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Click to view road test review picture galleryThe ‘Green One’
  from BMW — the BMW
  118d is ‘World Green
  Car of the Year’.
A great engine and
  excellent handling
  prove you can still
  have fun while you’re
  doing your bit to
  save the planet...”

from 1 April 2008 nine out of ten motorists have had to suffer higher Vehicle Excise Duty costs. Also a showroom tax to be based on a car
's CO2 emissions comes into force from 2010, and road tax charges for the most polluting cars go on increasing on a regular basis up to 2010-2011.

From 6 April 2008 there are also changes in the company car tax thresholds with some people paying less and some more. The big winners are those company car drivers currently running, or changing to, a car emitting 120g/km or less of CO2. For these drivers there is
a new — down from 15 per cent — ten per cent tax band.

Given that many new car buyers acquire their cars with some form of finance agreement or by using lease and contract hire terms lasting three years, now is the time to consider what level of taxes you will
be paying on your new current car in three years' time. The advice is buy or lease now with caution, because in 2010 and onwards your seemingly-affordable current car might be hitting your pocket much, much harder in terms of overall unning costs.

Right on cue for both retail customers and company car drivers comes news that BMW's 1 Series 118d (in three- and five-door hatchback form) has just been awarded the title of World Green Car of the Year. A jury of 47 motor journalists from 24 countries gave the award to the BMW 118d which features a low CO2 turbodiesel engine and BMW's EfficientDynamics technology. The award was made to BMW at the New York International Auto Show in March this year.

The BMW 118d officially returns 62.8mpg in the combined cycle. CO2 emissions of 119g/km put it into the Band B category for Vehicle Excise Duty, which costs just 35 a year. From the end of October this year, the BMW 118d will also be exempt from the London Congestion Charge.

While several manufacturers have so-called 'green' model programmes (Ford has Econetic, Audi its 'e', SEAT Ecomotive, VW Bluemotion and Mercedes will have Bluetec) BMW has done more than any other manu-facturer to introduce fuel and CO2 saving technologies for the vast majority of their models, not just a few individual production cars. BMW's EfficientDynamics is incorporated in all of their models with the exception of the Z4 and ageing 7 Series.

EfficientDynamics implements energy capture systems, brake energy regeneration, auto stop-start, electric power steering, optimum gear-shift change indicators, lightweight body panels and components as well as research into the use of alternative fuels such as Hydrogen. However, BMW still aims to retain, in their new vehicles, the power
and performance associated with the brand.

BMW says that in 2008 they expect to sell 700,000 new cars in Europe incorporating EfficientDynamics technologies, and that this will save 33 million gallons of fuel compared to their pre-EfficientDynamics cars sold in 2006. This will, in turn, lead to a reduction in CO2 of 373,000 tonnes in Europe — that's enough to provide electrical energy for 190,000 people for more than four years. Impressive stuff!

There are already 110,000 BMW cars on British roads incorporating EfficientDynamics technology, saving 54,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

When it was first launched in 2004, the BMW 1 Series five-door hatch-back was unique. It was the only front-engined rear-wheel drive car in the compact segment. In March 2007, the revised five-door range was introduced and the 1 Series three-door models followed in May. Since then the Coupe has been added to the 1 Series line-up and the rag-top Convertibles joined the range in April.

No matter what body style, BMW's aim for their 'baby' 1 Series range is uncompromised driving dynamics and a product aimed at a new gener-ation of customers that can join the brand for the first time because of its relatively-affordable price. Increasingly, more likely converts to the 1 Series will be business and retail down-sizers being driven out of 3 Series and 5 Series models because of the higher cost of living, higher fuel prices, road taxes and company car taxation.

BMW will sell around 30,000 1 Series in the UK this year — an increase from just over 23,000 in 2007. The largest-selling models will be the five-door variants — although the more sporty looking three-door versions are proving to be more popular than expected, especially with younger and older customers who do not have the need to carry children with them on a regular basis.

