The newest BMW 1 series is the first BMW 1 series to have front-wheel drive instead of the much faster rear-wheel drive engine. 

The previous BMW 1 series models were popular for their mix of sporty features combined with the look and feel of a family hatchback. Surprisingly, the BMW 1 series 2021 has completely ditched that philosophy and has taken a direction that might be shocking to its fans. However, it’s not necessarily a negative one. 

In this post, we’ll review the new BMW 1 series and tell you all about its surprising and exciting new features. 


The new BMW 1 Series looks very different from its previous models. The rear-wheel-drive layout in the previous models required the engine to be positioned lengthways, so the bonnet was much longer. However, the engine is now sideways in the new model, which means a shorter bonnet. 

The new model isn’t as striking to look at as the old one was. The old model was a lot longer and this gave it a unique and sporty look, where the current version is more similar to other family hatchbacks on the market. 

What we do like is that this car has a classic BMW grille in the front, which looks a bit bigger than it was on the previous model. The grille has a semi-matte finish which looks premium. 

There are also two sports models of the new BMW 1 series, but exterior-wise they’re not much different from the standard edition. They only have bigger trims at the bottom to give that sporty vibe to the exterior. 

The standard edition (SE) 1 series comes with 16-inch alloy wheels. The sports edition comes with 17-inch and the MSport with 18-inch alloy wheels, which have a chromium finish and look much better. 

Now the biggest improvement in the exterior is in the rear part of the car. The back of the previous 1 series models never looked quite right.

It sort of always felt they were confused and stuck somewhere between a hatchback and a Jeep. But the BMW 1 series 2021 absolutely nails the rear look. The design looks very smart, and kind of similar to the BMW 3 series. The bumpers are wide, which is what every good looking hatchback should be. And the traditional round exhaust pipes just add a more classic vibe to the overall look. 

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The interior looks a lot nicer than the previous versions. It’s much more spacious as well. The back seats feel very comfortable even for 3 people. There’s moderate toe and leg space in the back seats, which you can’t say about every hatchback. The boot space has a 380 litres capacity, which is 20 litres more than the previous 1 series models.

Straight onto the front seat, you get a 9-inch touch screen for infotainment. It comes with some new tech features, which we’ll discuss in the later section. You also have a 9-inch driving screen with fully digital dials. 

Now let’s talk about the overall cabin. At a glance, it looks very posh and premium. You get colour-adjustable ambient lighting, which gives a vibrant and futuristic look to the interior.  The SE has cloth seats and the sports model has leather seats. 

Both however are really comfortable. The touchpoints are soft and super comfy. The best thing about the interior is the build quality. There’s no squeaking or wobbling sound when you’re on the road, and everything is super sturdy. 

BMW has done well with the interior layout of the new 1 series. The heating, lights, stereo, gearshift, aircon vents, we think that everything is in a perfect position for the driver to reach. You can operate this vehicle without bending or stretch your arms to reach any of the important switches. 

Everything’s also smartly labelled. So, you can just jump into the car and operate all the features without being familiar with it. The steering wheel has a leather covering for all of the 1 series models. It’s very comfortable even for long drives. There’s also a lot of adjustment options in the wheel, so you can get really comfy behind the wheel no matter your size. 


Let’s talk about what’s under the bonnet. In Australia, the 2021 BMW 1 series has 3 variants, the Standard Edition (128ti), the M Model (135i), and the M Sport Model (118ti). 

The SE model comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. It’s a very powerful engine with 245 hp and can reach 0-100 in 6.3 seconds. If you’re not familiar with turbocharged engines, they offer more powerful acceleration and greater fuel efficiency compared to naturally-aspirated petrol engines. You’ll get a fuel economy of around 6.8 l/100 km, which is really good compared to other hatchbacks in this price range. 

Fuel efficiency is one of the biggest reasons why BMW switched to front-wheel-drive on the new 1 series. FWD has a lighter drivetrain in the engine, that’s why it has better mileage. By switching to FWD, the new BMW 1 series actually saves almost 80KG of weight. 

You are however compromising on the speed with the new BMW 1 series. The RWD of the previous models could reach 0-100 within 3.9s, compared to the 6.3s in the new FWD engine. But if you’re more into standard driving, this shouldn’t be a significant difference for you. 

With the M Sport model, you’ll get a more fuel-efficient engine, as this variant comes with a 1.5L four-cylinder engine with a fuel economy of 5.9l/100km. However, you’ll be compromising on the power with the M sport model, as the engine is only 140HP and takes 8.5 seconds to reach 0-100. 

