Tweaked engine a welcome benefit. Three-door One as good to drive as the five-door.

What is it?

It’s a 1-series with three doors and, at the same time as it’s introduced to the UK (May 2007), a range of improvements will also be made to the five-door 1-series. So it’s a mid-life facelift, really.

What’s it like?

We’ve always appreciated the 1-series for the way it drives, if not its lack of roominess. So at a stroke, having only three doors seems to enhance and amplify the dynamic appeal of the 1-series, suggesting that driving, not practicality, is the high point on the agenda. Which, granted, is a slightly superficial way of looking at it, but it works for us.

Underneath though, the 1-series three-door is the same as the five-door. The facelift includes new headlight surrounds and a more pronounced spoiler, but when I tell you that BMW says ‘certainly not least’ of the changes are different-shaped front foglights, you’ll get an idea of how minor the exterior alterations are. There are new materials in the (still undersized) interior, too.

Mechanically this is a traditional BMW-type upgrade – improve a hundred things by one per cent, rather than one thing by 100 per cent. The biggest change is the adoption of latest-generation direct injection for the petrol engines – it makes a heck of a difference to economy and power.

Take the 2.0-litre petrol, which is the only new 1-series we’ve tried to date (late Feb ’07). It develops 20bhp more than before (now 168bhp) and 7lb.ft extra (155lb ft). So it’s nearly a full second quicker to 62mph from rest (now 7.7sec). No slouch, but the 120i has little chance of keeping up with more powerful hot hatchbacks at the same price.

It’s still enjoyable to drive though. Less agile than the best hot hatchbacks, but there’s a reassuring stability and balance to the way a 1-series goes down the road. Its ride, on the averagely-surfaced roads we’ve driven, is pretty reasonable (bigger-wheeled models are typically a 1-series’ undoing), body movements are ably controlled and its steering is accurate and responsive.

Economy is also improved. As well as the new injection system, four-pot 1-series get brake energy regeneration to charge the battery (the alternator doesn’t charge full-time), and a Stop/Start system in traffic. It isn’t an option - if you buy a facelifted 120i, you get the Stop/Start function. And it works. Combined fuel economy has risen from 37.7mpg (with 181g/km of CO2 emissions) to 44.1mpg (and just 152g/km). Which is pretty impressive.

And it wouldn’t be a BMW facelift without a further tweak to the (compulsorily-prefixed with ‘controversial’) iDrive system. The latest iteration is still controlled by one big dial, but now comes with eight programmable dashboard buttons, which can perform whatever iDrive function you set them to: maybe set the navigation system to ‘home’, turn on/off traffic news, or be used as radio presets. Just like, er, most other cars. A few more one-percenters and iDrive will be entirely understandable.

Should I buy one?

A similarly-priced hot hatch is faster and probably more roomy, but the 1-series is still worth a look. It’s faster and more frugal than before, is still quite good to drive and, with three doors, you can almost forget it’s pretending to be a proper hatchback.

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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