BMW 1 Series
(2004 - 2013)

  • Rear-wheel drive dynamics
  • Excellent performance from 6-cyl versions
  • 135i is something of a performance bargain
  • Affordable entry point to a  European brand
  • Rear-seat space is compromised
  • Interior trim quality degrading
  • Extensive mechanical issues becoming quite common
  • High cost of parts
Overview

When the original 1 Series arrived in 2004, it was exactly the new model that BMW needed. Born as the natural successor to the decade-old 3 Series Compact – essentially Munich’s staple mid-sizer ‘chopped’ and ‘hatched’ – here was a proper small-segment Bimmer as a fresh, enticing entry into European premium ownership. Even the new nameplate was a perfect fit.

With five doors rather that its forebear’s three, the ‘E87’ hatchback, compact and smartly packaged, kicked off the local 1 Series roll-out in ’04 and you shoehorn yourself into BMW ownership from just $37,900 for the entry 118i manual.

The upmarket badge made for a compelling alternative to the likes of Volkswagen’s Golf, the newcomer’s rear-wheel-drive format, multilink suspension and 50:50 weight distribution bringing credence its maker’s ‘ultimate driving machine’ mantra, even at the buck-banging end of its family garage.

Over the next seven years, the 1 Series range would expand to include ‘E82’ two-door coupe and ‘E88’ two-door soft-top convertible body styles. From 2004 through to the last of this generation, in 2013, this first-generation stable would offer a dizzying array of petrol and diesel fours and both naturally-aspirated and turbocharged petrol sixes, the latter reserved for the coupe and convertibles.

From cheapy grocery getters to 2011’s wide-bodied 1M Coupe enthusiast cult car – with its 250kW/450Nm 3.0L turbo-six and frosty $99,900 price tag – there was a 1 Series for most buyer tastes.

For the uninitiated, the 1 Series is best digested by body styles. Starting with most common and prolific hatchback…

At its 2004 launch, the E82 five-door was offered in 118i (95kW/180Nm) and 120i (110kW/200Nm) 2.0L four-cylinder petrol trims in a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. A year later, a smaller and more frugal manual-only 1.6-litre 116i (85kW/180Nm) and larger-capacity naturally aspirated 3.0-litre 130i Sport (195kW/315Nm), as something of the ‘driver’s’ variant, joined the fray.

A new turbodiesel 120d, fitting a 2.0-litre oiler four (115kW/330Nm), hit showrooms just in time for the LCI – “life cycle impulse” in BMW-speak – face-lift for what was, at the time, still a hatch only proposition.

The E87 hatch’s September 2007 facelift brought styling revision inside and out, engine updates – the 120i was now 115kW – as well as key mechanical tweaks, such as new electric power steering. The big under-bonnet change was with the diesel, the older M47 supplanted by a new N47 spec offering 125kW/340Nm.

The arrival of the two-door (E82) coupe and (E88) convertible, in 2008, altered the complexion of 1 Series dramatically. Kicking off at $55k for the six-powered 125i and topping out at around $75k for the twin-turbo six-powered 135i Sport in coupe form, these were small BMWs for the enthusiast and indulgence set, with premium appointments to match. Initially, at least. In the interim prior to this first generation bowing out in 2013 you could buy cheaper 118i rag-tops and 120i coupes, or either body style in high-power 123d diesel form.

The coupe’s own ‘LCI’ face-lift arrived in mid-2010, and with it a tamed down 120i for those wanting the sporty vibe in a relative budget ($48k) package. But the headline change was with the 135i, its twin-turbo N54 3.0-litre turbocharged six and six-speed auto powertrain combination (aka ‘Sport’ versions) swapped for a twin-scroll single-turbo N55 unit paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (aka ‘M Sport LCI’ versions).

Unsurprisingly, the E88 convertible menu loosely mirrored that of the coupe, rag-top 135i auto pushing regular 1 Series outlay up to the $85k mark. The drop-tops had their own LCI update in August 2011.

Reviews on the first-gen 1 Series were mixed largely depending on variant assessed and it was perennially panned for lacking rear passenger space and, on lower-grades, not suitable premium enough for the BMW badge. And on balance, the subsequent F20 generation – from 2011 in hatchback form – is nicer, techier, fitter and cut from similar rear-driven cloth if, of course, at much more damage to the piggy bank.

But there’s much to like. At the budget end 1 Series does bring a bit of upmarket spin on a budget. The nicer stuff further up the tree was, and remains, fun to drive. And the 135i gear remains one of the great combinations of big heartbeat in a small package – well-looked after examples will be rocketships, with fine chassis to match the pace.

