site search by freefind
MotorBar: 1200+ unique in-depth car reviews. Plus travel & destinations, and 1000 DVD and CD reviews. Online for 14 years. Written by experts.
BMW 120d M Sport 3-door

Click to view picture gallery“Just because the world is running
  out of fuel doesn
t mean you have
  to drive a horse-and-cart. In a BMW
  1 Series you can have the best of
  both worlds — still enjoy your driving
while minimising your fuel usage.
  How about that!

YOU HAVE A CHOICE: Are you going to take time out to study the BMW's distinctive looks or just get in and drive it? As it's a BMW, the correct answer is Don't just stand there Drive it. We're talking here about the three-door 1 Series which is, effectively, to BMW what the A3 is to Audi. To many eyes the three-door 1 Series hatch is better proportioned than the five-door, appearing nicely 'hunkered down' on the road and, significantly, unmistakably a BMW.

Although the 1 Series is, by definition, BMW's entry-level range, don't think it means there's any less quality than is found on the 5 or 7 Series ranges. If you do linger to appreciate this BMW up close, you'll find admirable shut lines that confirm the 1 Series cars to be very well made. Open a door and jump in. The door shuts easily; the precise action underscored by a quality sounding 'clunk'.

The clutter-free cabin is well turned-out; look around and you'll see only high-quality, pleasant-to-the-touch trim materials — including a particularly attractive figured aluminium fascia insert. The same real metal is wrapped around the curved door pulls and used for the gear lever surround to good visual effect. While it's easy to assume that full leather is best, don't discount the standard upholstery — the 3D woven-effect fabric used for the centre panels of our test car's Sports seats looked every bit as smart and stylish.

The 'grippy' front seats provide first-rate support and location; not only do they tilt and adjust for height, they also have extending under-thigh support as well as powered adjustment of the backrest side bolsters for a genuinely snug fit. The driver sits nicely square to the wheel and the fine driving position is further enhanced by generous rake and reach adjustment of the leather-trimmed steering wheel. Perforated work areas ensure it feels good in your hands. As, too, does the M Sport gear knob, also covered in perforated leather. Key switchgear — for the DTC switch-out, hazard warning lights and master central-locking — is sited exactly where it should be: top-centre on the fascia.

Standard equipment on the 120d M Sport includes all the essentials: BMW Business radio/single CD player with six speakers, Aux-in socket for your MP3/iPod player, on-board computer, rear parking sensors, three-spoke multi-function M-badged leather steering wheel, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Start/Stop button, front electric windows with auto one-shot open/close, 2Zone climate control, 60:40 split-folding rear seat, power-operated and heated door mirrors, heated windscreen washer jets, 17-inch light alloy wheels, run-flat tyres and a Tyre Puncture Warning System plus a host of high-tech kit for maximising both economy and safety.

There's more than enough room in the front, but it's not quite so roomy in the back. There might be three head restraints and belts but fitting in three average-sized adults (5' 11") is tight. The centre seat is compromised by the transmission tunnel — an unavoidable consequence of the rear-wheel drive layout. Two adults, however, can get comfy and each has a built-in outer armrest but no centre one. Visibility out for back seat passengers is fine. Having only three doors suggests a non-family owner-driver who's bought the 120d principally for its dynamic appeal, but if you prefer to buy a five-door, it's just down to choice.

Boot capacity is not bad at all — 330 litres — and whilst not huge, it's more than adequate. The maximum load space, by the way, is 1,150 litres. If golf is your game; you might need to fold one side of the 60:40 split/folding sections of the rear seat backrests down to transport your clubs. Should this be necessary, they do fold down easily. As do the rear head restraints for better rearward visibility when not in use — a nice touch is the easy-to-use buttons that flip the headrests down. Non-slip, stretchable rubber luggage straps on the boot floor restrain smaller items; lashing eyes keep bigger loads in situ.

While we're poking around in the boot — which, incidentally, opens via a neat, swivelling BMW badge on boot panel — look under the boot floor. There's no spare wheel — because of the standard-fit run-flat tyres — just some additional storage and the battery (a jump start facility is provided in the engine bay). Another long-standing BMW tradition is the smart toolkit — not that you're ever likely to need it!