And then we have the M model which has the most powerful engine. With this variant, you’re looking at 306HP that goes 0-100 in only 4.8 seconds. But you’ll be throwing fuel economy out of the window with this model, as it needs 7.5l/100km. 

So, here’s the bottom line, 

  • The M Sport model is best for fuel-efficiency. 
  • The SE gives you balanced performance and fuel economy. 
  • The M model is best for power and performance.

The SE and the M models come with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. What’s exceptional about this gearbox is that it uses a low viscosity oil to reduce drag, thus helping you reduce your emission and improve your fuel economy. So, even on the most powerful engine of the M model, you’re getting less than 180g emission per KM.


The 2021 BMW 1 series is loaded with tech features. Let’s talk about the basic stuff first. You get a standard 9-inch touch screen infotainment system, with a built-in navigation system. It also has Apple Car Play and Android-Auto support like most of the cars in 2021. 

You can get a 10-inch display with full HD support and smoother scrolling features with the M models. There’s a 12v charging socket that is compatible with fast charging your smartphone. There’s also wireless phone charging on all 3 models. You can actually set your navigation to show on your driving screen, just in the middle of the dials. 

There’s also gesture control, so you can turn the volume up and down, or change menu options with gestures. It’s not a flawless system, pretty far from it actually,  but still, a positive feature to have. 

A new technology addition in the BMW 1 Series is the BMW Digital Key. So instead of carrying around a physical key, BMW actually allows you to digitally operate your car through your smartphone. 

If your smartphone has NFC features, you can unlock the car doors and start the car with your smartphone. You’ll need to set up the digital key through the MY BMW app. The feature was only available on iPhone till early this year. Now it’s available on Android as well. 

While the BMW digital key solution might not sound like the safest feature, it’s actually very secure. BMW ensures that the digital key is saved in the secure element of your smartphone, and protects the key through high-level data protection. So, you can rest assured.


In terms of safety features, the new BMW 1 Series comes with all the latest bells and whistles. All models come with forward and reverse autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. 

In addition to that, the 1 series also has semi-autonomous parking assist, as well as front and rear parking sensors. It also has a  five-star safety rating from ANCAP.

Price (AUD)

The Standard Edition (128ti) BMW 1 series starts at $63,400. The M Sport (118ti) model is a bit cheaper because of the manual transmission, which is around $54,000. The M model (135i) is of course the most expensive range, which is at $79,400. There are lots of customisable features in the 1 series, which will of course change the price point of each model. 

Advantages & Disadvantages


  • Fuel-efficient. 
  • Spacious interior. 
  • High-tech features 


  • No rear-wheel-drive variant.
  • The exterior looks like a downgrade from the previous models. 

Overall Verdict

The 2021 BMW 1 series improves on a lot of features compared to the previous model but also sacrifices the core philosophy of the 1 series. For a lifelong BMW fan, not having a rear-wheel-drive engine might be a major turn-off. 

But if you’re willing to look past that and the slightly outdated exterior, then the 1 series is a great choice for an efficient and powerful hatchback. The premium interior really matches its premium price point. The tech features aren’t just there for the sake of having smart technology, but they actually enhance your driving experience. 

The 2021 BMW 1 series is the perfect example of not judging a book by its cover. 

Other Options to Consider

Mercedes Benz A-Class

If you’re looking for something much superior in terms of look, then the Mercedes Benz A-class is the perfect alternative. When it comes to the interior, it’s one of the best-looking cars out there. With an ultra-premium interior, the 2021 A-class looks like something straight out of a sci-fi movie.

You also get a 2L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine, with a fuel economy of 5.7L / 100km. There’s also a hybrid variant for you to choose from. 

Mazda 3

The 2021 Mazda 3 is a more fuel-efficient option. You can choose between a hybrid, 2L, and 2.5L engine. The standard Mazda 3 has a fuel consumption of only 6L/100KM. It also has a very spacious interior with 444 Liters of cargo space in the boot. 

Read Our Mazda 3 vs Toyota Corolla Comparison

Audi A1

If the 2021 BMW 1 series isn’t sporty enough for you, then definitely consider the new Audi A1. This compact hatchback has a very premium and sporty exterior, combined with a high-end interior cabin design. It’s also a standard fuel-efficient option, with a 30 Tfsi S Tronic engine and a fuel economy of 5.8L/100km.

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Jordan Ballard

Jordan Ballard

Automotive Content Editor

Jordan is a car finance and automotive industry specialist at Only Cars. With over 20 years of experience with frontline and management roles in sales, finance and other areas, Jordan has an incredible understanding of the automotive industry. As Automotive Content Editor, Jordan loves sharing his passion for cars with the Only Cars audience.