There’s much to like as a used prospect if a lot to unpack as a tyre-kicker. Our tip is the pick your preferred body style, then powertrain type and match that to your budget as a fast track of navigation through the seemingly daunting 1 Series ocean.

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What goes wrong
  • Wetness in the rear of a 1 Series needs immediate attention. Moisture could be coming up through seatbelt bolts and on occasion it can be down to BMW having fitted the filters in the wheel arches incorrectly.
  • On 1 Series fitted with a PDC (Parking Distance Control) unit in the boot and it has become wet, the result may create faults within the dash, knocking every instrument out. If the PDC hasn’t been checked, a BMW dealer may inform you that you require a new front electrical module at vast expense. However, there are a couple of plugs under the car that you can remove to let any water out.
  • The display screen for audio and climate controls can become glitchy and impossible to read.
  • There are reports of the fuel filler caps coming off.
  • The external mirror adjustment electronics can fail.
  • On hatch models, the rear windscreen wiper water jets can get blocked, which cause issues to the mechanism and it can actually lead to water build up in the tailgate that can then lead to corrosion in the tailgate and rear cargo area.
  • Door handles are prone to sticking. This may require a new catch as well as a new handle and the actual repair work can be time consuming and therefore expensive. Plus finding a door handle in the right colour may not be easy either.
  • Windows have a habit of sticking shut, again repairs can be time consuming and expensive.
  • Warning lights for the airbags and ESC staying on are far from unknown. The airbag/seatbelt lights could just be the plug under the seat having come adrift.
  • A noise coming from just above the air vents can be common although it is most likely nothing more serious than an improperly replaced cover after a service involving the pollen filter.
  • Petrol-powered examples are by no means exempt from the coil problems that affected many German cars in the early 2000s. The telltale signs of impending trouble are poor running, a lack of power, unsteady temperature readings, some engine vibration and a whiff of petrol in the cabin. The car may even go into limp mode.
  • These coil problems persisted on four-cylinder petrols beyond 2007 and even more concerning is that early (2004-06) N43 116i and 118i timing chains were also vulnerable to ‘skipping’ on the sprockets. The solution was a new design chain tensioner plus a new bracket which was put onto all later cars.
  • Some 118i engines seized when fragments from broken plastic timing chain guides enter the sump, blocking the strainer and the flow of oil to the major moving parts. The chains themselves can be prone to snapping, especially those that hadn’t benefitted from oil changes inside the recommended service intervals that are recommended as an absolute minimum by those in the know. Many change their oil much more frequently, we recommend at a minimum of 10,000kms. That chain snap could happen on either N47 diesels or N43 petrols (especially the 116i) with as few as 90,000kms on the clock. Chain rattle could begin even sooner if you had one of the batch of chains that are now known to be weak. Replacing a noisy chain can be well over $1,000. Add potentially another $1000 on top of that if the chain snaps because there’ll be collateral engine damage.
  • Swirl flaps on the N47 diesels tend to wear and break up, with turbo failures not unusual either. Whistling noises at 1000pm or 2000rpm are a clue.
  • MAF sensors and injectors give grief, and issues with BMWs VANOS variable valve timing system are very common. Loss of power and torque, poor starting and running and heavy fuel consumption are all strong indicators of attention required. Having said that, going into limp mode and seeing an engine warning light and lots of exhaust smoke might simply be some dirt in your Valvetronic sensor, which is a much easier thing to solve.
  • Inconsistent idling from a cold start is likely to be one of the ECU issues that were common on early petrol models. The Dynamic Stability Control/Dynamic Traction Control tech has something of a reputation too. Either the sensor or, if you’re unlucky, the entire traction control unit might need replacing. This can potentially take you deep into the four-figure price tag bracket. If you experience non-engaging starter motor problems on a 118d, that could be down to a non-disengaging steering column lock. Wiggle the wheel to make dead sure the lock is off and try again.
  • On the transmission side, some manual gearboxes were never exactly famed for their ease of use. That made it difficult to tell the difference between normal and faulty units (of which there have been a few). Juddering issues with the dual-mass flywheel (DMF) and clutch on some of the diesel Ones are depressingly common and repairs can become very expensive.
  • Check for uneven wear on the front tyres as it could be a faulty steering rack, especially on post-March 2007 cars. BMW replaced quite a few racks for free however it’s still worth looking for wetness underneath as power steering fluid can leak out of the rack’s end seal and creep into the track rod end’s rubber gaiter.
  • After approximately 6 years from the date of manufacture, the N52, N54, and N55 engines all tend to require a host of replacement parts, including the electric water pump, spark plugs, and perhaps coil packs, as well as a notorious battery replacement that requires “coding” to the cars’ computers. It’s a bonus if you find an example where this work has already been done. Also, oil filter housing gaskets, head gaskets, and oil pan gaskets can leak oil, so be sure to look for telltale wet spots/stains around these points.
  • With the N54 and N55 being direct injection engines, they are known to build up carbon deposits on the valves, which will eventually require cleaning with a walnut blast.
  • The N54 had some teething problems in its first few years with high pressure fuel pumps and injectors and in some cases even turbo failure. Although these issues may have been sorted by 2009 or 2010, it probably best to choose a 2011+ model with the less complex and seemingly less failure-prone N55 single-turbo motor.
  • The rear diff in the 116 and 118 models are known to be quite weak, and even the bigger ones aren’t immune to failure either. They use ball bearings rather than taper rollers which aren’t as strong. Cars that have been driven with minimal mechanical sympathy will wear diffs quickly.
  • It’s important to know 1 Series traditionally endure harder brake use than the average family hatchback so budget for more regular pad and rotor replacement than what may be expected.
  • 1 Series received a host of factory recalls so be sure to check that the 1 Series you are looking at has had any issues resolved.
Model range, pricing and features

