The fun fac­tor

Brian Bas­sett drives the new BMW 120d M Sport Auto

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

THE BMW 1 Series is an ex­ec­u­tive com­pact de­signed by Christo­pher Chap­man in 2001 to re­place the 3 Series com­pact.

BMW’s latest brochure shows a group young enough to be stu­dents pho­tographed with the ve­hi­cle. Sadly, with the col­lapse of the rand and con­se­quent price rises for im­ported Ger­man ve­hi­cles, the only way South African stu­dents will get to own a new 120d is via the gen­eros­ity of an af­flu­ent daddy — of the sugar or bi­o­log­i­cal type.

Our ap­pre­ci­a­tion goes once again to An­thony El­lis, dealer prin­ci­pal of SMG Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, for al­low­ing us a few days with the car.

Styling

The 1 Series’ de­sign has ma­tured since its launch in 2004. The first im­pres­sion of those big kid­ney grills com­ing up in the rearview mir­ror is of an ag­gres­sive, pow­er­ful nose. In pass­ing, the ribbed side pan­els leave one with a feel­ing of ath­leti­cism and speed.

The rear win­dow is sub­tly un­der­lined by a metal rib and punc­tu­ated by strik­ing light clus­ters and a cen­trally- placed BMW badge, which serves as the tail­gate han­dle. A set of 17- inch, light- al­loy dou­ble- spoke wheels ac­cen­tu­ate the pow­er­ful na­ture of the over­all de­sign. It comes in three- and five- door op­tions, of which the five- door is the most prac­ti­cal.

In­te­rior

The in­te­rior of the 120d with the M Sport Pack is all qual­ity. The sports seats at the front are com­fort­able and fully ad­justable. The in­te­rior is fin­ished in soft, el­e­gantly stitched leather and soft plas­tics are of the best qual­ity.

The cen­tral stack has an 8,8- inch screen on top, op­er­ated by an i- drive con­troller on the cen­tral con­sole. The screen is big enough to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on the au­dio sys­tem, as well as for the GPS and BMW Con­nected Drive, which are both ex­tras which turn the car into a 1 450 kg computer.

What is not big enough is the legroom in the rear, es­pe­cially with a long- legged or over- bulked driver like me hav­ing to push the front seats all the way back. The boot, how­ever, is re­spectable, able to store 360 litres or 1 200 litres with the rear seats folded down.

Safety and se­cu­rity

The 120d has a five- star Euro NCAP rat­ing, so you know it is about as safe as your driv­ing makes it.

There is a wide range of safety fea­tures too long to list here but in­clud­ing six airbags, seat­belts for all and ISOFIX fit­tings for child seats. The Dy­namic Sta­bil­ity Con­trol and In­tel­li­gent Emer­gency Call func­tions are also use­ful.

Not so use­ful is the lack of a spare tyre. But the car has run flat tyres, which al­lows you to drive to the near­est ser­vice sta­tion at 80 km/ h and have your dam­aged tyre re­paired. How­ever, given the poor con­di­tion of South African roads, we rec­om­mend that you al­ways carry a full- sized spare in the boot, which will un­for­tu­nately take up some lug­gage space. The Adap­tive Head­lights and Ap­proach Con­trol Warn­ing Sys­tems are use­ful, but op­tional. There is also cen­tral lock­ing and a built in alarm sys­tem.

Per­for­mance and han­dling

The 120d is no slouch. The four- cylin­der, two- litre, twin turbo, diesel en­gine pro­duces 140 kW and 400 Nm. 0- 100 km/ h comes up in about seven sec­onds and top speed is around 228 km/ h.

Fuel con­sump­tion is dif­fi­cult with so much de­pend­ing on driv­ing style and ter­rain, but we achieved around five litres per 100 km, which is very good con­sid­er­ing that 20% of our driv­ing was on rough back roads.

The car ex­presses its power on road via an eight- speed auto gear­box and ac­cel­er­a­tion can be quite breath­tak­ing.

In the 120d the steering is pre­cise and pro­vides in­stant feed­back.

This, when com­bined with the multi-linked sus­pen­sion and rear wheel drive chas­sis, makes for su­perb han­dling and the car is great fun to drive.

On the N3 the power comes through and you will have no prob­lem pass­ing long loads — and ev­ery­body else for that mat­ter.

On the Mid­lands D- roads the 120d han­dles well, but the ride is a lit­tle hard at speed to be com­fort­able.

In town the 120d is easy to drive and its Park As­sist Sys­tem takes some of the agony out of Satur­day morn­ing mall park­ing. It is ideal for de­liv­er­ing and col­lect­ing the kids and, if you are into that kind of thing, it is a great lit­tle ro­bot racer.

Costs and the com­pe­ti­tion

The 120d, five- door costs about R420 000.

There are 10 mod­els in the series with the 118i com­ing in at around R360 000 and the top- of- the- range M135 auto cost­ing R580 000. The cars come with the BMW five- year/ 100 000 km, ex­tend­able mo­tor plan.

Also look at the Mercedes A Class, Volvo V40, Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf among oth­ers.

PHOTO: BMW

The tar­geted buy­ers will need a trust fund to af­ford the BMW 120d but it will re­ward younger driv­ers.

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