BMW 1 Series three-door hatchback on-the-road prices from April start at 16,185; five-door models begin at 16,715. But under the current economic climate, it is the 118d lower-CO2 variants which interest me most. The three-door versions fitted with this turbodiesel engine start from a reasonable 18,350 (five-door versions from 18,880). Both body styles are available with Standard, ES, SE and M Sport levels of specification.

My test car was the 118d SE three-door, priced at 20,300. That's more or less the same price as the smaller MINI Cooper D Clubman with Chili option pack. For comparative purposes, the Clubman has a 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine; the larger BMW 1 Series 118d a 2.0-litre unit.

Whilst some customers will be interested in the trendy style and fuel economy afforded by the MINI Clubman, the better proposition is the
1 Series — three or five-door. Both marques are premium brands.
In truth, the BMW 1 Series has as its main competitor the Audi A3 — also available in three- and five-door bodystyles — and that range
also has sub-120g/km green 'e' variants with 1.9-litre, 119g/km TDI engines priced at 16,660 and 17,160 plus options. So, with like-for-like specification, the Audi A3 TDIe and the BMW 118d are more or less the same price. The A3 is due for a facelift shortly, so prices might increase.

The 118d has slightly more power and torque than the A3 TDIe, so it
is faster both for top speed and acceleration and the BMW's engine is certainly more refined. However, the A3 is more economical, with an average fuel consumption of 62.7mpg — and my test car achieved exactly that! The CO2 figures are the same (at 119g/km) so the same 35 road tax bill applies. However, the BMW 118d is supposed to return 62.8mpg but my test car, covering the same sort of week-long driving conditions as the A3, only recorded a disappointing 47.8mpg.

In my view the BMW 1 Series 118d three-door is, overall, marginally the better car of the two because it is more user-friendly and currently more modern. It is easier to see out of when parking, there is more rear seat legroom (just) and the engine is much quieter, although not so fuel-friendly. Neither car will really cause their owners any regrets and, for some people, the Audi brand's desirability is currently stronger.

But to return to test car in question. The three-door 1 Series looks much more of a sporty car than its five-door stablemate, almost coupe seen in side profile. The heavily-contoured side styling lines, the low side sills, the bold BMW front end and the neat tailgated rear combine to create a particularly smart package.

The 118d, in SE form, is pretty well equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, 16-inch lightweight steel wheels, six airbags, stability and traction control, remote control alarm, 60:40 folding rear seats, twill cloth upholstery, electrically-operated door windows and heated mirrors, on-board computer, stereo radio/CD player, automatic climate control, sports steering wheel with multi-function buttons and rear parking sensors.

Its standard-fit EfficientDynamics package includes low-rolling resist-ance tyres, automatic engine stop/start, intelligent alternator with brake energy capture, electromechanical power steering, optimum gear change indicator and aluminium suspension components.

The six-speed manual transmission has longer fifth and sixth gear ratios to optimise fuel economy, so the driving experience on country roads
is a little different to other high-torque diesel cars: in some circum-stances it is necessary to drive in fifth gear at mid-range speeds rather than sixth. However, there is enough torque to keep gearchanges to a minimum and let the engine do the work when acceleration from 50 to 70mph is required. On open roads and motorways, the high gearing makes for relaxed and economical driving.

The stop/start system, which can be switched off, works well. There are quite a number of cars with it, but it will take newcomers to the technology a short time to get used to it. Come to a halt, disengage gear, on with the handbrake and the engine stops. Put your foot on the clutch and the engine re-starts automatically.

My test car returned nowhere near the official mpg figure and rear legroom is limited (although that doesn't stop it being an ideal car for singles or couples), but I do like the looks of the BMW 1 Series three-door. Sure it's smart — but I like the performance and low taxation costs of the 118d engine even more. Add to that the excellent handling — thanks to its front-engine and rear-wheel drive layout — a great engine, low emissions, reasonable fuel economy and a smart interior and you have car with 'winner' written all over it! — David Miles

BMW 118d SE 3-door | 20,300
Maximum speed: 130mph | 0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 47.8mpg | 143bhp | 221lb ft
| CO2 119g/km

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