116i

  • Price when new: $34,900
  • Price used: $6,000 - $10,000

Until 2008, the 116i was the base model of the E87 1 Series range.

All 1 Series models regardless of spec were all rear-wheel drive (RWD), a unique difference to other premium/luxury hatchbacks in the market which were predominately front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) in higher spec models.

The 116i featured an underpowered 4-cylinder engine, but came with a comprehensive set of features for a base model, including a variety of safety systems and airbags.

Our recommendation would be to look for a 120i model, given more are available in Australia, having been a model for the entire E87 generation 1 Series and that the 120i has more comfort and convenience features (like rear parking sensors, climate control and alloy wheels) fitted.

Standard features:

  • 16-inch steel wheels
  • Run-flat tyres
  • Tyre pressure sensor
  • Data-dot technology
  • 6 airbags – dual front, side and full-length curtain airbags.
  • Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
  • Brake Assist
  • Cornering Brake Control
  • Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
  • ANCAP 5-star safety rating (tested 2004)
  • Halogen headlights
  • Automatic headlights
  • Follow-me home function
  • Brake emergency display (hazard/stoplights)
  • Starter button
  • Start/stop function
  • Central locking with memory/personal key
  • Remote boot release
  • Air-conditioning
  • Electric windows with auto up/down for driver and front passenger
  • Electric mirrors
  • Sports steering wheel
  • Adjustable steering (tilt and reach telescopic)
  • Cloth seat trim
  • Audio system including: radio, CD player, AUX-in connection and stub aerial

118i

  • Price when new: $37,900 - $41,200
  • Price used: $6,500 - $13,500

The 118i is the next model in the lineup, and featured throughout the entire E87 generation.

The 118i featured a range of cosmetic and comfort-orientated features such as: alloy wheels, climate control, multifunctional steering wheel and later on with the E87.II update – rear parking sensors.

E87.II models also gained power and torque increases to the 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine.

118i plus features:

  • 16-inch alloy wheels
  • Rear parking sensors
  • Climate control air conditioning
  • Sports multifunctional steering wheel

MY07 (E87.II) updates:

  • Rear parking sensors

118d

  • Price when new: $42,170 - $44,500
  • Price used: $11,000 - $15,000

The 118i was introduced in 2009 and ran until the end of the generation and was the same as per the 118i (petrol version) except it featured a diesel engine.

Be aware that N47 turbo-diesel engines manufactured between March 2007 to March 2011 – buyers should have the timing chains inspected or ask the current owner/dealer if it has been replaced. Original timing chains may break resulting in catastrophic engine failure.

118d plus features:

16-inch alloy wheels
Rear parking sensors
Climate control air conditioning
Sports multifunctional steering wheel

MY07 (E87.II) updates:

  • Rear parking sensors

120i

  • Price when new: $41,900 - $45,000
  • Price used: $6,500 - $22,000

The 120i is premium spec version of the E87 1 Series range. In addition to a variety of cosmetic features added such as 17-inch alloy wheels, the 120i boasts luxury and technological orientated features such as: rain sensing wipers, cruise control, electrochromatic rear vision mirror and a lights package.

