REVIEW DATE: 09 Mar 2007
BMW's 1 Series Is At Its Best When There's A Two-Litre Diesel Engine Up Front. Andy Enright Reports.
You need to go back quite a way to find an appealing rear wheel drive small hatchback. BMW's favoured format may offer the purest driving characteristics but it's a layout that an entire generation of young drivers are utterly unfamiliar with. The last equivalently sized car to offer rear-wheel drive handling was possibly Toyota's Corolla GT, a car that died in 1987. For seventeen years, nobody thought to offer anything in this market niche. Now that BMW have filled the void and introduced a series of revisions to keep the car fresh, it's up to us to cherrypick the best model in their range for the purposes of review and that model happens to be the 120d.
It's easy to forget quite how well drive to the back wheels works in a car like this. The 120d's engine is capable of developing a hefty 350Nm of torque at just 2,000rpm. Try deploying that as you accelerate out of a side turning in a front-wheel drive car and it's a recipe for 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 120d. 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.
Before BMW started shoehorning their lusty six-cylinder 3.0-litre engines into the 1 Series' capacious engine bay, the 120d was the quickest version available. Today, it's still quicker still cleaner and more economical, with near 60mpg economy available if you can temporarily refrain from trying to punch the throttle pedal through the bulkhead every time the traffic parts ahead of you. Driven in this manner the 120d will bludgeon its way through 60mph in 7.5 seconds and keep on until it runs out of lungs at 142mph. Company car buyers will doubtless prick up their ears when they realise that this car can cruise economically, retain a good slug of its initial purchase price and emits a mere 129g/km of carbon dioxide. This outstanding performance and economy have been achieved in part through the respective use of BMW's High Precision Direct Injection and Brake Energy Regeneration technologies.
"No drama, no writhing steering wheel or tramping axle. Just purity"
At £20,075 for three doors and £22,560 for five (for the SE version most will probably choose), it's certainly not cheap though and you can go faster for a good deal less. What you don't get is the engineering integrity and overall feeling that BMW just understands how to build a sporting car better than anybody else in this sector. Refinement from the 177bhp engine is better than many petrol engined rivals and the power delivery isn't the usual bungee-cord 'all or nothing' mess that afflicts many of the more powerful diesel engines in this price bracket. There is a sweet surge of torque from 2,000rpm but it's manageable and has some duration to it, the slick gearbox effortlessly plugging you into the meat of the next gear up.
Things aren't all ambrosia however. Open one of the narrow back doors 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.
To herald the introduction of the latest generation of engines, BMW's designers have refreshed the interior and exterior styling. The 1 Series now features a larger kidney grille for improved airflow to the engine. The lower front spoiler has also been reprofiled to create a larger air intake, while the spoiler protrudes further for a more pronounced, sporting look. The headlamp cluster remains the same size but a darker cover gives a subtle, more distinguished front end. At the rear a restyled bumper gives the impression of a wider, lower car. The rear lamp cluster now features a new arrangement of lights, but retains its original shape.
The three-door 1 Series features the same styling cues but its side view is naturally different. The passenger doors are longer than those on the five-door model and are also frameless in the style of a coupe. Inside, customers can choose between either a four-seat or a five-seat configuration. In the four-seat arrangement rear passengers are separated by a central storage compartment and sit in more sculptured seats. As a no-cost option the five-seat layout offers the traditional bench seat standard on the five-door 1 Series. The introduction of higher quality materials and minor changes to the layout of the interior aim to enhance customer comfort and practicality.
Many rivals rely on badge equity to justify their premium pricing with no real USP to speak of. BMW has the market in rear wheel drive luxury hatches taped. Value is relative and beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but on a purely objective basis the 120d has no peers.
The results below show the top 1 SERIES deals on buyacar
|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 116d EfficientDynamics 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £18,989||Save £2,106|
|BMW 1 Series 120d xDrive M Sport 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £24,537||Save £3,098|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT 1 SERIES DEALS|
|For 1 SERIES 120D|
|OVERALL||7.3 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||5|
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