Hankering for a BMW with a moderate mileage threshold but only have a four-figure budget? It’s got to be a 1-series hatchback or an E90 3-series saloon. The pull of the badge transcends those segments, so buyers considering one will likely contemplate the other. The 3-series is easily the bigger seller, but within these constraints it’s the 1-series that offers more choice and practicality.
Under £10k is the 1-series’ hot spot for those very reasons. “It’s a very fast-moving market; we can’t get our hands on enough 2004-2009 examples,” says Brett Garratt of Stephen James BMW in Blackheath, London. “All specifications sell well, and options aren’t as important in this class.”
Automatics are in short supply too, he says, keeping their prices unusually strong for a hatchback.
Available only in five-door (E87), five-seat form until 2007, trim choices were base level, ES, SE, Sport and M Sport. At least ES was required to score alloys as standard, SE for climate control and front foglights, Sport for colour-coded exterior finishes, sports seats and lower, stiffer suspension, and M Sport for rowdier exterior styling. Only SE and M Sport models guaranteed rear parking sensors, central front armrest, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and multi-function steering wheel.
Leaving the hot 123d and 130i aside for another day, all engines were 1995cc, apart from early 116i models, which offered 1596cc (2004-2007) and then 1599cc (2007-2009). At launch, power outputs were 114bhp for the 116i, 127bhp for the 118i and 147bhp for the 120i normally aspirated petrol engines, while turbodiesels were 120bhp for the 118d and 160bhp for the 120d. Early 116i and 118i models were available with a five-speed manual gearbox, but other manuals and the Steptronic automatic had six forward ratios.
The 2007 facelift brought minor tweaks and additional media options, but the main improvements were mechanical. Engine evolutions (including second-generation common-rail diesel tech) increased power, while electric power steering, regenerative brakes, stop-start and an on-demand air-con compressor greatly improved economy.
The three-door (E81) used frameless windows to imply added sportiness and offered the no-cost option of four seats with a central storage bin to reduce the claustrophobia for rear-seat passengers.
The array of engine variants is bewildering, but choose a manual and you can expect the following 0-60mph brackets: 7.3 to 8.4sec for 120s, 8.4 to 9.7sec for 118s and 9.8 to 10.9sec for 116s. Diesel choices easily outgun their petrol counterparts for torque, and therefore in-gear pace.
The late-coming, manual-only 116d of 2009 claims official returns of 64mpg and averaged 47.8mpg in our hands, but the facelifted manual 118d matches it for road tax liability, claims 62mpg and gives a chunky 221lb ft of torque, making it the stand-out all-rounder.
Adil Loudiyi of independent specialist A1BN in Stevenage says petrols are the more reliable choice, though. Of the diesels, he reckons the facelifted car’s N47 engine is more problematic than the M47 that came before. Cash-sapping faults are unlikely to arise below 70,000 miles, however. Most early diesels also lacked a DPF (the absence of which is confirmed by a downward-pointing exhaust pipe), circumventing any filter congestion worries for urban users.
If BMW’s ‘Service Inclusive’ plan has been purchased previously, it is transferable to subsequent owners and covers routine maintenance up to five years/60,000 miles, adding extras such as pads, discs and wiper blades with the extended ‘Plus’ package.
What to look out for:
Noises from the rear of 118ds built up to 2006 usually mean rear differential problems. Refurbished parts are best avoided, but new ones are scarce and cost around £1,500 fitted.
Hissing and rattling from the engine bay of facelifted diesels could mean the timing chain is soon to expire. Replacement costs around £1,700 but avoids a ruinous engine rebuild.
In diesels, blue exhaust smoke could mean an expensive turbo expiry or an oil separator breather valve failure that costs around £120 to fix. Unchecked, both could ruin the cat in time.
Sluggishness could point to a failed air mass sensor (approximately £350, fitted) in diesel-engined models. In petrols, a tired fuel pump could be to blame, most noticeable under load. Petrol injector failure isn’t catastrophic.
A slipping or juddering clutch in diesel models should be changed urgently, before a new dual-mass flywheel is also required, swelling the total bill to just over a grand.
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