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What to look out for wjhen buying a BMW 1 series.

INTRODUTION...

It may be the cheapest BMW you can buy, but the smallest of the line still packs fine design and handling poiseIt may be small – but it’s every inch a BMW. That said, the 1-series jostles for your buying cash against some serious opposition: Audi’s A3, the Mercedes-Benz CLC/C-class sports coupe and upmarket version of the Volkswagen Golf.

It carries a couple of aces with it, though, writes Ray Castle of motors.co.uk. First for some buyers theBMW badge is to hook them. Second, it’s a rear-wheel drive car in a chunk of the market where most are front-drivers. This gives it a sweetness and balance in its drive that no rival can quite match. 1-series comes as five-door hatches, two-door coupes or as a soft-top. Here we’re focusing on the five-door because it’s by far the commonest.

HOW MUCH SHOULD I BE PAYING ...

Though the first 1-series are now six years old they lose value slower than most, so you’ll need £7500 even for a 2004, 54-reg 116i with 60,000 miles, though you might also find a 118 diesel showing higher miles for that money.

Push the budget to £10,000 and you’ll get a 118 turbodiesel Sport from 2006, 56-registered and with 75k miles. Add to your cash pile so you’ve £12,000 and a 116 ES from 2007, 57-registered, that has just 25,000 miles recorded is yours.

If you’ve £15,000 to spend, you can buy a 188 SE that’s covered just 10,000 miles and is from 2008 on an 08-reg.

WHATS THE BEST MODEL...

BMW isn’t over-generous in equipping its cars, so entry models have plastic wheel covers and do without air conditioning, although all have six airbags, anti-lock brakes, remote locking, electric windows and a CD player. Move up to the ES model and you’ll get all that plus air conditioning and alloy wheels, while the jump to an SE model rewards with digital air conditioning, an arm rest and a wheel with multi-function controls. Finally, the Sport brings bigger alloy wheels, lowered suspension and a sporty-trimmed cabin, plus all you’ll get on the SE.

Engines run from the 115bhp 116i, which has enough power but isn’t exactly sparkling, to the 130i M Sport, which packs a 3.0-litre, 261bhp engine that delivers true performance car speed. For most buyers, though, the 118i or 120i petrol models are the ones to have, and they produce 135bhp and 150bhp respectively, although the 118 diesel with 120bhp is a good all-rounder, too, while the 163bhp 120 diesel is quick but economical. Diesels are pricier than petrols, so you’ll have to settle for a car a year older on a set budget. We’d go for a 118 diesel SE, or a 118 or 120 SE petrol.

Most 1-series have manual gearboxes but those with automatic transmission, while scarce, aren’t usually dearer. From 2006, BMW introduced Efficient Dynamics, which improved fuel economy and lowered emissions across its engine range. A year later, most 1-series gained Stop-Start, which stills the engine to save fuel whenever you’re halted in traffic and you pop the gears to neutral. To re-start, you just dip the clutch and the engine fires.

As with its other models, BMW offers a huge array of extras. Look out for well-specified cars but don’t pay extra for them.

WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO BUY ONE ...

BMW’s Approved Used scheme is among the oldest of its type and also ranks as one of the best. Cars get a bumper-to-bumper pre-sales check and any problems found are put right. They’re also sold with at least a year’s warranty cover and breakdown assistance, too. All BMW dealers offer the scheme and most of the cars are relatively new and low-mileage. Prices are often (but not always) on the high side.

You also find 1-series at car supermarkets, often at keen prices. For older, cheaper cars, independent dealers would be the first place we’d look, particularly if they specialise in the marque. Finally, don’t rule out the private ads because you might find a bargain nestling among the classifieds.

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR ...

Relax. All the signs are that the 1-series is exceptionally built and soaks up the miles with little need for more than routine servicing. You should check, though that the gearbox feels slick and precise on high-milers – if it feels sloppy it may need a rebuild soon. On the other hand, if yours has done 10,000 miles of less and the manual shifty feels tight – don’t worry. It’ll just need to cover more miles to loosen it.

If the car has Stop-Start, drive it long enough to see that it works correctly – there have been a few cases of the system malfunctioning. BMW issued a recall on cars made between September 2004 and May 2005 to fix a fault with the rear suspension, so if yours is that old, check that the work’s been done.

The car’s computer tells you when a service is due so check that one’s not due soon and, if there’s a service history, verify that it’s genuine by calling the dealer who worked on the car last.

Insurance runs from group 10 for the 116i to group 17 for the 130i. Servicing is reasonable for a prestige make, while BMW 4-Plus scheme offers sizeable main-dealer discounts for work needed by older cars.

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