under the back floor.  Having said that, the cabin has good legroom in the front seats, though some may find foot-width is restricted.

There's not a lot of passenger space in the back unless the front occupants are willing and able to give up a fair bit of their legroom. By the way, BMW does sell a front-wheel-drive car – it’s called the Mini. However, it’s not exactly spacious in the back seat either.

When launched in Australia in October 2004, BMW 1 Series came only as a five-door hatch. A smart two-door coupe and a pretty little soft-top convertible were added to the range in May 2008. BMW 1 Series’ styling in hatchback format gives it a tail end treatment that's almost wagon like. So while the boot is relatively shallow due to the aforementioned differential being under it, there reasonable overall volume.

Most of these small BMWs are powered by a four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine.

The coupe and convertible aren’t as useful in their luggage spaces as the five-door hatch, but that’s hardly unusual in the sporty market. As always, try for yourself to see how the brilliant baby Bimmer meets your individual needs in people / luggage carrying.

BMW 1 Series comes with a staggering choice of powerplants. In petrol format, these range from 1.6-litre and four cylinders all the way to 3.0 litres with six cylinders. Some of the sixes have twin turbochargers, others don’t have a blower at all. The twin-turbo engine is a superb unit and takes the 300 horsepower, 224 kilowatt BMW 135i to close to the famed BMW M3 in its performance.

The 1 Series M Coupe, with even more power from its twin-turbo six than the standard turbo-petrol models, provides excellent performance and many are saying it could have been called the M1 to join the M3 and M5 in the high-performance lineup. However, the M1 tag was used on a BMW supercar model in the late 1970s and the company chose not to use it for the new hot coupe.

Most of these small BMWs are powered by a four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine. Even the so-called 118i has a 2.0-litre capacity, though others actually do displace 2.0 litres. To further add to the confusion, the 125i engine actually has a displacement of 3.0 litres (it's the six-cylinder unit without turbochargers).

Transmission choices are generally six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

An impressive 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine became part of the lineup, in BMW 120d format, from May 2006. The grunt of the modern BMW diesels is great, but they miss out on the virtually instantaneous throttle response provided by non-turbo powerplants so many drivers aren’t keen on them.

Improbably as it would have seemed a decade back, the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is even used in BMW 1 Series coupes and convertibles. It is tuned for greater power, so has the title of 123d, rather than 120d. Transmission choices are generally six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. Some of the smaller-engined, lower cost models were sold with a five-speed manual in their early days.

BMW manual gearboxes are a joy to use, with slick changes through the well-chosen ratios. This is another benefit of the use or rear-wheel drive as the gearbox is close to the lever, not way out near one of the front wheels as in a front-drive car. Unless you do a lot of hard commuting we suggest the pleasure of the manual should be yours.

BMW is long established in Australia and there are dealers in all metropolitan areas, as well as in major country centres. However, if you do travel into semi-remote areas you may have trouble finding either a dealer or a mechanic experienced on the marque.

Ideally a BMW should be serviced and repaired by an authorised dealer as these are complex cars with a lot of electronic components. The car can be connected to a computer to assist in fault diagnosis. There are some mechanics with formal BMW training and who now operate as independent specialists. They generally have a high reputation.

A 1 Series with a written service record stretching back to day one will generally fetch a higher price on the used market. Smart buyers of second-hand models will keep up this record ad infinitum. Insurance charges are high for a small car – but not too bad when you consider the complexity and quality of the BMW's body and the fact that you're buying an image machine, not simply a car.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Check the back seat and boot trim in case some large items (such as people!) have been squeezed into a space that wasn’t adequate for them. Many 1 Series live in suburban areas so could have had the odd bump or scratch. Look for signs of crash repairs such as mismatched paint, paint overspray and ripples in the panels.

A magnet will tell you if the material under the repaired area is metal – or plastic filler that has been inserted to try and fool the innocent. Engine repairs can be expensive so make sure they start within moments of turning the key. Preferably arrange to do this with the engine stone cold after an overnight stop.

During your test drive feel for any hesitation under acceleration and look for oily smoke from the exhaust when the engine is worked hard. Make sure manual gearchanges are quiet and ultra-smooth. Fast changes from third to second gears are usually the first to show problems.

CAR BUYING TIP

Cars designed to be driven hard and fast seldom are. Don’t we live in a strange world? So if you do come across one that’s been driven the way its makers intended it may be best to look elsewhere.

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
2012 $7,800 $42,350
2011 $6,900 $39,380
2010 $6,900 $29,700
2009 $6,500 $25,190
2008 $5,200 $22,660
2007 $4,600 $12,870
2006 $3,700 $11,550
2005 $3,500 $11,110
2004 $4,100 $6,930

View all BMW 1 Series pricing and specifications

Pricing guides

$8,495
Based on 4 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$7,999
Highest Price
$9,880

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
120i 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $4,100 – 6,600 2004 BMW 1 Series 2004 120i Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.