The 2011 BMW 1-Series ranks 3 out of 6 Upscale Small Cars. This ranking is based on our analysis of 47 published reviews and test drives of the BMW 1-Series, and our analysis of reliability and safety data.
The 2011 BMW 1-Series leads the upscale small car class when it comes to performance. Unfortunately, once you start adding options and features, it also leads the class when it comes to price.
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Upscale small cars are niche vehicles, meant for buyers who don't need a lot of space or luxury, but who do want excellent driving dynamics and an upscale feel. For buyers with the cash to spend on a small coupe or convertible that drives like a sports car, reviewers say that the BMW 1-Series is an excellent choice.
While it's by no means practical, reviewers say the 1-Series lives up to the BMW name. The Washington Post says it's "the kind of car loved by people who love driving -- rear-wheel drive, diminutive yet gifted with power (in this case, 300 horsepower delivered by an inline six-cylinder engine) and wonderfully agile on surfaces such as Angola Road [in upstate New York], which twists, turns, dips, disappears and reappears around curves."
Once the focus is taken off performance, however, the 1-Series stumbles a bit. Reviewers complain about its cramped interior.
Many also dislike the styling on the 1-Series, calling it misshapen and odd-looking. Its fuel economy isn't great for a small car, and while its base price is reasonable, it can quickly climb as you move up from the base trim and start adding options.
Other Cars to Consider
Despite praising its performance, not all reviewers are on board with the 1-Series. While the base models are affordable (for BMW), the best-performing higher trims rival the larger BMW 3-Series in price. Plus, reviewers say that the 3-Series is better looking and more comfortable. If you're comparing the 1-Series to other upscale small cars, it's a compelling choice. But, in the grand scheme of things, you may be able to get more space, better performance and slicker styling by going with the 3-Series. If you're watching your budget, reviewers say that the Volkswagen GTI offers a combination of upscale amenities, thrilling performance and reasonable pricing (it starts at about $5,500 less than the 1-Series) that leads the class. Plus, the GTI is available with four passenger doors and a back seat that's useable -- a real contrast to the tiny space in the rear of the 1-Series. Reviewers also recommend the Audi A3 for its available all-wheel drive system and well-crafted interior. The A3 is even available with a diesel engine that gets excellent gas mileage. The 3 Series coupe will now be offered with xDrive all-wheel drive, while the 3 Series convertible gets a new solar reflective leather upholstery that BMW claims helps keep seat temperatures down when the lid is open.
The most significant updates come underhood, where the much lauded twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six is being replaced by a new single turbo version. The revised engine, dubbed N55, has recently been launched in the 740i and the 535i Gran Turismo. The twin scroll turbo has dual exhaust inlets that allow the engineers to better balance the pulses coming in to spin up the turbine faster. This is expected to reduce the turbo lag that some drivers complained about with the outgoing twin turbo setup.
BMW also claims it has reduced cold-start emissions by routing all the exhaust gases through a single, larger catalytic converter that heats up faster. On the intake side, the throttle is eliminated thanks to the addition of BMW's Valvetronic variable valve control system. The N55 also gets direct fuel injection. The end result is the same 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque as before, but with a fatter torque curve that maintains its peak from 1,200-5,000 rpm.