The fun factor
Brian Bassett drives the new BMW 120d M Sport Auto
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.
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.
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.
The targeted buyers will need a trust fund to afford the BMW 120d but it will reward younger drivers.