The BMW 1 Series always held serious potential as a driver's car, being small, rear-wheel drive and having access to BMW's impressive range of powerplants. It wasn't until the launch of the 1 Series coupe in late 2007 that BMW really took the gloves off the 1 Series and turned it into the sporting car we'd all hoped for. As long as you choose one that hasn't been wilfully neglected, it's hard to go wrong when shopping for a used 1 Series Coupe.
The BMW1 Series had already been on sale for over three years when the two-door Coupe model arrived in December 2007. In that period the general public had grown used to its individualistic styling and its combination of decent power, excellent economy and emissions, firm ride and almost non-existent rear legroom. When the 1 Series Coupe arrived there were plenty who didn't really see the point. Why further compromise an already compromised vehicle for very little material gain? It wasn't as if the 1 Series Coupe was drop-dead gorgeous either.
BMW weren't fazed by the lukewarm reception and were playing the long game with the Coupe. What they knew and we didn't was that the Coupe was being groomed as possibly the most rewarding driver's car in BMW's range. The range launched with the 120d, 125i and rip-snorting 135i models, with the Munich company backfilling the range with economical 120i and 118d variants in 2009. Also announced in 2010 was the 335bhp 1 Series M Coupe, a proper M car named carefully so as not to tread on the toes of BMW's legendary M1 supercars of the Seventies. What started out as the ugly duckling of the range gradually morphed into one of the hottest tickets in the BMW line up.
What You Get
Links to the 1 Series hatch are evident in this Coupe model. The nose borrows heavily from the tailgated car with the bumper jutting forward from the plain of the grille and headlamps. Below, the air intakes are more aggressively shaped and as you progress back down the car's length, the differences become more pronounced. The booted outline of the car owes more to the 3 Series Saloon and Coupe than the 1 Series. The car is 133mm longer than the hatchback that spawned it and the sharply angled windscreen, along with the protruding rear, emphasise this. Beneath the boot lid, which is drawn up into a subtle spoiler, the available space is measured at 370 litres - that's 20 litres up on the hatch - and there's a 60:40 split rear seat to add a little of the liftback's practicality.
The interior will hold few surprises for existing BMW owners. The high quality materials and solid construction always impress and it's this general classiness that makes it all feel special rather than any stand-out detailing. The major controls for the entertainment and ventilation system are confined to a panel ahead of the gear lever and the rest of the significant switchgear clustered on or around the steering wheel where it's simple to access without diverting your eyes from the road.
There are four trim levels to accompany the six engines that make up the 1 Series Coupe range although the top powerplants come only with the plusher trim levels. Buyers choose from ES, SE, Sport and M Sport. It's the M Sport package that really makes the difference to the car's appearance, and the way it drives. Buyers at this top level receive sports suspension, sports seats, an M Sport steering wheel and the M Aerodynamic package on their car.
What to Look For
The 1 Series has gained a reputation as a tough little thing and the Coupe is no exception. That said, it's worth remembering that this car will usually be bought by those looking to get the most out of it and there are quite a few that have seen some track day action, so make sure the brakes, suspension, steering and tyres aren't past their best. Check the usual things too - service lights illuminated, body nicks and scrapes, damaged trim, cellphone mounting holes in the dashboard and a cast-iron full BMW dealer service history. The 120d is a car that has attracted demand but some owners have 'chipped' their 118d up to and beyond the 120d's 163bhp output. This will have warranty repercussions so be careful if the 118d you're test driving is suspiciously rapid. If you are after a very rapid but economical 1 Series, chipping is one route to look at, and companies like Superchips can make a 135i virtually M3 V8 quick and still retain decent reliability and economy.
It's worth being fussy (avoid dull non-metallic paint and gloomy interior trim colours) so that, when resale time comes, you'll get a lot more for your part exchange than you might expect. If you really want piece of mind, buy from a BMW dealer - but be prepared to pay the premium.
(based on a 2008 1 Series Coupe 125i - ex Vat) A clutch assembly is around £130. Front brake pads are around £40, a full exhaust about £360, an alternator around £100 and a tyre around £40. A starter motor is about £120. A headlamp is about £165.
On the Road
The 2.0-litre diesel engine was the highlight of the 1-Series hatchback range for a long time after its launch, so it really says something that it now sits some way down the 'must have' order in the 1 Series Coupe's engine line-up. At least this highly adept unit is being outshone by some absolute corkers. The range-topping model is the 135i. It's powered by a 3.0-litre petrol engine that's helped to its 306bhp output by a pair of turbochargers that are hardly in keeping with BMW's normally-aspirated heritage. Fitted with this engine, the 335i 3 Series Coupe feels like eight tenths of an M3, so you can imagine how vigorously it's going to shift the lighter 1 Series two-door. If you can't, 0-60mph is pegged at 5.3s and the 155mph top speed is electronically limited.
Almost as impressive is the 123d. This 2.0-litre diesel is the first all aluminium oil-burner in the world to achieve a specific output of over 100bhp per litre. Another pair of turbochargers help it to 204bhp, 0-60mph in 7s dead and a 148mph top speed. Rival marques have hulking six-cylinder diesels that can't match it. The lesser units are the 118d, the 120d, the 120i and the 125i but there isn't a duffer among them.
BMW's 50:50 weight distribution is intact with the 1 Series Coupe. The car rides on double-joint spring strut suspension at the front and a five-link arrangement at the rear, chosen to leave the maximum degree of adjustability available to the chassis engineers. Big power like this in a compact rear wheel drive car is a recipe for big fun but also for the odd hairy moment. With this in mind, BMW's DSC dynamic stability control is standard and the two more gutsy engines get DSC+ which includes various additional features to help with brake performance amongst other things. The traction control component of the DSC system allows a degree of wheel slip before reining-in the throttle, which will spur on the keen driver. The 135i model gets up-rated brakes with six piston callipers to help wipe off all that speed.
The BMW 1 Series Coupe might at first look less than the sum of its parts but drive one and you'll soon see why they are starting to gain a cult following. The 123d is probably the pick of the range for its fun handling, enormous turbodiesel grunt and phenomenal economy, but it's hard not to recommend the 135i, a car that evokes the spirit of the classic E30 M3 model. Only the 118d and 120i feel a little flat in terms of straight line poke. There's little to complain about with any of these models in terms of reliability and durability but do make sure that the car has been serviced on the button. Get a good one and you won't want to let it go.