A new coupled general circulation climate model developed at the Met Office's Hadley Centre is presented, and aspects of its performance in climate simulations run for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC AR4) documented with reference to previous models. The Hadley Centre Global Environmental Model version 1 (HadGEM1) is built around a new atmospheric dynamical core; uses higher resolution than the previous Hadley Centre model, HadCM3; and contains several improvements in its formulation including interactive atmospheric aerosols (sulphate, black carbon, biomass burning, and sea salt) plus their direct and indirect effects. The ocean component also has higher resolution and incorporates a sea ice component more advanced than HadCM3 in terms of both dynamics and thermodynamics. HadGEM1 thus permits experiments including some interactive processes not feasible with HadCM3. The simulation of present-day mean climate in HadGEM1 is significantly better overall in comparison to HadCM3, although some deficiencies exist in the simulation of tropical climate and El Niño variability. We quantify the overall improvement using a quasi-objective climate index encompassing a range of atmospheric, oceanic, and sea ice variables. It arises partly from higher resolution but also from greater fidelity in modeling dynamical and physical processes, for example, in the representation of clouds and sea ice. HadGEM1 has a similar effective climate sensitivity (2.8 K) to a CO2 doubling as HadCM3 (3.1 K), although there are significant regional differences in their response patterns, especially in the Tropics. HadGEM1 is anticipated to be used as the basis both for higher-resolution and higher-complexity Earth System studies in the near future.