IN A NUTSHELL: The feature-packed entry-level 118i appeals with a strong efficient engine, while the hot hatch M135i might find a tougher fight against established rivals. Both ride on the firm side and adaptive damper choice is restricted.

What is the 2020 BMW 1 Series?

This is BMW’s small hatch that competes neck and neck with German foe such as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3. However, it wasn’t always like that, when for a couple of generations, it was tailored to enthusiasts, touting rear-wheel drive and the best models tucking a thumping straight-six engine under the nose.

And now, this all-new third-generation car goes totally mainstream. It’s based on Mini’s UKL2 platform which makes it front-wheel driven and requires a transverse three or four-cylinder engine upfront. And the old manual stick shift is gone (the one you could mate up against even the mightiest M140i), in favour of a seven and eight-speed auto for the three and four-pot motors.

Those models are the 118i and M135i, the latter adopting all-wheel drive to harness its 225kW and 450Nm outputs best. And not only does the new platform bring front and all-wheel drive for the first time, there’s now more space and better packaging.

What does the BMW 1 Series cost and what do you get?

The 118i is priced from $42,990 plus on-road costs and is well equipped. Standard is a head up display on the windscreen, cloth ‘Sensatech’ trim, Anthracite headliner, wireless phone charging, twin 10.25-inch screens, Apple CarPlay (now free with no subscription required), reversing camera with parking sensors, ambient lighting, six-speaker sound system, M Sport steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning with keeping assist, lane change warning, parking assist, and rear cross-traffic alert with rear collision prevention.

BMW 1 Series
2020 BMW 118i

Stump up $63,990 for the M135ixDrive and you get a premium hot hatch with 19-inch alloy wheels, M Sport brakes, M Sport-tuned steering, M Sport spoiler and bodykit, matt silver ascents and grille, M Sport seats with leather trim and electric adjustment, harman/kardon 16-speaker sound system and adaptive headlights.

BMW M135i xDrive front
2020 BMW M135i xDrive

Despite the BMW M135i xDrive’s sporty advantage over the 118i both ride on 10mm lower M Sport suspension, with adaptive dampers only a cost-option on the M135i with 18-inch alloys. We’re told by BMW Australia that using adaptive dampers with the larger 19-inch alloys could void warranty.

What’s the BMW 1 Series interior like?

Even the entry-level 118i looks very smart inside and the dash is visually arresting. The twin screen setup – two 10.25-inch displays – puts the infotainment system in the centre of the dash and a driver’s display in the instrument cowl. It’s nicely integrated into the dash and not plonked on like a big tablet.

2020 BMW 118i interior

Then there are the seats, which in the base model, despite the fabric trim sounding dull, present well and are comfortable. The M135i items are naturally sportier and can be customised in a variety of bright or monotone shades.

Crucial controls like climate are within easy reach and simple to use, all while looking sharp despite what is a reasonably basic integration. So its form and function inside the 1 Series, something not so common in today’s cars.

How much space is there in the BMW 1 Series?

Well, it’s larger than before. That’s despite the new 1 Series being 5mm shorter overall. It is however 34mm wider, and crucially for rear-seat passengers there’s 33mm extra legroom. That seems about right from our time sitting in the back; it is ‘comfortable enough’ back there for a couple adults.

2020 BMW 118i front seat

And the boot grows 20-litres to 380L large, which is a useable, practical size for getaways and carting some sports gear.

2020 BMW 118i rear seat

We also like the storage options in the cabin: big door pockets, a nice console bin and a useful cradle built around the wireless phone charging pad, so it doesn’t fly off when you do.

What’s the BMW 1 Series infotainment like?

The infotainment system in the BMW 1 Series is great, and it really needs to be to keep up with what are some of the best infotainment systems coming from close rivals.

2020 BMW 118i apple carplay

What we like is the wireless Apple CarPlay, now free without subscription service, though there’s no Android Auto. We’re told that it’s coming. The screen is also large, crisp, and has great-looking graphics. And iDrive, the standard BMW software system, is very good if you don’t want to use CarPlay.

2020 BMW 118i phone charger

But you’ll need to keep in mind that the USB charging ports (four of them, two front, two rear), are USB-C and not USB-A type ports, so most old cables won’t work. You’ll need either new cables or a converter.

What are the BMW 1 Series engines like?

