BMW 1 Series 116d SE

August 2012

picture of car from the front

Less radical looks but still a distinctive sight on the road


Overall Rating 7Overall rating

Value for money Rating 8Value for money

Space and Practicality Rating 9Costs

Space and Practicality Rating 7Space and practicality

Controls and display Rating 8Controls and display

Comfort Rating 7Comfort

Security Rating 7Car security

Safety Rating 8Car safety


  • Mature evolution of once radical styling
  • Diesel more enjoyable than base petrol performance
  • Rear occupant space now better
  • Economy and emissions performance continues to impress


  • Rear view could be better
  • Large wheels and sports suspension can harm ride in town
  • Still not the quietest car from the outside
  • Exterior design will still split opinion

This second generation 1 Series continues one trend of its predecessor - its looks continue to divide opinion. That said, with the rest of BMW's line-up adopting a similar design policy, the 1 Series is no longer the odd car out. It's also matured under the skin, with improved engines and trademark Efficient Dynamics package promising increased fuel savings and there's a wealth of new technology to keep you entertained and safe when on the move.

This second generation 1 Series has grown slightly over its predecessor but BMW's use of lightweight construction materials has ensured that it's lost, not gained, weight. This helps to further the car's eco-themed cause, as does its enhanced range of petrol and diesel engines.

Recently BMW has become as well known for its frugal and clean engines as its performance angle. For business drivers the ability to spend less on fuel and road tax without compromising refinement and performance has earned BMW a newfound level of acclaim and respect. This 1 Series is a good example of the German maker's achievements.

Boasting low a CO2 fuel consumption performance, the 116d in particular is an impressive all-rounder: quick enough in the real world yet exceptionally frugal when it counts. Appealing to tax-conscious business driver and cash-strapped private motorists alike, it's possible to drive a premium car without feeling the pinch

The car's slight increase in size solves one of the age old 1 Series issues - a lack of space. This time around the car is more accommodating, and there's now a genuine prospect of rear seat occupants feeling comfortable on longer journeys. Boot space is also reasonable, although it's good to see that the car still boasts a relatively compact footprint - it's important that it remains city friendly for the many urban motorists the previous model was popular with.

Our verdict on the BMW 1 Series 116d SE

As second generations go this 1 Series is something of a slow burner; looks-wise it's certainly different but its character has shifted slightly. Now more mature, this is reflected in the way it drives and the added refinement might have keen drivers initially puzzled. Push on, though, and the car remains a willing performer. It's also become an impressive eco champion, boasting excellent economy and emissions figures.

Costs rating 9

Once you've specced up your 1 Series to your taste it's going to cost you a few pounds more than the car's list price. That said, it's a popular car so future resale values should be strong so long as you choose the right colour scheme and options. The choice of low consumption and CO2 engines should ease fuel and tax bills - especially the acclaimed diesel units, while the option of an inclusive pay-up-front servicing plan is another welcome money saving attraction that's hard to ignore.

Space and practicality
Space and Practicality Rating 7

Although not a big car, there's still ample space to accommodate a few adults and their associated clobber. Rear headroom is better than it looks from the outside, too. Boot space is good and cabin oddment storage options are generous.

picture of car from the rear

Rear three-quarter view is familiar 1 Series

Controls and display
Controls and Display Rating 8

Boasting a similar layout to the latest 3 Series, the car's various controls and displays should look familiar to BMW fans. Collectively they also work well, with the column stalks and minor switches are where you'd expect to find them. The pedals and manual gear change are both smooth and lightweight in a good way, while minor controls are placed logically close to the driver's reach and the main display screen is clear, bright and easy to ride when on the move.

Comfort Rating 7

The cars slight increase in size means that there's more room inside. It makes sharing the cabin with three other adults more enjoyable, while road and wind noise is pleasingly low at all speeds thanks to good insulation although BMW's diesels are more vocal than some others and this is most obvious at idle and when driving with the windows down. Supportive, if a little firm, the front seats help keep you in place when cornering.

