BMW 1 Series vs BMW 3 Series | Which is Right for You?

28th Nov 2023

By Kenny Longdon

BMW Cars

BMW are one of the world's most instantly recognisable car brands. Their reputation for building slick, driver-focused vehicles has seen them become sought-after all over the world with a reputation for high performance, refinement and cutting-edge technology.

Today, there is a BMW to suit a multitude of buyers with everything from hatchbacks, saloons, estates, SUVs, M cars and fully-electric cars all featuring the iconic BMW roundel.

In this article we are going to take a look at the entry-level BMW 1 Series hatchback and compare it to the legend that is the BMW 3 Series - a car which has been a textbook model in the range for generations.

We have already pitched the 3 Series against the 2 Series, but how can BMW's entry-level car stack up against arguably its most renowned model?

Introduction and Design

BMW 1 Series Side

The BMW 3 Series has been around since 1975 and is seen as the textbook BMW model that can seemingly do it all.

But, with ever-changing buying habits the need for a more compact entry-level point in the BMW range came along in the early 2000's, with 2004 seeing the birth of the 1 Series.

The major difference between the cars is that the 1 Series is a hatchback (pictured), whilst the larger 3 Series can be had as a saloon or estate. Get behind the wheel of either, and it is business as usual in terms of BMW feel.

Here we are looking at the third generation 1 Series that came along in 2019, along with the seventh generation 3 Series that came along in 2019.

With both models sharing design details and markers that ensure you can tell they are siblings, both models emit a sharp design language, complemented by sophistication and prestige.


BMW M3 Touring

First of all, the 1 Series comes as a hatchback only, whilst the 3 Series can be had in a saloon or estate, which BMW call 'Touring'.

Like many cars, there are many versions to choose from when looking at the BMW 1 Series and BMW 3 Series. They follow the typical hierarchy of many manufacturers, where you can get one of these cars in a fairly normal spec, ranging up to the more desirable range-topping trim levels.

The 1 Series is front-wheel drive interestingly (as many think all BMWs are rear-wheel drive), although the M135i comes with xDrive all-wheel drive. The 3 Series comes with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

Lower trim levels tend to be 'SE' and 'Sport', whilst 'M Sport' gives more kit as standard, and a sportier exterior. The M lite cars (M135i or M340d) for example are essentially dialled back M cars, although in the 1 Series case, there is no M car.

This is because the 1 Series is one of few BMW models that does not feature an M version, instead opting for an 'M Lite' version in the form of the M135i. BMW did do a 1M back in 2011 however, although it was the 1 Series coupé which essentially evolved into the 2 Series and M2.

The 3 Series of course gave birth to the M3, the range-topping performance model that first appeared in 1986. Since this time, the M3 has always been the halo 3 Series. There is also the usual Sport, M Sport, and M340i (M Lite) in the 3 Series range too.

There is also an M3 Touring which is the perfect mix of high performance and practicality (pictured), with 0 to 62mph taking just 3.6 seconds, and comes with all-wheel drive.

Interior and Technology

BMW 1 Series Interior

From around the introduction of both these cars, a lot of manufacturers were opting for fully-digital instrument clusters. However, both these cars can be had with either a fully-digital option, or an older analogue version, although they do look digital due to their design and back-lighting.

Either way, higher spec models of both cars will usually come with a digital instrument displays, along with later models too. At the time of writing, all BMW 1 Series (interior pictured) and 3 Series models come with a digital instrument cluster as standard.

Both feel premium and come with decent amounts of technology as standard, although Apple CarPlay is an option depending on the age of the car, whilst both cars can have it fitted aftermarket via coding.


BMW M340d

Naturally, if you are looking for the more practical model here, the 3 Series is the answer. Or is it?

The 1 Series has a hatchback boot, so is much easier to get stuff in and out of, whilst the saloon has a smaller opening which could be tricky for bulky items. Of course, the 3 Series Touring deletes this problem and mimics the 1 Series' easy access.

Naturally, there is more rear space in a 3 Series (M340d version pictured above) too, but for children the 1 Series provides plenty of rear space, and adults will be pretty comfortable with five doors as standard, although not as spacious and accommodating as a 3 Series.

BMW 1 Series - 380 litres, rising to 1,200 litres with the rear seats folded

BMW 3 Series Saloon - 480 litres, rear seats fold flat for extra space

BMW 3 Series Touring - 500 litres, rising to 1,510 litres with the rear seats folded

The 3 Series Touring is the most practical and spacious, but if you just need a good size boot and decent rear passenger space, the 1 Series will be more than enough for most.

Value and Final Thoughts

BMW M135i

Of course, if you want the most practical vehicle out of the 1 Series and 3 Series, then the Touring version of the 3 Series is without doubt the most practical.

However, a 1 Series has a big boot with a hatchback opening and will be fine for many, even if you have kids too.

It will all depend on your budget and how much space/ease of use you require. Of course a 1 Series is a fine car, but if you want that extra space and perhaps do more miles, a 3 Series will be an easier day-to-day proposition.

With both models featuring a range of versions, including typical BMW high performance versions, both the 1 Series and 3 Series are fine BMW models that will continue to appeal to multiple buyers.

If you want the refinement of a BMW, but want added performance, then an M lite (M135i pictured above) or M version will be sure to put a huge grin on your face.

Find your perfect BMW at Stratstone

It really does not matter if you choose a BMW 1 Series or BMW 3 Series, as both are fantastic ownership prospects which offer the typical BMW feel of quality, performance, style, and technology; not to mention their fantastic driving feel.

What is more, the multiple versions of each model ensure you can find the perfect BMW to meet your requirements.

Why not check out our latest new BMW offers here, or browse our comprehensive selection of used BMW models here.

Alternatively, if you enjoyed this article, check out our dedicated blog section which features many more articles on BMW, along with other popular automotive manufacturers and insights.