REVIEW DATE: 09 Mar 2007
Have You Made Up Your Mind About BMW's Controversial New 1 Series Yet? Jonathan Crouch Tries To Do So Over Three Months Behind The Wheel Of A 118d.
BMW's 1 Series. You might like it, you might hate it but, assuming you're aware of the thing in the first place, you'll certainly have an opinion on it. That opinion tends to be divided between those who think the best part of £20,000 is a lot to spend on a smallish Family Hatchback. And those who see this car as ground-breaking, the first Family Hatchback to be rear wheel drive and therefore the first that a real driving enthusiast might choose.
To be honest, I wasn't sure until recently what camp I stood in on this. So BMW's offer of three months behind the wheel of the entry-level diesel variant, the 118d, sounded like a good idea.
When the first press pictures of the 1-Series were issued, I have to admit that I absolutely hated it. I couldn't see how on earth BMW could sell a car that looked as if its sills had collapsed. After a while, however, I started to become a bit more accustomed to its unconventional proportions and then BMW facelifted the car, smoothing over some of the rougher edges. When I first clapped eyes on my long term test car in the metal, I must admit that I was starting to appreciate the baby BMW.
It's manageably proportioned and nothing seems overly intimidating. It'll be interesting to see how the car's image develops as numbers on the road increase further. At the moment, the five-door car I tried is positioned as a more sporting alternative to cars like the Audi A3 Sportback.
Costing from £18,525 and priced around £1,500 less, model for model, than the larger-engined 120d, the smaller of the two diesel engines is, I found, still capable of putting on quite a show. Although there's very little in it when it comes to fuel economy or emissions, the 118d scores a decisive advantage over the 120d when it comes to insurance costs, being rated a full three groups lower at Group 11. For the record, I've found that my 118d will average a fuel economy figure of around 60mpg, while the spec sheet says that it will emit just 123 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre, putting it on par with the cleaner superminis.
"It'll be interesting to see how the car's image develops as more are seen on the road."
All 1 Series models are pretty pricey when essentials like alloy wheels, air conditioning and metallic paint are factored into the equation, and the 118d stays just the right side of £20,000 for the ES models that feature such kit - an important psychological barrier for many buyers and often a cut-off point for company car user/choosers. Ignore the base price of £18,735 for the basic model - nobody but the most craven badge snob will drive a 1 Series without the aforementioned kit. The £20,685 BMW ask for the SE variants is far more indicative of 'real' 118d money. At the top of the range, meanwhile, sits the M Sport model with its lower spoilers and sills, bigger alloy wheels and M Sports suspension. The Three-door cars are £500 cheaper model for model.
I've tried the 120d as well as this 118d and apparently the only mechanical difference between them is in the engine management software. This limits the junior model to 143bhp and credits the 120d with the full 177bhp monty. The upshot of this is that the 118d will feel a little sluggish if you drive it back to back with the 120d, but otherwise it's an agreeably swift hatch, notching off the dash to 60mph in less than nine seconds and running on to a top speed of 130mph. The excellent six-speed automatic gearbox offered as an option on the 120d sadly isn't available to 118d buyers. If you are dead set on this automatic, this could be the real deal breaker but otherwise although the heart may say 120d, the head more often than not opts for the 118d.
The big selling point of the 1 Series is rear wheel drive and although the 118d doesn't possess tyre-scorching power to capitalise fully, I've still noticed the benefits. Deploying the full quota of 207lb/ft of torque as you accelerate out of a side turning would, in a front-wheel drive car, generate copious torque steer, that raggedy tugging of the steering wheel as the front tyres struggle to put down the power. Even at higher speeds, front-wheel drive cars with a hefty slug of torque can veer rather dramatically when they come 'on-cam'. Just try accelerating hard in a Ford RS Focus with your hands off the wheel. On second thoughts don't. A ditch could beckon. There's none of this corrupting influence with the 118d. About the most extreme thing that ever happens is that in damp conditions the ESP light will give a little blink as it winds the power back slightly. Most of the time it just grips and goes. No drama, no writhing steering wheel or tramping axle. Just purity.
Things aren't all ambrosia however. Open one of the narrow back doors on our car and you'll spot the trade off right away. There's less room in the back of the 1 Series than you'll find in a supermini like a Honda Jazz. With a six-footer behind the wheel, legroom is shockingly bad and the transmission tunnel means that you won't ever want to travel piggy in the middle on the rear bench. That's not what the 1 Series is all about. If you want a practical car, go and buy a mini-MPV. If you want the latest urban bauble that will turn heads and get tongues wagging, the 1 Series will be more your thing. At a stroke it manages to make the Audi A3 in particular look ridiculously staid.
It's easy to get a little carried away with the 1 Series. Does it really do a great deal that the familiar 3 Series Compact doesn't, albeit with five doors and a sassier suit? In short, no, but the concept has evolved very nicely and the unsung hero of the process is this 118d. Rationality has rarely looked so appealing. I'm looking forward to finding out just how over the next few weeks.
The results below show the top 1 SERIES deals on buyacar
|BMW 1 Series 118d M Sport 2dr diesel convertible|
|Price £16,355||Save £2,423|
|BMW 1 Series 118d ES 2dr diesel coupe|
|Price £20,155||Save £2,445|
|BMW 1 Series 116i Sport 5dr hatchback|
|Price £19,164||Save £2,116|
|BMW 1 Series 118i ES 2dr convertible|
|Price £22,147||Save £2,783|
|BMW 1 Series 116i [2.0] Sport 5dr hatchback|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT 1 SERIES DEALS|
|For 1 SERIES 118d CONTROVERSIAL|
|OVERALL||7.1 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||5|
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