REVIEW DATE: 15 Nov 2007
A decade ago we'd have sniggered at a diesel powered sports car but BMW's 123d Coupe is no laughing matter, especially for its rivals. Steve Walker reports.
The debate will rage on concerning the exact location of the 1-Series Coupe's place in the automotive firmament. BMW tells us it's a coupe and its performance would appear to back that up but it still looks for all the world like a saloon car that's come up a couple of doors short. In the end, it may not matter. As long as the 1 Series Coupe can condense the best bits of BMW into its stumpy frame, customers will come running. The 123d certainly gets off to a flying start with one of the best oil-burning engines in the business.
The BMW model range is looking increasingly congested these days but if other car manufacturers had engines like BMW's, they'd be rushing to cram them into as many market sectors as possible as well. Precisely which market sector the 1 Series Coupe operates in is open to debate but with rear-wheel-drive, EfficentDynamics and a 201bhp twin-turbo diesel engine, the 123d should be enough to give its rivals a bad case of the jitters - wherever they are.
Getting over 200bhp from a 1,995cc four-cylinder diesel engine is no mean feat. To achieve it, BMW engineers employed third-generation common-rail fuel injection technology then bolted on a pair of turbochargers, just to be on the safe site. The twin blowers work as a team. A smaller one gets to work quickly providing extra urge from low revs before seamlessly handling over to its bigger brother which delivers the shove at the top of the rev range. Peak power is available at 4,400rpm but the 400Nm maximum torque arrives at 2,000rpm and never fades below 270Nm until you hit the red line. The diesel can't replicate the thrill of BMW's high-revving petrol engines but it's remarkably smooth for a diesel, and brutally quick. The 0-60mph sprint is done and dusted in seven seconds but it's the muscle the 123d exerts in each gear that really gets you grinning.
"BMW's 1-Series Coupe could never be accused of being formulaic"!
With brute force like that coupled with outstanding refinement, the 123d undoubtedly has one of the finest diesel engines on the market and its chassis isn't too shabby either. The ride is actually smoother and suppler than people used to BMW products might expect. The firmness is still there in the springs and dampers but the 123d copes with B-roads without drama and is a silky performer over longer motorway trips. The seat offers outstanding support and adjustability and although the thick rim of steering wheel might not be to everyone's taste, the electric assistance is beautifully weighted. Perhaps the 123d lacks the cut-throat sharpness of BMW's most focused sports models but for most people, most of the time, it strikes a great balance.
When details of the 1-Series Coupe first emerged, BMW enthusiasts were soon salivating at the prospect of a compact, lightweight BMW sportscar that would reprise the glories of the marque's sporting models from the 60s and early 70s. The reality is somewhat different. The 123d actually weighs in at 1,495kg, exactly the same as the 320d Coupe. It's 22cm shorter than that car and 3.4cm narrower too but its roof is nearly 3cm taller. This goes a long way to explaining why the sleek shape of the 3-Series based model isn't carried over to the stubby One. The 1-Series Coupe is certainly an interesting car to look at but it's probably also going to be one that divides opinion. The arcing sill line and the perky boot spoiler will prove controversial but the front is suitably aggressive, especially with the M Sport body kit.
Beneath the boot lid, the available space is measured at 370 litres, that's 20 litres up on the 1-Series hatch and there's a 60:40 split rear seat to add a little of the liftback's practicality. The interior will hold few surprises for existing BMW owners. The high quality materials and solid construction always impress and it's this general classiness that makes it all feel special rather than any stand-out detailing. The major controls for the entertainment and ventilation system are confined to a panel ahead of the gear lever and the rest of the stuff you need is clustered on or around the steering wheel where it's simple to access while you're driving.
To own a 123d, you're going to need at least £25,000 for the SE specification model and the M Sport starts at around £26,500. This kind of capability was never going to come cheap but whether you see a 123d as good value or not depends largely on your standpoint. It's certainly expensive compared to the top performance hatchbacks but less so if you see it as a rival to sports coupes like Audi's TT and Nissan's 370z.
It's the M Sport package that really makes the difference to the car's appearance, and the way it drives. Buyers at this top level receive sports suspension, sports seats, an M Sport steering wheel and the M Aerodynamic package on their car. In addition there's anthracite headlining and M branding on the door sills. The 123d's basic SE specification gets you DSC Dynamic Stability Control, CBC Cornering Brake Control, rear parking sensors, air-conditioning and a multi-function steering wheel.
EfficientDynamics is a collection of measures devised by BMW that when implemented together, have a startling effect of fuel economy and emissions without harming performance. The 123d utilises different aspects of the EfficientDynamics programme including Auto Start-Stop, Brake Energy Regeneration and an optimum gear change indicator but the technology is best judged on its results. The 123d is capable of 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and 138g/km CO2 emissions. This excellent showing gives the 123d extra appeal as a fast car with a conscience that isn't going to prove cripplingly expensive to run.
Insurance groups for the 123d Coupe will reflect its performance but these costs are tempered somewhat by the strong residual values that we can safely expect the car to retain on the used market.
Sports coupe or compact two-door saloon, BMW's 1-Series Coupe could never be accused of being formulaic. The styling will baffle as many people as it beguiles but there are no arguments where the 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine in the 123d is concerned. It's yet another remarkable piece of work by BMW's boffins, offering refinement, performance and economy at levels that will take some getting used to. At least owners can have some serious fun during the acclimatisation process.
BMW enthusiasts will feel a pang of disappointment when they realise the 1-Series Coupe isn't a hardcore performance model that they can relive the lightweight lunacy of the 2002 tii in. That should pass, however, especially when they appreciate the merits of this thoroughly modern coupe. The 123d might lack some sharpness for that ten per cent of the time when you're barrelling along a snaking B-road and yes, it does look odd from some angles but its surging torque, excellent economy and well-judged chassis make it a formidable solution to the problems of motoring today. As an all round ownership proposition, it stands out.
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|BMW 1 Series 118d ES 2dr diesel coupe|
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|BMW 1 Series 116i Sport 5dr hatchback|
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|BMW 1 Series 118i ES 2dr convertible|
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|BMW 1 Series 116d EfficientDynamics 5dr diesel hatchback|
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|BMW 1 Series 120d xDrive M Sport 5dr diesel hatchback|
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|For 1-SERIES 123d COUPE|
|OVERALL||7.8 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|
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