For: Excellent diesels, range-wide fuel economy, involving handling, impressive 3dr
Against: Prices are high, cramped interior, taut suspension hurts ride quality
BMW’s EfficientDynamics has been applied to the 1-Series range; this brings more performance for less emissions thanks to regenerative braking, electric power steering and an automatic start-stop function. The technology is imperceptible and unobtrusive – and that new steering set-up means the 2007 1-Series is now much easier to steer at low speeds. It’s still a crisp, alert machine in daily driving, though (and still the only rear-wheel-drive car in its class). The brakes are strong, gearchange slick and the steering is also fast and accurate. However, although refinement and engine insulation are both good, the ride remains poor, even on motorways. It’s better news in the engine department; BMW’s latest 2.0-litre diesel, which appears in 118d and 120d guise, is smooth and well mannered. It picks up well around town and, despite astonishingly long gearing, proves remarkably flexible. It’s quick against the clock, too. That’s not to say 118i and 120i petrol versions will leave you short-changed, though. They were also new for 2007 and combine ultra-smooth running with surprising economy. The 130i remains fun. Indeed, the only 1-Series to avoid is the 116i entry-level version. This misses out on the EfficientDynamics technology and is a real disappointment in action.
BMW added a three-door version to the 1-Series line-up in 2007; question is, why wasn’t it available from the start? In hindsight it appears an odd decision, since the hatchback’s unique rear-wheel-drive layout ensured practicality was a weak point. So the more sporting three-door, aimed at those who don’t need so much boot space or rear legroom, should be the better model. Is it more attractive? The coupe-style frameless doors are a nice touch, but it doesn’t look particularly dynamic. It shares minor revisions with the five-door; enlarged kidney grille, reprofiled front spoiler, new light clusters and rear bumper – though these are difficult to spot. BMW simplified the 1-Series model line-up with the 2007 facelift, so now buyers can choose from standard, ES, SE or M Sport variants. ES, with air con and alloys, offers the best all-round value. However, even this version is undercut by the 1-Series’ arch-rival, Audi’s A3. The Volvo C30 and Mercedes C-Class Sports Coupe also provide keen competition.
Interior space is modest. Those travelling in the back are barely able to move their knees or feet, while the boot is supermini-sized. However, you can now specify two individual sculpted seats as a no-cost option, in place of the conventional bench. The newer three-door also offers a couple of benefits up front. The longer doors improve over-the-shoulder visibility and make the cabin feel less claustrophobic. The driving position is excellent, while the small-diameter, thick-rimmed steering wheel adds sportiness to an already dynamic interior. The materials, while improved, still can’t match an Audi A3 for tactility, but it’s logical and robust. If you avoid base models, it’s reasonably well kitted-out too, though you do pay a premium for this. And do note, range-topping M Sport versions have lowered, firmed-up suspension, which makes a taut ride even harder. 1-Series drivers will save a huge amount in company car tax, however. Particularly with diesel models; the 118d has CO2 emissions of just 123g/km, making it cleaner than many city cars. In our hands, we achieved 48.5mpg, which is exceptional for a car with this much performance and driver involvement. Retained values aren’t bad (the five-door performs slightly better) and, for only £190, you can maintain a 1-Series for five years or 60,000 miles – put simply, an industry-leading deal.