Buying Guide How to bag the best BMW F20/1 1 Series diesel hatchback

BMW had dipped its toe in the hatchback water with the E36 and E46 Compact models, but both were still badged as a 3 Series and both were limited to a threedoor body shell which to a certain extent harmed their broader appeal. Both were good cars, and in E46 guise the Compact was perhaps the sweetest drive of the range, but it wasn’t until the arrival of the original E8x 1 Series in 2004 that BMW fully put its weight behind an entry-level hatch. Hardly surprisingly, it was a huge success, selling over 2.2 million examples worldwide so you didn’t have to be a betting man to reckon that there would be a second generation 1 Series waiting in the wings after the original car’s seven-year production run.

The all-new machine arrived in September 2011 and was initially available with a five-door body shell with a range of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines. As a used buy we reckon the diesels are a better bet than their petrol counterparts and they’ll be the focus of this guide. The second generation 1 Series had grown in virtually every direction – 83mm longer, 14mm wider and a wheelbase that had grown by 30mm. We’re expecting the third generation 1 Series to use a front-wheel drive platform but the F20 machine stuck with rear-drive and while this format will always struggle to be as well-packaged as a frontdriver, BMW did its best to make the F20 roomier than its predecessor. The boot was bigger (and at 360 litres it was ten up on the equivalent VW Golf) and legroom in the rear was improved. The rear doors opened wider, had a larger aperture and with seats that offered more leg, head and elbow room it was a much more pleasant place for passengers.

The quality of trim had also improved significantly and when sitting inside the car there was less of a feeling that everything had been designed to a price. It wasn’t as luxurious as a 5 Series but was more or less on a par with the new 3 Series that would make its debut shortly after the 1 Series. In short, buying a 1 Series no longer made you think you might have been short-changed when it came to interior fixtures and fittings.

Initially the 1 Series was only available as the F20 five-door body shell with the three-door F21 arriving in May 2012. Three diesel engines were offered in the first five-door models, 116d, 118d and 120d, and while they all used the same 1995cc four-cylinder unit they were in different states of tune, offering 116hp, 143hp and 184hp respectively. Two more models joined the line-up in March 2012, the 116d EfficientDynamics and the range-topping diesel, the 125d. The former used a 1.6-litre diesel to give 74.3mpg and a Congestion Charge-busting 99g/km of CO² (the first BMW to drop below the 100g/km figure) while the 125d used a revised version of the 2.0-litre diesel and offered 218hp and a rather rapid 0-62mph time of just 6.5 seconds.

Along with the 116d ED and the 125d, March also saw the debut of the M Sport trim level, and in late May 2012 the three-door F21 1 Series also made its debut with the same engines being offered in the three- and five-door shells. Late in 2012 there was another new engine, the 114d, and like the 116d ED this used the 1.6-litre diesel but in a lower, 95hp, state of tune. Just about the last change to the 1 Series line-up before the face-lift was the addition of a four-wheel drive model, the 120d xDrive, in the spring of 2013.

While there are a plethora of engines to choose from there are also numerous different trim options to look at, some of which were more popular than others. ES was the entry level trim, generally only available on the lower powered offerings (114d and 116d) and it featured satin silver interior trim and Move cloth seats, a leather steering wheel, chrome exhaust and keyless start, Auto Start-Stop, six-speed manual transmission, 16-inch light alloy wheels, four airbags, DSC+, Drive Performance Control (with Eco Pro mode), BMW Business radio with single CD player, air-conditioning, 60:40 folding rear seats and child seat ISOFIX attachments.

For an additional £690 you could spec your 1 Series in SE trim which got you a different style of 16-inch alloy wheel, a freestanding high-resolution 6.5-inch flat screen monitor and iDrive controller, Bluetooth hands-free facility with USB audio interface, front foglights, a sliding armrest and a multi-function leather steering wheel with speed limiting function.

The Sport trim level was the first of the two new trim levels that BMW announced for the 1 Series and for an additional £1240 over an SE you additionally received: Sport-style 17-inch star-spoke light-alloy wheels, Dark Chrome exhaust pipe and high-gloss black kidney grille, central air intake trim, side intake surrounds and rear bumper trim. Exclusive sport design sports seats, leather sports steering wheel, and high-gloss black interior trim with Coral red or grey accents completed the package.