Diesel power has long since ceased to be a dirty word, particularly when it comes to prestige cars. The 1 Series offers a choice of four petrol engines and two diesels. But it's the diesels that make the most sense: the 177bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel powering the 120d is a fine example of the breed — it's refined and economical with muscular mid-range urge. Pick-up is good in all six gears, courtesy of the 258lb ft of torque on tap from 1,750rpm with both 3rd and 4th offering real punch whether you're matching speed as you join the motorway or just nipping past slower moving traffic on B-roads.

BMW's EfficientDynamics technology does its bit to provide decent performance while reducing emissions. Technology installed on the 120d includes electric power steering, brake energy regeneration, low rolling resistance tyres, automatically de-coupling alternator and air-con compressor and an automatic Stop-Start function. Emissions are pretty good for the performance: 128g/km in return for a 142mph top speed and 0-62mph acceleration in a brisk 7.5 seconds.

Impressive, given its 'greenness'. A digital shift indicator encourages timely upward gear changes to help maximise economy — use it and you quickly realise how easy it is to leave the car in a lower gear without realising when you should be changing up. Next time you hop in a taxi, watch the driver and see how he's in a high gear wherever possible.

Change when the shift indicator says so and you'll see big MPG figures — as much as 68.9mpg extra-urban, 46.3 urban and 58.9 combined — on the driver's trip computer. Even ignoring it and pushing hard, we still recorded an overall test average of 42.2mpg. Pretty good given the entertaining quality of the driving.

At the legal limit in sixth gear the rev-counter is showing a relaxed 1,900rpm, so at everyday motorway speeds you're right on peak torque. Driven like this, the 120d just lopes along in a manner that means you and your BMW won't be won't be seeing much of the fuel pumps.

Despite all the 'green' it's reassuring to know that there's also plenty of red-blooded driveability in the 120d because at heart it's a real driver's car — despite the eco-side of its nature, there's plenty of pace on call whenever and wherever you feel in the mood. And, let's face it, what's the principal reason you buy a BMW if not to enjoy driving it.

And drive it you can. Its edge over any would-be rivals is down to three things: an excellent 50:50 weight distribution, a rear-wheel drive set-up and — another well-known BMW trait — accurate, uncorrupted steering with lots of feel. And it's the kind of feel that's simply not available from a front-wheel drive car.

Make full use of the accelerator and you'll quickly discover that driving the 120d enthusiastically is one of life's better experiences. It's well balanced and handles tidily; noticeably so when pressing on through long fast sweepers where the car feels reassuringly stable. Adding to the sense of being firmly in control are strong brakes and a brake pedal with lots of feedback. The best way to sum up the 120d is to say that the more we drove the 120d, the more we liked it.

The 120d M Sport comes with M Sports suspension (aluminium double-joint spring-strut front axle and lightweight five-link rear axle) and 17-inch M Sport 10-double-spoke alloy wheels shod with 225/45 Pirelli run-flat tyres. A lot of people think this is a recipe for a harsh ride, but judging by our test car this is definitely not the case. The 1 Series does have a firm ride but there's enough 'give' there for most people.

Motorways are cruised with stability and refinement — at 70mph in sixth there's just 2,000rpm on the rev-counter and the cabin is well insulated from wind and road noise. In fact, during our week-long test over mixed roads we never felt the slightest hint of being bounced around.

Earlier we mentioned that the 120d is well fitted out with safety kit. It is, both to help keep you out of an accident and, if the worst happens, to keep you safe. Regarding the latter, there's a good supply of airbags: driver and passenger front and side, with head airbags front and rear.

In respect of preventive safety the 120d has ABS, Automatic Stability Control (ASC+T), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). A nice touch is the bumpers — they regenerate to their original shape following impacts up to 2.5mph. Isofix child seat attachments are provided front and rear, with front airbag deactivation.

Can we say the three-door 120d M Sport does what it says on the tin? Unquestionably. Good news for a planet running out of fuel, because it's fairly frugal. And in a world where driving pleasure usually comes at a cost, it's engaging and pleasurable to drive. — MotorBar

BMW 120d M Sport 3-door
| 23,620
Maximum speed: 142mph | 0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 42.2mpg | Power: 177bhp | Torque: 258lb ft
CO2 128g/km | Insurance group 14