The BMW 1 Series hatchback has been around in 5-door guise since 2004, while the 3-door hatchback was introduced in 2005. It replaced the BMW 3 Series Compact range as BMW’s smallest and most affordable vehicle in the range (depending on the engine model) and boasts a number of unique attributes for its class. For instance, the 1 Series is the only vehicle in its class featuring rear-wheel drive, 50:50 weight balance, a longitudinally-mounted engine and an advanced aluminum multi-link suspension. It is currently one of BMW’s best-selling cars and in 2008, accounted for nearly one-fifth of the manufacturers total sales.
With credentials like these, it was with great interest that we took delivery of our first BMW test car here at SACarFan, to discover what the 1 Series, and indeed the M Sport version, is all about.
By now a familiar face on our roads, the BMW 1 series hatchback certainly raised some eyebrows when it was launched back in 2004, ours included. Things improved with the arrival of the 3-door version, which we can’t help but think was the way the baby of the range was always supposed to look. Add the ‘M’ aerodynamic kit, however, and the look of the car is transformed from a curious looking hatchback to a compelling hot-hatch. The terribly drab front bumper from the standard model is replaced by one sporting integrated fog lights and a deep, centre aligned air dam, flanked by smaller air intakes on either side. The side skirts are bolder than those fitted to the standard 1 series and feature a bulge that draws one’s eye from the front to the rear of the car. The rear bumper receives a dramatic design change, with an inset dark grey diffuser-like section rounding off the more sporty look, along with chromed twin-tailpipes. Double-spoke ‘M’ 17-inch alloy wheels, shod in 205/50 profile rubber up front and 225/45 at the rear, fill the wheel arches courtesy of the M Sport suspension, which gives the 120i M Sport a 15 mm lower ride height over the standard model and helps to complete the polished M Sport look.
The sharply defined angles of the outside are continued on the inside of the 120i M Sport and are complimented by softer curves, such as the door handles. The result is a modern, minimalistic and simple cabin that achieves a stylish synergy. As expected, a comfortable driving position is quickly attainable by adjusting the seat and steering wheel to your desired settings. The driving position of the BMW 1 Series is inherently low to begin with and raising the seat height may result in taller drivers looking through the top of the windscreen. Having said this, you only really notice the low slung driving position when climbing in and out of the car, once you’re inside it’s a comfortable ride. The leather covered sports seats may have a lot to do with the comfort factor, as they provide good all round support whether sitting in traffic or relishing your favourite corners. With the majority of head and legroom up front, the 3-door 1-Series does not welcome rear passengers. In fact, passengers up front commented that the legroom was potentially too generous as they had no floor board to push against to support themselves. Standard interior specifications are as you’d expect from a BMW and include air-conditioning, stereo jack for auxiliary music devices, radio/CD player, driver and passenger front and side airbags, as well as head (curtain) airbags for both front and rear passengers. Apart from the seats, the M Sport package enhances the interior with aluminium trim on the dashboard and door inlays; leather covered, multifunction sports steering wheel; leather covered hand brake and gearshift lever gaiter; as well as anthracite coloured roof lining. The interior, and indeed the whole car, gives one the over-riding impression of impeccable build quality. From the tactile interior elements, to the solid thud of the doors, the BMW 1 Series M Sport feels built to last.
With its low-slung driving position, the BMW 1-series hatch immediately feels sporty before even turning the key. The chunky, three-spoke, sports steering wheel provides accurate steering and adequate feedback from the road. The leather clad gearshift lever fits snugly in your hand and with short throws between the gates, provides a sporty, precise and rewarding shift through the 6-speed gearbox, urging you to change at every opportunity. Once on the move the 120i M Sport certainly grabs the attention of other road users, who no doubt expect to see a 130i badge on the boot. The engine note from the twin-exhausts is one of the best of any in-line four available and when you point the tacho needle skyward the BMW 120i M Sport responds willingly. The road-holding provided by the 17-inch wheels, with run-flat tyres as standard, and sports suspension is very good – the chassis is firm, offering positive feel and a comfortable ride – as a result the rear-wheel drive 120i M navigates corners with enthusiasm.
The M Sport package does not include performance enhancements for the 2,0-litre engine found in the 120i M. This means power output remains unchanged from that of the standard model, with 115 kW of peak power available at 6 400 rpm and maximum torque of 200 N.m at 3 600 rpm. The 120i M feels slightly underpowered compared to what one may expect, although this expectation is created from the sporty elements of the M Sport package rather than the abilities of the 1995 cc naturally aspirated engine, whose output figures are among the highest in its class. Stirring the gearbox, as its sporty nature urges you to do, will have the 120i M running along at a respectable pace, regardless of the uphill and down-dale nature of our roads. The naturally aspirated engine revs willingly and sings the more you wind it up. The bottom line is that the 120i M Sport is not a particularly fast car and the ‘M Sport’ package is more about the look and feel, rather than outright pace. But that’s okay, because between the sweet shifting gearbox, throaty roar from the engine, sports seats and steering wheel, balanced chassis and excellent road-holding, the BMW 120i M Sport put a smile on our face every time we drove it.
What we like…
- Superb build quality.
- Much improved looks over those of the standard model.
- A sports package that delivers equal to its value.
What we would like…
- A touch more power to exploit the rear-wheel drive chassis – it’s a big jump in price and power to the 130i model.
- In an ideal world – a sacrifice of some front legroom in exchange for more in the rear.
|Base Price||R298 200|
|Service Plan||5 year / 100 000 km|
|Engine Capacity||1 995 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||4-cylinders, In-line|
|Power||115 kW @ 6 400 rpm|
|Torque||200 N.m @ 3 600|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h in 7.7 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||224 km/h (claimed)|
|Fuel Consumption||6.4 l/100km (claimed combined)|