The BMW 118i gets a 1.5-litre petrol turbo three-cylinder motor producing 103kW and 220Nm via a seven-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels. It’s a syrupy smooth three-pot and great match to the city-bound hatch. The soundtrack is thrummy, as you’d expect of an odd-pot mill, and power comes on quickly off the line. The seven-speed is good on the upshift too but can be a little lazy off the mark out of sport mode and the stop-start will catch you out at the lights. And with some pace, the little motor runs out of punch to execute fast overtakes.

2020 BMW 118i engine

And so for enthusiasts, the BMW M135i’s four-cylinder turbo petrol engine enters the fray. It produces a much meatier 225kW and 450Nm through an eight-speed torque-converter automatic. No manual here, just steering-wheel mounted paddles.

We’ll move quickly through comparison to the old 135i/140i six-cylinder because it should be obvious – the four-cylinder is no match to the visceral reward of that setup. However, it’s a fine match to rivals, especially considering the new 135i’s competitive pricing point.

Acceleration off the mark is rapid and the needle on the speedo flings past 100km/h in 4.8 seconds. Grip is never an issue with the all-wheel drive and the traditional auto fires quickly through the cogs. Noise from the exhaust is beefy, with some rorty pops when you want them and that’s exacerbated in sport mode.

As a contemporary premium hot hatch it fits in nicely with the crowd, which is a shame in some regard.

BMW 1 Series fuel economy

The 118i claims a combined fuel consumption rating of 5.9L/100km.

The M135i xDrive claims a combined fuel consumption rating of 7.5L/100km.

What’s the BMW 1 Series like to drive?

The carry-over from the old 1 Series and a common theme in most Bimmers is that of a good driving position. You really don’t have to play around much with the seat adjustment as everything falls nicely to hand. Vision is also pretty wide and clear out the front, and the steering wheel has a good hold in the hands.

Despite being front-wheel drive or front-wheel biased as is the case with the M135i xDrive (though it can split torque 50:50, briefly), the new 1 Series rarely feels heavy on the nose and doesn’t plough into corners as you dial up acceleration. The xDrive’s added grip is a boon here and it’ll scoot rather quickly out of a bend with confidence.

2020 BMW 118i driving

What would be interesting and something which was not available to us are the cost-option adaptive dampers for the M135i. On the 19-inch alloys, and even the 118i on its smaller 18-inch alloys, the passively sprung front and rear multilink suspension is firm. Both have 10mm lower M Sport suspension, so that likely doesn’t help. But the adaptive dampers might go some way to cushion those harsh edges on rotten tarmac. But they can only be optioned with smaller 18-inch wheels (ond only available on M135i), so if you want ‘the look’, you’re out of luck. We’d personally opt for the lightweight black 18-inch wheels with adaptive dampers, which would likely provide the best performance for keen drivers.

But otherwise, things are good for both models. The steering isn’t corrupted by the wheels upfront supplying the power and turn in is responsive and accurate. Brakes on the M135i are a step up and feel noticeable sharper when needing to wipe speed off quickly.

How safe is the BMW 1 Series?

The BMW 1 Series scored a full five-star ANCAP rating.

Standard active safety systems include autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning with keeping assist, lane change warning, parking assist, and rear cross-traffic alert with rear collision prevention.

What are the BMW 1 Series alternatives?

We welcome BMW down to reality here as it loses the old, fun RWD edge when cross-shopping hot hatches. Apparently almost 30 per cent of previous buyers bought the M140i – the RWD six-cylinder turbo – so it will be interesting to see if the new M135i xDrive can retain that sort of sales split. Our thinking is buyers will now consider more deeply the also-AWD Mercedes-AMG A35, Volkswagen Golf R, Audi S3 and even the Mini Cooper JCW that shares the same underpinnings.

2020 BMW 118i front parked

Things should be easier for the BMW 118i, it’s three-pot a lovely choice and priced competitively considering its features against the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

2020 BMW 1 Series Pricing And Specifications

Price From $42,990 (118i) and $63,990 (M135i) plus ORCs Warranty 3 years/unlimited km Engine 1.5L petrol turbo 3cyl, 2.0L petrol turbo 4cyl Power 103kW, 225kW Torque 220Nm, 450Nm Transmission seven-speed DCT auto, eight-speed torque converter auto Drive front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive Body 4630mm (l); 1886mm (w); 1458mm (h) Kerb weight 1360kg Seats 5 Thirst 3.5-6.5L/100km Fuel tank 50-litres Spare Space saver

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Alex Rae

Alex Rae brings almost two decades’ experience, previously working at publications including Wheels, WhichCar, Drive/Fairfax,, AMC, Just Cars, and more.

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