The second new trim level (offered for the same £1240 premium that a Sport commanded) was the Urban. For the extra cash over an SE you got: Urbanstyle 17-inch V-spoke light alloy wheels, chrome kidney grille with white slat sides and trim bar for the central air intake, amongst a host of stylish design details. Inside: Metro cloth/leather seats, leather sports steering wheel and an acrylic glass interior trim in black or white with Oxide Silver accents.

As ever, the range-topping M Sport model was exceedingly popular in the UK and offered the usual blend of M aero styling, 18-inch alloys, sports seats, sports suspension, anthracite headlining and a smattering of M badges. It also saw the return of Estoril blue to the BMW colour palette and overall the M Sport model cost £2380 more than an SE. There were few takers for the ES – most upgraded to SE – and Urban wasn’t a popular offering in the UK – the colour schemes were just a little bit too quirky for the majority of UK buyers. The Sport was the best selling model, with SE and M Sport following closely behind.

Buying one

There are thousands of F20 and F21 diesel 1 Series to choose from in the second-hand market and your first decision will be what spec you’d ideally prefer. Six-speed manual or eight-speed auto? Three- or fivedoor? Which engine? Which trim? Which options?

It’s a bit of a minefield so we’d recommend having a good look at the BMW Approved Used Car site (or AutoTrader) to get a good idea of what’s out there and which models particularly tickle your fancy. Unless you’re pretty strapped for cash we’d probably steer you away from the smaller-engined models, the 114d is a little gutless, especially when loaded, and while the 116d feels okay in isolation, once you’ve tried a 118d you won’t want to go back to the smallerengined machine. A 118d is a good compromise and the 120d is a brilliant blend of performance and economy, while if you have deeper pockets the 125d is the undoubted performer of the line-up.

Prices start at around £8000 for a (very) miley early car and from that point up there’s a car to suit every budget. As with any newer car we’d probably advise buying from a BMW main dealer – prices are only marginally higher than at non-franchised dealers and the Approved Used Warranty is worth it for the additional cost – while the 1 Series isn’t intrinsically unreliable one big fault could swallow up any saving made buying out of the dealer network.


The F20 doesn’t rust, nor is it ever likely to – we’re past all that now. So about all we can suggest here is to check the panel gaps, paint finish and just ensure that the car is ‘right’ – don’t buy a damaged repairable that’s already been repaired! Stonechips are part and parcel of used cars of course, but make sure the central locking works as it should, the rear wiper works (they are much better than the old E46 Compact!) and that the LED rear lights and front xenons (if fitted) are in proper shape. The rare glass sunroof can rattle and the door sill cover trims can look a bit second-hand after a few years – they’re about 50 quid each depending to which type you have.

The F20 saw some great new metallic colours arrive – Valencia orange, Sparkling bronze and Midnight blue as well as the reissue of Estoril blue and good old solids like Alpine white, Jet black and Crimson red.


The F20 and F21 both use the N47 diesel, an engine that hasn’t quite covered itself with glory. When new, it was quite a bit better than the old M47 last seen in the previous E87/E88 1 Series but the well-publicised timing chain dramas cannot be ignored. However, it has to be said that the N47N in the F20 is better in that regard than the older unit – we forget, but the N47 has now been around for nine years – it went into production in Spring 2007 and the early ones were reckoned to have had machining problems with the crank sprocket which, for some reason (probably cost), is an integral part of the crank itself. Not only this but the chains are at the back of the engine so any repair work involves removing the engine – it’s said that the gearbox can be removed to provide access to the flywheel and the rear timing cover but it’s easier to disconnect every thing and just pull the eng ine out. Chain noise isn’t the heavy rattle you’d expect but is often best heard from inside the car with a rhythmic ‘shh shh shh’ sound. This is best heard around 2000rpm and sometimes from outside the car, crouched down by the passenger front door and wheel area. Avoid any car with a hint of a noisy chain and ignore anyone who says the F20 hasn’t been affected – we’ve read about 2012/’13 cars with low mileage with chain noise but not heard of a chain breaking. The actual design of the chains is simple – there is one from the crank up to the injection pump and another from there to the camshaft. There has been a ‘quality enhancement’ campaign on older cars such as the E87 and E60, but there has been nothing on these as yet, although plenty of F20 chains and tensioners have been replaced under warranty. Two things probably do the chain no good – extended service intervals and stop-start. No matter how good an oil is, it will go very black very quickly and by 15,000 miles, it’s very dirty – change it every 10,000 with a fully synthetic oil. Stop-start also puts added strain on the chain – there is more strain on this component at start up than at 3500rpm.

