Remember that BMW that all you guys can't get in the US? That five door hatch? with a diesel? and a manual gearbox? well, here is a review from across the pond.
(Full Disclosure: BMW wanted me to drive the 120d so badly, that they arranged a man in an Audi to reverse into my MX-5 , then made sure that he made off without leaving his details. This made me go on a manhunt to find him, then put in an insurance claim to be told I'd be getting a MINI Cooper S Convertible as a loaner then them leaving a BMW 120d at the bodyshop.)
The BMW 1-er is one of BMW's best sellers here in the UK and it's not hard to see why, it is a C-segment hatchback competing with the likes of the VW Golf and Ford Focus, It's available with three or five doors, and has a vast array of petrol and diesel engines for every occasion.
The model we have here is the mid/upper 120d with 184 horsepower and 380 Nm of torque at 1750 rpm. This makes the car a hoot, some folks will tell you that a diesel should be economical so why worry about performance? Well this 120d surprised me and others with the economy given the performance available. Whilst a 116d and a 118d are available they are effectively detuned versions of the 120d and aside from maybe an mpg here or there and a saving of £30 on road tax I don't see why anyone would want anything less than the 120d.
Exterior - 7/10
The 120d is a car that divides opinion on the looks front, and I would say that the design isn't as taut as say a Golf or as athletic as a Seat Leon. That said it does have strong bold lines and is generally a handsome car save for a couple of shonky details like the headlights looking a bit gawky and the bulbous proportions made the 16 inch wheels on this example look like castor wheels. My recommendation is that you go for the M-Sport over the SE as the car gains 18 inch "Star Spoke" wheels and more aggressive bumpers front and rear. Another downer on the exterior of this car is the grey paint, I know it's a loaner but why grey? especially when BMW has such an exciting colour palette including Estoril Blue (that is fap worthy, trust me) and Valencia Orange.
Interior - 7/10
BMW sure know how to make a hideous wheel, there's no way around it, I see that great big fat steering wheel and it depresses me, the rest of the interior seems to be on point and typical modern BMW with curves and swoops abound. iDrive, I know that some of you will look at the screen and say it looks like an afterthought and say you hate it but these things are here to stay, the display is clear and easy to read due to being near your eyeline, which makes changing radio stations and checking vital stats easy.
I was however dissatisfied with the quality of some of the materials and found them scratchy, and too hard for a BMW, and those painted silver trim pieces were awful to look at and touch, so you may wish to up spec those to wood or carbon or well, anything else.
Overall, it's a nice place to be as it's quiet, comfortable and soothing and for a daily driver it's all you'd ever need.
Acceleration - 7/10
This is where the fun factor of the 120d appears, overtaking can be done in any gear because once that turbo spools up you are on a sizeable torque wave throwing the the car down the road. My favourite game was pootling along in front of a friend in his Peugeot 307 then flooring it to see him disappear. 0-62 comes up in 7.2 seconds which is quick enough for any situation you'll face on British roads but it's the in gear acceleration that is addictive.
Braking - 8/10
Wow, Such brakes. The brakes were fairly sizeable and the pedal feel was a bit odd at first, It felt a bit spongy but gripped hard, but I got used to it. One thing that differs massively with my MX-5 is the ABS, the ABS is fairly unobtrusive in this 120d which was composed even under hard braking over rough surfaces, unlike my MX-5 which as you hit a few bumps starts to grab and release the brakes like nobody's business.
Ride & Handling - 16/20
The ride in the 1-series is nice and supple allowing for a nice relaxed journey, which is great for doing things that a 1-series typically does like go to the shops, or down to the Golf club. Don't let it fool you, flick the three mode rocker switch into sport and it takes country bends at high speeds without any hint of hitting the limits, you ask it to do something it will with no questions asked. Sport mode does however add weight to the steering at high speed and it becomes unnaturally heavy and you can misjudge it, I feel it removes some of the delicacy from the steering. Comfort and ECO PRO have better calibration.
Gearbox - 6/10
I wasn't overly bowled over with the gearbox, the ratios were nice and long, befitting a car like this, but the action felt a bit sloppy, it felt difficult to get a really fast shift between say second and third or fourth to fifth, It's better than a Focus but not the best I've felt.
Toys - 8/10
(Warning: my MX-5 has little to no toys so anything is exciting to me hence 8/10)
aside from the usual raft of toys like climate, and steering controls, cruise etc. there was much excitement when I found the whole manual for the car in iDrive (which is much easier to use than people make out) and you can also surf jalopnik from here (if you get the connectivity package) and it has that wonderful driving mode rocker switch. Of the three modes available I spent a lot of time in ECO PRO, because I liked to see what I could eke out of the car, ECO PRO retards the throttle response a bit and displays ideal gear change times in the dash and also tells you how many miles of range you have gained, this kept me entertained for hours. Take a look at the economy I got, 68.5mpg (57 mpg to my American friends) on my way home from work, which is mostly country lanes and town driving. This bettered the BMW quoted figure for Combined driving of 65.7 mpg.
Audio - 7/10
I don't much care for car audio to be fair, I just listen to music quietly, it seems good and has DAB so you always have good signal but otherwise it's just another car stereo.
Value - 7/10
This car as I had it sits at the premium end of the hatchback market in terms of pricing and sits about level with the Golf GTD at around £26,000 which makes it pretty good value as it'll do everything you need without having any compromise and if I had the need for more space and more economy, this and the Golf GTD would be top of my list for sure.
Engine: 2 litre turbocharged inline four diesel
Power: 184 HP at 4,000 RPM/ 380Nm at 1750 RPM
Transmission: Six-speed manual
0-62 Time: 7.1 seconds
Top Speed: 142 MPH
Drivetrain: Rear Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 1430 kg
Seating: Two up front, Three in back
MPG (Imperial): 52.3 city/76.3 highway/65.7 combined
Photos: My Potato/BMW
This is my first post as an author on Oppo, My name is Leon, and I'm a Mechanical Design Engineer and I design special purpose wire forming machinery and I also have an Honours Degree in Motorsport Technology and an MX-5.