Car security
Security Rating 7

The 1 Series gets a standard anti-theft package. Naturally it has remote central locking, and the stop/start button still requires the key to be present in the slot. There's ample covered storage inside and items in the boot will be out of sight.

Car safety
Safety Rating 8

As with the rest of BMW's line-up, the 1 Series boasts a good selection of kit, with airbags, traction and stability controls plus anti-lock brakes are all present. Run flat tyres have improved greatly in recent years, and those on the 1 Series offer a good level of protection plus low levels of noise when on the move.

Driver appeal
Driver Appeal Rating 8

There's been a subtle shift in the car's driving dynamics over the original 1 Series. With a greater emphasis on economy driving, you've got to proactively select a sportier driving mode to get the most out of the car. In its default eco mode the 1 Series is easy to drive and encourages you to use a light throttle when possible, while ride comfort is okay in Sport trim but noticeably more compliant in SE. Diesel power proves to be more rewarding and performance is noticeably more spirited, yet the fuel economy gains remain.

picture of car interior

Interior is comfortable, user-friendly and well built

Family car appeal
Family Appeal Rating 6

With its more accommodating cabin the 1 Series is now a better option than before. It's probably best suited to a small but growing family, that way when you outgrow it BMW would like you to move up to an X1 or 3 Series. Boot space is adequate but not outstanding for swallowing large items although the folding rear seats should help, and the cabin won't appreciate the presence of sticky fingers or muddy shoes.

First car appeal
First car Rating 6

Price aside, if chosen with a low power engine there's no reason why a 1 Series couldn't be considered. It would be an inexpensive choice to run day-to-day - especially in diesel trim, which could mean a lower than average fuel and road tax bill for a novice driver.

Quality and image
Quality and Image Rating 7

Build quality is up to BMW's usual high standards, although there's still a lot of black plastic in the cabin. Brand-wise it's hard to fault BMW and its small car plan. This 1 Series shares much with the latest 3 Series, which is a good association to have. Brand loyalists seeking an engaging car to drive will always be attracted to the 1 Series' rear-wheel drive layout, too.

Accessibility Rating

In five-door trim the 1 Series offers a sensible compromise regarding access. If it were three-door only, the two big doors can often create problems in tight car parks and when accessing a child seat in the rear. There are no such issues with the five-door, and access to the boot via the rear hatch is also straightforward.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

The 1 Series comes with a good quality, easy to operate audio unit as standard and is connected to a good-size display screen. Upgrades include a fully-featured navigation system and audio enhancements. Audio performance is good and the Bluetooth phone feature is easy to control. BMW's i-Drive system remains and, thankfully, is now easier to use.

picture of car in detail

On the move the 1 Series is a stylish machine

Colours and trim

The 1 Series looks at its best in the darker, more refined colours and BMW has made plenty of those available in its palette - bright shades tend to emphasize its radical looks and might not be a good thing for some buyers. Interior ambience is equal to that of a 3 Series, as it shares a lot of the cabin materials and switchgear.


When fitted, parking sensors, help to counter the car's modest rear view through its small rear screen. Variable assist steering provides more help when you need it - great for parking - and less when you don't - faster roads and motorways. The rear wheel drive layout gives the 1-Series a tight turning circle.

Spare wheel

Fitted with run-flat tyres as standard.


Range information

Petrol engine options - 116i (136bhp); 118i (170bhp); 125i (218bhp). Diesel engine options -116d (116bhp); 118d (143bhp); 120d (184bhp); 125d (218bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual gearbox, eight-speed automatic transmission with semi-automatic mode on selected models. Trim levels: ES, SE, Sport, M Sport, Urban.


Alternative cars

Audi A3 Latest car is a welcome improvement

Volkswagen Golf Mainstream choice boasts plenty of class and quality

Volvo C30 Three-door only and a little quirky in execution

Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe Streamlined C-Class is three-door only but comes close to the BMW for driving thrills

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August 2012