E87.II models gained power and torque increases to the 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine.

The 120i would be the pick of the petrol range, with this model stocking a variety of features seen on most new cars today as well as a punchier 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine.

120i plus features:

  • 17-inch alloy wheels
  • Rain sensing wipers
  • Cruise control
  • Electrochromatic rear vision mirror
  • Lights package: includes interior lights rear (centred) with reading light, reading lights front, illuminated vanity mirrors for driver and front passenger, soft-light (front and rear), footwell lights front, handle-area illumination in the door handles

MY07 (E87.II) updates:

  • BMW sport seats

120d

  • Price when new: $46,790 - $48,990
  • Price used: $9,000 - $16,000

The 120d is the diesel version of the 120i.

Features-wise, the 120d gets the same amount of kit with the addition of rear disc brakes and a diesel particulate filter.

A 2009 update also gained power and torque increases to the 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine, plus BMW’s EfficientDynamics which incorporated idle stop and engine shutdown, as well as electric power steering and brake energy regeneration for better fuel economy.

The 120d was dropped in favour of the 123d model for the MY10 update.

Like like the petrol version of this spec, the 120d would also be the choice if in the market for a diesel-powered 1 Series, given the amount of features available at this model grade, and good responsiveness delivered by the diesel engine versus the 118d.

Be aware that N47 turbo-diesel engines manufactured between March 2007 to March 2011 – buyers should have the timing chains inspected or ask the current owner/dealer if it has been replaced. Original timing chains may break resulting in catastrophic engine failure.

120i plus features:

  • Rear disc brakes
  • Diesel particulate filter

2009 updates:

  • BMW EfficientDyanmics (idle stop, engine shutdown)
  • Electric power steering
  • Brake energy regeneration

123d

  • Price when new: $50,790 - $53,280
  • Price used: $9,500 - $23,000

The 123d was introduced in the MY10 update and features an updated twin-turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.

Apart from the new engine, the 123d shares the same features as the 120d it replaces.

Be aware that N47 turbo-diesel engines manufactured between March 2007 to March 2011 – buyers should have the timing chains inspected or ask the current owner/dealer if it has been replaced. Original timing chains may break resulting in catastrophic engine failure.

The 123d continued until the E87 generation concluded production.

123d plus features:

  • Rear disc brakes
  • Diesel particulate filter

2009 updates:

  • BMW EfficientDyanmics (idle stop, engine shutdown)
  • Electric power steering
  • Brake energy regeneration

130i Sport

  • Price when new: $58,988 - $66,500
  • Price used: $12,000 - $25,000

Sitting at the top of the range, the 130i Sport is the sports-luxury version of the E87 1 Series.

The 130i Sport was only a handful of sports hatchbacks at the time (the other being the VW Golf R32) for having a 6-cylinder naturally aspirated engine.

The 130i Sport was available from 2005 until 2010 (MY10) in hatchback guise, until it was quietly retired in the lead up to the newer F20 generation, however coupe/convertible models still retained a similar model featuring a turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine.

130i Sport:

  • 17-inch M-design alloy wheels
  • M aerodynamic package
  • M sport suspension
  • M sports package
  • Dual exhaust
  • High gloss shadow line
  • Electronic rear differential lock
  • Gearshift paddles
  • Active steering
  • Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with hill start assistant
  • Bi-xenon headlights
  • Electric heated mirrors
  • M Sport leather multifunctional steering wheel
  • Driver and front passenger sport seats
  • Lumbar support for driver and front passenger
  • Leather trim
  • Leather gearshift and handbrake selector
  • USB interface

MY07 (E87.II) updates:

  • 18-inch M-design alloy wheels

135i

  • Price when new: $72,230 - $87,300
  • Price used: $14,000 - $42,000

Available in coupe and convertible body styles, and short of the sublime 1M Coupe (which deserves it’s very own cheat sheet), the 135i brings serious performance credentials to the 1 Series line-up.

Engine wise, the 135i swapped from the N54 twin-turbocharged 3.0L inline 6 to a N55 single twin-scroll turbo 3.0L inline 6 in 2010/2011.

In most countries, the 135i (excluding the limited production 1M Coupe) is regarded as the “top-of-the-range” 1 Series and it’s performance credentials are supported with upgraded brakes, suspension, electronics and M style aesthetic additions.

