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Click to view road test review picture galleryBMW’s compact
  prestige model, the
  120d, has badge
  desirability and the
  build quality and
  handling dynamics
  to satisfy both the
  sporting and non-
  sporting driver...”


HOW TIME FLIES WHEN YOU'RE ENJOYING YOURSELF. It was only when some friends bought a pre-owned 1 Series BMW that we realised that BMW's 'baby' has been around for over three years. And hasn't it done well!

Our friend's 'new' pre-owned 5-door arrived the same week as our 120d SE 5-door test car. It's actually a very good test of a car — seeing one that's been out in the front line, diligently doing its duty. With the One, BMW have managed to scale down the size of the product without compromising the 'brand' quality. The 1 Series is one of those shapes that is much better in the metal; get the right colour and it really does do justice to the 'cab-rear' body style, emphasised by the long bonnet and roofline, upright nose and truncated front overhang. A recent minor makeover fine-tuned the looks with a larger grille and new headlamps that leave onlookers in no doubt that it is a BMW.

BMW are best-known for making sporting cars that are rewarding to drive. It's a tradition that hasn't been lost in the 1 Series. We tested the 5-door 120d which manages a very appealing blend of economy and performance. Whether you choose three doors or five, economy is all you could wish for — for many, the diesel-powered models will be the pick of the bunch.

Given that the 120d will run to 142mph and crack the 0-62mph sprint in 7.6 seconds, its ability to return an average consumption of 58.9mpg (with a potential 68.9mpg on offer for extra-urban use) is not far short of amazing. A week's enthusiastic driving by MotorBar's road testers still saw an overall figure of 48.8mpg. That the performance is impres-sive is down to the 177bhp and the 258lb ft of torque produced by the four-cylinder turbodiesel.

But economy is only half of the 1 Series story. Remember, this is a BMW, so sporting performance can be taken for granted. Right?
In point of fact, Yes — it can. Perhaps the 1 Series' strongest selling point is that it's a rear-wheel drive hatchback in a market sector awash with front-wheel drive rivals. And, like a good deed in dark world, it shines out. In a single simplified soundbite: the BMW One offers a persuasively entertaining drive.

But before we get into the pleasing nitty-gritty of the 120d's dynamic abilities, a quick look at what else you get would be appropriate.
After all, not everybody buying one has the same set of priorities.
For some it will be their first step on the BMW ladder; others could likely be downsizing from another premium brand. These customers will be looking to creature comforts — and they won't be disappointed.

The 1 Series may be smaller than the average BMW but it doesn't
lack any of its bigger brothers' hi-tech equipment. Particularly when it comes to safety — the One is well-endowed with all the essentials: ABS with electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Cornering Brake Control, Dynamic Brake Control, Automatic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control and Dynamic. There's also front, side and curtain airbags.
No problem with run-flat tyres, either — the ride's good with them and the extra boot space is always useful. If you buy a five-door, you're probably intending to use the rear seats for more than just shopping. The rear accommodation is good — the rear bench is of a 60:40 split/fold design — and there's more headroom than you would expect seeing the car from outside.

So long as those travelling up front aren't too tall, four average-size adults can be accommodated comfortably, with good support from the seats. For those times when you need to maximise the rear load bay, the practically-shaped 330-litre boot is easily extended (to 1,150 litres) by folding down the rear seats (they fold almost flat). Access via the rear hatch is also good and the swivelling boot badge that opens the tailgate a neat touch.

Settle in the driver's seat and you would be forgiven for thinking you're sitting in a low-slung sports car. Better still, there's lots of adjustment in every direction on the very supportive seat, as well as of the steering wheel — a comfortable driving position is guaranteed. Dead ahead through the top arc of the meaty, leather-wrapped multi-function wheel is a cowled set of clear — unbeatable white-on-black — and easy-to-read instruments. The dash is attractively minimalist; all controls and switchgear arranged in a businesslike manner and the short gear lever is close to hand. Nicely-shaped, very-comfortable-in-your-palm gear knob, too.

Overall there's a snug, sporty feel to the cabin that generates an instant familiarity, as if it has been tailored to you personally. Look around some more and you'll find that fit and finish, too, are up there with the best in the class. Plus there's all the usual refinements that you'd expect on a 'classy' model including 2-Zone automatic AirCon, audible parking sensors front and rear (with, helpfully, different warning tones for each end of the car), lots of well-considered in-cabin storage, four one-shot auto up/down windows (and, commendably, the rear glass retracts fully into the door), good-size buttons for the audio and on-board computer, automatic 'drive off' central locking and, a clever touch this, the side bolstering on the front seatbacks can be pumped up at the press of a button for a perfect fit — or maximum location for a blast of spirited driving.