The rest of the engine is pretty good. Turbos seem to last a lot longer than they did on the old M47 unit, and injectors are longer lasting too. However, modern common rail engines can fall foul of cheap supermarket diesel and there have been cases of the high pressure fuel pump failing – the signs are internal metal shavings and these get into the injectors as well, causing a major problem. There is no longer a replaceable fuel filter as it’s built into the pump assembly in the tank – we wonder if getting a specialist to retro fit a proper inline filter into the supply line would be a good idea – let’s face it, no filter will last the life of a car.

Front exhaust flexi-pipes can split whilst gradual coolant loss can be due to the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) cooler leaking coolant into the inlet manifold and thus into the engine to be burnt off – it’s a tiny amount, maybe a pint a week, but a new EGR cooler comes up at £493 plus VAT. The EGR valves themselves can jam and require either cleaning or replacement. On high mileage cars the dual mass flywheel can have a good rattle as well – more of that when we cover the transmission.

There are six options based on the N47N unit: the 95hp 114d; 116hp 116d with or without Efficient Dynamics; a 143hp 118d and the superb 184hp 120d. A rarity is the 125d with 218hp, which is a great replacement for the old 123d E87.

Transmission and drivetrain

These cars have either a six-speed manual or the ZF eight-speed automatic. The GA8HP45Z auto is a very sweet and reliable automatic that is to be recommended – our main dealer contacts say the unit rarely (if ever) goes wrong so there is little to say about them. Some may prefer a manual box and these are not so good. For starters you have the potential for a rattling dual mass flywheel (DMF) and one of these will set you back £579 from Euro Car Parts for a genuine LuK item, plus a new clutch (another LuK part – £239 from ECP) and fitting – near enough a £300 job at an independent. The actual gearbox is okay, but the GS6 Getrag unit is not unknown for reverse gear selection problems – not that common but we have heard mutterings about them. The differentials are generally pretty good as well and the old bogey of diff whine on the earlier generation 1 Series seems to have been eradicated. Driveshafts and wheel bearings? Happily, no reported problems.


The F20 is a well-finished car inside and whilst they’re too new to have worn out the seat bolsters and so on, they are known for the odd squeak and rattle – it is a mass produced car after all. Original ES models were very basic – whilst they have a single-slot CD player, it’s the mark of desperation when a manufacturer starts mentioning cup holders and… er, a chrome tailpipe trim… and body colour door mirrors in the spec list. The SE adds the multifunction wheel, Professional radio with MP3 and that excellent 6.5-inch screen plus a front armrest, all worth having. The ‘Urban’ added 17-inch alloys, the dreadful gloss white grille and little else while the ‘Sport’ adds Sport seats and steering wheel.

It was down to the packages to really improve the F20: Driver Comfort adds Servotronic steering, PDC and cruise, Interior Comfort adds auto air-con and extended storage/lighting. There are also two media packages – BMW Business Advanced offers Business nav, BMW Assist with online portal plus Bluetooth prep with telematics, USB audio interface and voice control. The Professional Multimedia adds professional navigation (brilliant) on top of the standard Business system. It was a two grand option when new (Business was £1500) so it’s both fairly rare and worth having.

Leather is a fairly rare option but the cloth trim used (Move/Metro on ES and SE cars, Track on Sport) is very good and the Hexagon cloth with Alcantara combo inside the M Sport models is stylish and hard wearing – in other words, leather is not as big a deal as it might be on a 3 Series. The ES models look horribly basic without the radio screen and iDrive controller – it may not bother you but don’t forget, you have to sell this on one day. The ES wheels are pretty ordinary too – in other words, make the SE your benchmark. Navigation is a rare option in both forms and many buyers assume that because the screen is there, that it has nav – it doesn’t.


The F20 is festooned with electronic trickery that has so far proven reliable. All cars have the single key fob that doesn’t have to be slotted into a key reader – just having it inside the car is enough for the car to start on the button. Brake Energy Regeneration means that the alternator disconnects when the battery is charged, but touching the brake pedal as well as coasting re-engages the alternator.

The heater and air-con unit is, of course, electronically controlled, and problems here can be down to software issues – but it’s not overly common. But overall, the picture is good and the F20 seems to work well with few problems. Don’t forget that whilst you may hear the odd tale of woe, BMW has built hundreds of thousands of these cars so far.