If you’re in the market for a 1 Series, the 135i is the sweet spot of the range.

135i plus:

  • 18-inch M-design alloy wheels
  • M aerodynamic package
  • M sport suspension
  • M sports package
  • 6-piston front calipers and 2-piston rear calipers, with larger disks
  • Short shift kit (optional)
  • Dual exhaust
  • High gloss shadow line
  • Electronic rear differential lock
  • Gearshift paddles
  • Active steering
  • Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with hill start assistant
  • Bi-xenon headlights
  • Electric heated mirrors
  • M Sport leather multifunctional steering wheel
  • Driver and front passenger sport seats
  • Lumbar support for driver and front passenger
  • Leather trim
  • Leather gearshift and handbrake selector
  • USB interface
  • iDrive infotainment system incl. Sat Nav (optional)
Should you buy it?

Buying a BMW 1 Series really depends on your intentions and needs.

If you are on a limited budget and desire a 1 series because, for less than 10 or 15 thousand dollars you can have a “BMW” then no, you should not buy a 1 Series.

As mentioned above, the potential mechanical issues are extensive, especially on the lower-spec 4-cylinder 1 Series and the potential cost to repair these issues can verge on the ridiculous.

For 1 Series pricing, there are so many more financially intelligent alternatives, for example, a Mazda 3.

It may not have the same European image, but the Mazda 3 still looks great, they’re arguably more fun to drive than lower-spec 1 Series and when on a budget, they are just a smarter decision.

However, when it comes to the 6-cylinder 1 Series, well, that’s a different story.

As long as you are aware that even the 6-cylinder variants aren’t without their gremlins, and if you are genuinely financially, mentally and emotionally prepared for what may be potentially some very expensive repair bills, the 6-cylinder 1 Series, especially the 135i, offers an excellent driving experience.

Even with the current inflated prices in the used car market, the fact that for as little as $20,000, you can buy a 300hp rear-wheel drive, perfectly sized and beautifully balanced performance car is fantastic.

Plus with a few intelligent modifications, the 135i can be a genuine giant killer.

So should you buy a 135i or any 6-cylinder 1 Series, it’s a tentative yes.

If you’re in the market, try to find the lowest mileage, most fastidiously cared for example, and it’s absolutely critical that it has a full and thorough service history plus make sure you have it inspected by a mechanic before you hand over your cash.

There’s no doubt that when they are at their best they are awesome to drive and own but, just prepare for the worst so you’ll hopefully be pleasantly surprised.

Warranty & servicing

Warranty:

  • 3 year/unlimited kilometre warranty

 

Servicing:

  • 12 months/25,000km (However, we recommend servicing far more regularly. At a minimum every 12 months or 10,000kms)
Tech specs

Body style:

  • 5-door and 3-door hatchback

Engines:

  • 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder petrol (116i)
  • 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol (118i)
  • 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel (118d)
  • 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol (120i)
  • 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel (120d)
  • 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder twin-turbo diesel (123d)
  • 3.0-litre, 6-cylinder petrol (130i Sport)

Power:

  • 85kW – (1.6-litre, 4-cylinder petrol) – 116i
  • 95kW – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol) – 118i
  • 100kW – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol) – MY07 onwards – 118i
  • 105kW – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel)
  • 110kW – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol)
  • 115kW – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol) – MY07 onwards
  • 115kW – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel)
  • 125kW – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel) – MY07 onwards
  • 150kW – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder twin-turbo diesel)
  • 195kW – (3.0-litre, 6-cylinder petrol)

Torque:

  • 150Nm – (1.6-litre, 4-cylinder petrol)
  • 180Nm – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol)
  • 200Nm – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol) – MY07 onwards
  • 300Nm – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel)
  • 200Nm – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol)
  • 330Nm – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel)
  • 340Nm – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel) – MY07 onwards
  • 340Nm – (2.0-litre, 4-cylinder twin-turbo diesel)
  • 315Nm – (3.0-litre, 6-cylinder petrol)

Transmission:

  • 6-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive (RWD)
  • 6-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive (RWD)

Fuel Economy:

  • 5.4-9.2L/100km (depending on the variant)

Height:

  • 1421mm

Length:

  • 4239mm

Width:

  • 1748mm

Kerb weight:

  • 1220 – 1410kg
Disclaimer

Information correct as of October 29, 2021.

The advice provided on this website is general advice only. It has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this advice, you should consider the appropriateness of the advice, having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.

Read our full terms and conditions here.