It doesn't matter how long I stare at our new BMW 120d, I can't decide whether I love the styling or not
It doesn't matter how long I stare at our new BMW 120d, I can't decide whether I love the styling or not. The Sydney Blue colour is great, and I'm not one of the doubters who doesn't appreciate the contrasting lines of the side profile. It's the front I'm not convinced about. Still, having covered nearly 3,000 miles in the last month, I've been spending far more time at the wheel than gazing at the bodywork.
During two long-range excursions to Wales for photoshoots, plus three trips to UK race tracks with our Uniroyal Fun Cup Beetle team, I've quickly come to appreciate the motorway refinement. Cruising at 70mph in sixth, the rev counter shows just over 2,000rpm, and this has helped my average fuel consumption of 39mpg. But it's the big-car stability and lack of wind noise that really impress. In fact, you feel as if you could be at the wheel of a 3-Series or even a 5-Series.
I'm also enjoying the 120d off the motorway, because dynamically it's as accomplished as BMW's bigger cars, too. I love the accurate steering, faultless grip and sheer agility, while the strong brakes offer lots of feel. Even the six-speed gearbox has a slick action, which is just as well because with the 163bhp 2.0-litre diesel providing excellent mid-range punch, you find yourself shifting up quickly into the high gears to let the torque do the work. It's not too noisy, either - when cold there's a bit of engine clatter at idle, but generally it's a really pleasant oil-burner.
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But while the driving experience has won me over, there are some negative points. The rear-wheel-drive layout means the centre rear seat is compromised by the transmission tunnel, and the boot isn't as large as most hatch rivals'. While certainly not an ideal family car, for a single chap such as myself it's more than roomy enough. BMW has also come in for flak about poor ride quality on cars fitted with run-flat tyres. But we made sure our SE-spec car came without sports suspension so the ride, while firm, is pretty good. The only other downside is the list price, which at £21,150 takes it into Golf GTI territory.
On top of that, our 1-Series has a huge £5,935 worth of options fitted, making it a seriously expensive car. The leather electric sports seats are very comfortable, but there's nothing wrong with the standard cloth items, so we'd advise you not to go crazy when ticking the options boxes - it's unlikely you'll get your money back come resale time.
And being well equipped hasn't prevented our car suffering a fault already. It may only be a month old, but the bonnet release catch has jammed. Car firms say you never need to stick your head into the engine bay any more - but what about refilling the screenwash? That's right, the combination of warm summer weather bringing the bugs out and the BMW's high-mileage routine means we're already out of washer fluid - a trip to the dealer to get the bonnet opened is the next step. I'm expecting good service for this premium car, so let's hope they don't let me down.
That aside I've no complaints about the 120d. There's even a handy auxiliary plug socket for MP3 players or iPods, so I can listen to all my tunes on the move. Open roads, good weather and music on the stereo - sounds like a perfect day. Owen Mildenhall
Second Opinion I've never been a fan of the ride in a 1-Series, but Owen's car is better than any other I've driven because it has ordinary suspension and 16-inch wheels. However, I still reckon it's a bit on the firm side and that there's room for BMW to produce a more comfort-focused model. Given how refined the car's diesel engine is at speed, that could prove to be an excellent combination. Piers Ward, road tester