The 'sporty' feel theme continues when you fire-up the engine: before you can push the stop/start button you must plug in the electronic
key — it docks neatly into the slot on the fascia to the left of the steering column. Dip the clutch, press the button and the diesel unit fires immediately, quickly settling to a near-silent and very undiesel-ish tick-over. Honestly, you really can't tell it drinks derv!

Not only are these starter buttons satisfying to use, they're so much easier than twisting a key (safer for your knees, too, in an accident) and there's never a chance of a key-blade snapping off in the lock
(it happened to us a few years back on our own 7 Series and was Very Bad News). And No, when that happens, even the (very!) nice break-down man won't be able to quickly solve your problem. The next aspect of the 120d that you'll quickly appreciate is its refinement. It certainly makes most of the other diesels in this class sound rather agricultural. And it's not down to some clever insulation, either — this 120d unit is mechanically refined and, idling or punching out power and torque in the upper ranges, it is a superbly smooth operator.

What's it like to drive? Lovely; very wieldy — a driver's car. If you
think all that stuff about cars steering and handling more sweetly
when the power is transmitted to the road via the rear wheels is just so much marketing puff, then you need to try out one of these 120ds. And soon. Its rear-wheel drive is, without a doubt, a major advan-
tage over every one of its front-wheel drive rivals — the 1 Series is,
in fact, the only rear-driven sports hatch that you can buy.

If you haven't come across it before, the standard-fit Stop/Start system may surprise you. Pull up, engage neutral and release the clutch and the engine cuts out. The first time it does its clever party trick gives you something of a shock. Even when you know, part of your brain is yelling "What's happened?" Don't panic — this is cutting-edge progress in action. At the same time as the engine cuts out,
the alternator is de-coupled and the AirCon compressor scaled back
to save energy and improve miles per gallon.

Ready to move off? The engine automatically restarts the moment you depress the clutch pedal. And it's quicker than you will ever be —
long before your brain has ordered the left hand/left foot sub-routine with the gearlever/clutch. BMW have, sensibly, made it possible to easily turn Stop/Start off although once you've driven around with it in heavy traffic you forget all about it and automaticlly leave it to do its bit to save fuel — which is the reason why it's there in the first place!

Talking of neat features, another is the brake lights: brake normally and they light up as per normal; emergency brake or trigger the
ABS and they blaze much brighter to warn following drivers. Another piece of high-tech kit — Brake Energy Regeneration — recharges
the battery every time you apply the brakes!

With so much safety kit on board it's good to know that you can still have fun driving. High grip levels (backed up by the stability control system) allow you to make the most of the 120d's undeniably sporty driving characteristics. The ride is sports car firm — but forgiving. Our test car was running Bridgestone Potenza run-flat rubber (205/50) on 5-blade 17-inch alloys — no complaints there.

As usual, some will say the ride's too hard while others will say it's a well-chosen compromise between comfort and reassuring stability. For us, the 120d's ride was the latter — and pleasantly fidget-free. Body control, grip and balance are all first-rate and the 120d always feels tidy and poised. Sharp steering, unencumbered by any torque con-tamination, is nicely weighted — you'll find the One is always keen to change direction. Good enough, power through a demanding series of sweeping bends at an exciting velocity with genuine assurance. Or, in layman's terms — planted and slingable.

The chassis and engine perform a polished duet: there's the feeling that more power could readily be accommodated — although the 120d's smoothly-delivered 258lb ft of torque provides impressive pace and punch. Even on quick-moving motorways you rarely need to drop down the 'box; and when you need to, the slick change action makes
it a pleasure. While it's always eager to get up to speed, the 120d is just as happy to scrub it off again. The brakes are reassuringly pro-gressive and powerful with good take-up and feel and you get the feeling that even a long descent down alpine hairpins wouldn't faze or fade them.

Overall the 120d is a very thoroughly considered and well-thought out driving machine. Sure, the One may be the baby of the range but that certainly doesn't make it any less a BMW!

BMW 120d SE 5-door | 22,365
Maximum speed: 142mph | 0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 28.2mpg | Power: 177bhp | Torque: 258lb ft

CO2 128g/km | Insurance group 14


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