Steering and suspension

The F20 diesel range of cars all have the electric power steering rack, a great idea when new but could be a pain in later years. Whilst there is no chance of a fluid leak, these racks have been known to emit an annoying knocking sound on poor roads and a new unit is the only answer which are around £2100 new depending on part number so again, a warranty is important. Bushes and dampers all seem okay but split bump stops aren’t unknown. This means the strut has to be removed and dismantled to replace it – about an hour a side if everything comes apart as it should so no big deal. Other than that – no problems. The cars are still too new to be horrible wrecks!

Wheels, tyres and brakes

Eight wheel and tyre packages were available at launch in 2011: two 16-inch types (377 and 378) with 205/55×16 rubber, five 17-inch options including the very handsome Style 379 star-spoke, and an 18-inch Style 385 double-spokes that come with 225/40×18 tyres (245/35 rears). The 17-inch wheels have two tyre options, 225/45×17 on the Style 379 star-spokes and V-spoke style 412, and (oddly) 205/50×17 on the Y-spoke style 380 rims optional on the Sport that came with the 225s and star-spokes as standard. 17-inch alloys are seven-inches wide with the 205s and 7.5-inches wide with the 225s. Tyres are cheap enough too – KwikFit quote £265 for a pair of the most expensive tyre size, the 245/35x18s as a Continental Sport Contact 5. Run-flat tyres became an option as well on the F20 with an optional tyre pressure warning (TPWS) system. There are no problems to report, just the usual kerbing and alloy corrosion on less than perfectly looked after cars.

The ABS presents no problems and the car is too new for rusty brake pipes so you’re into simple disc and pad replacements and not much else. Certainly, the old E87’s appetite for ABS control units appears to have been eliminated.

F20 and F21 1 Series diesel models
MODEL: 114d 116d 116d ED 118d 120d 120d xDrive 125d
CAPACITY: 1598cc 1995cc 1598cc 1995cc 1995cc 1995cc 1995cc
MAX POWER: 95hp 116hp 116hp 143hp 184hp 184hp 218hp
MAX TORQUE: 173lb ft 192lb ft 192lb ft 236lb ft 280lb ft 280lb ft 332lb ft
0-62MPH: 12.2 seconds 10.3 seconds (10.7) 10.5 seconds 8.9 seconds (8.9) 7.2 seconds (7.3) 7.2 seconds 6.5 seconds (6.5)
TOP SPEED: 115mph 124mph (124) 121mph 132mph (132) 142mph (142) 140mph 149mph (149)
MPG*: 657 62.8 (62.8) 743 62.8 (62.8) 61.4 (62.8) 601 57.6 (58.9)
CO2 (g/km)*: 112 117 (119) 99 118 (119) 122 (119) 123 129 (126)
PRICE FROM: £19,675 (2013) £20,195 (2012) £20,885 (2012) £22,030 (2012) £23,480 (2012) £25,190 (2013) £27,820 (2012)
* Economy & emissions figures may vary depending on whether 16-, 17-, or 18-inch wheels fitted. Figures in brackets refer to eight-speed automatic. Figures are for F20 five-door models


The F20 diesels are excellent cars and are a thousand times better than the four-cylinder petrol versions – those, powered by the N13 unit have a litany of engine problems. With these issues plus inferior performance and economy, the diesel is by far and away the sensible choice. The 114d is slow, the 116d is okay, but the 118d is noticeably better and for those who like to get a move on, the 120d is a genuinely quick machine. A 125d is almost gilding the lily and a genuinely quick car – not M5 quick, but fast enough. F20s have taken their time to depreciate, but early ones are down to ten or eleven grand and are overlapping late first-generation cars. We would always buy from a BMW main dealer and get the warranty – these cars are reliable but it only takes a faulty steering rack to wipe out any savings you made on a private sale or from a non-franchised dealer. Avoid older ES models without the screen, multi-function wheel and iDrive as well – they aren’t cheap enough to make the drop in specification worthwhile, although thankfully, the ES cars were mainly smaller engined petrols and the 114d. The ES was so basic that even in the original F20 brochure, the model was shown with optional 18-inch wheels and the nav screen! One thing is certain, the F20 is a brilliant driver’s car – we’ll have an F21 120d Sport in Valencia orange with Pro Nav please!

OIL SERVICE £130 £110
Service prices courtesy of Sytner BMW Sheffield (0114 275 5077) and a selectionsts. Prices are inclusive of parts and VAT

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 4.3 / 5. Vote count: 149

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.