Product Type: BMW cars
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BMW 120d Sport/SE
Member Name: UKGuy
BMW 120d Sport/SE
Date: 25/11/05, updated on 25/11/05 (9952 review reads)
Advantages: Quick, smooth, refined and beautifully put together
Disadvantages: High emissions, slightly cramped rear, looks not to everyone's taste
BMW 120d Sport (2005) – 3 day test drive
This is a car that will probably polarize people’s opinions – they’ll either love it or hate it based on one thing, it’s looks. If you fall into the ‘hate it’ camp and rule it out for that reason alone, then you’ll be judging a book by its cover and missing out on a very good little car.
So, from the front it has the traditional kidney shaped grille and actually looks like a solid and purposeful car. Likewise from the rear it has a neat compact shape that’s not unpleasant. It’s from the side that some people take a step back and say “Oh”! There’s a prominent ‘shoulder’ running the length of the car which together with the roof line and shape of the rear side windows gives the car it’s ‘cab like’ appearance. Personally I found the looks quite interesting, I mean after all, BMW is not known for making unassuming looking cars. Getting inside is via proper door handles, not these flaps so common in today’s cars, and opt for the SE and you’ll have puddle lights under each door handle – there’s innovation for you. There’s a nice solid feel to the door closing too that will remind you that this car comes from a quality manufacturer. Once inside the impression I got is one of functional simplicity, everything in its place and a place for everything. Ok, let’s get the main criticism of the interior out of the way first – storage space. Now I’m not being sexist when I say women will hate this car… where do you put things? I carry a certain amount of rubbish around (duster, maps, sweets, torch, etc.) and there doesn't seem to be space to easily and neatly stow it all away. The glove box is a ‘crabs mouth’ affair, with a space that barely fits the users handbook, and anything else you might squeeze in there will fall out when you open it. Similarly the door pockets are narrow and difficult to get your hand into, being obstructed by the door handles and seat bolsters, so I wouldn't want to use them that often for fear of bruising my knuckles. Finally there’s the centre storage area behind the gear shift, now what is that all about? It’s the most peculiar shape for an oddments tray I’ve ever seen, being slightly curved in every direction and shallow to boot! The message is, forget storage space for all but the essentials.
Moving on, the rest of the interior is pretty good, ok the materials are at the bottom end of the BMW offerings but they’re all beautifully screwed together and won’t creak or rattle. The centre section sports your sound system and climate controls, the latter being a sensible and logical setup operating an efficient heating and ventilation system. As for the BMW Professional sound system, it immediately scores over rival cars in two key areas – firstly, it will play MP3 CDs by default, usefully showing the ID3 tags and file names, and secondly it doubles up as a readout for the trip computer, showing average mpg, range, etc., if you so desire. Come on Audi, your Concert and Symphony offerings are sorely lacking MP3 compatibility. Moving on the speedo and tacho dials are pleasantly simple, separated by an area for warning lights and the trip computer. Finally, all the controls have a very nice solid feel to them, with one touch operation for the indicators and wipers. At night is all a nice soft orange colour that’s typical of most BMWs – no boy racer reds or blues here.
Now, people who buy this car won’t be doing so for its space, the boot being smaller than a Golf or A3, and rear seat space likewise being slightly more cramped, although access is easier with it being a 5 door car. Rear leg room isn’t great, but headroom is fine for 6ft adults. In the front there’s no such problem, and the range of movement available for the steering wheel and seat should see most people getting comfy. There are of course the usual options of leather, electronic/memory seats, heated seats and lumbar support to take comfort to the next level. On the Sport model you’ll be treated to electronically adjustable side-bolsters as standard, hmmmm maybe for someone slimmer than myself. A final word about the rear view mirror… it’s small and there’s a good reason for that, the view out of the rear window isn’t panoramic by any stretch of the imagination. However, when it comes to reversing, rearward visibility is actually fairly good.
Enough about the interior, it’s fine for the average driver, it’s on the move that is where this car plays its winning cards. For a diesel, the level of refinement is amazing for a car of this class. In a Golf or an A3 you’ll be constantly reminded that you’re driving a diesel and engine noise will make its way into the cabin at any speed. The 1 Series however achieves quietness at 70-80mph that many larger cars from rivals can’t match. Long motorway journeys are effortless in this car with wind noise and road noise being barely a whisper – dare I say it, this 120d is as quiet as a Lexus IS300 on the motorway! Couple that with the six speed gearbox which sees just 2000rpm pushing you along at 80mph with little effort, and don’t think you’ll sacrifice acceleration in sixth, because so long as you’re above stalling point this car wants to go. Acceleration from rest sees 62mph come up in a stunningly quick 7.9s for the manual, with the auto being a mere 0.3s behind it., and it’s all delivered with a quiet un-fussed urgency that marks the BMW way. Venture into the countryside and this car will still be just as at home, with huge levels of grip from its 17” run-flat tyres. There’s an almost go-kart like accuracy about the cars handling, it’ll just go where you point it with the minimum of fuss, and you’ll feel beautifully ‘connected’ with what’s going on without being uncomfortable or thrown around. Push it in the wet and the rear wheel drive still delivers the goods, so I get the feeling that you’ll either have to switch off the TRC or simply get stupid with the loud pedal to get yourself in a mess. The ride itself is smooth and compliant, and while the firmer springing of the Sport might appeal to the younger driver, the softer SE is a treat to drive, even with the stiffer run-flat tyres, offering up little road noise and plenty of comfort. It’s a more composed ride than you’ll find in the Audi A3 which tends to fidget around somewhat.
Mpg is as good as most of it’s counterparts with 47-48 being returned for sensible driving. The gotcha for those caring about the planet, or the cost conscious company car buyer is the whopping 173 g/km CO2 figure for the 120d Auto, well you pay for your fun! Compared with the equivalent A3, the emissions can see you paying £45-£50 more tax – per month! As for that auto-box it’s precise and well controlled with quick accurate changes. There is a sequential manual mode, but quite frankly slipping it into D and letting it get on with it is just as rewarding. For gadget freaks it’s rumoured that some form of wheel-mounted gear shift will become available, although that’s still to be confirmed.
There are plenty of options similar to what you’ll find on most cars in this class. I’d always go for Xenon lights, and with the 120 you’ll get the ‘angel eyes’ rings that BMW has made famous. The BMW Professional radio/CD will give you a two-line display, essential for impressing your mates with it showing MP3 ID tag information, or phone numbers etc., if you opt for the Bluetooth integration. Most of the rest of the options are nice to have, but the standard spec for the SE includes a host of extras anyway, including parking sensors and an auto-dipping rear view mirror. Oh and I almost forgot, the stereo has an AUX input so no problem connecting your iPod… in fact the stereo in this car is almost reason alone to buy it if you enjoy your music on the move, and with two optional upgrades to the speaker system, who could ask for more.
One really nice touch I must mention, and something that is really useful if two different people regularly drive the car. The key fob stores your 'profile' - that is settings for the electric mirrors and (optional) electric seats, climate control and even stereo settings. Unlock the car with 'your' key fob and all these will be set to your preferences, while your partners key fob will store their settings. How neat is that?
So, my overall impression of this car is that while you might question the looks (and they really aren’t that bad) it’s the best small 5-door diesel on the market – bar none! In fact had BMW made this car with the looks of the Audi A3 they’d have cleaned up! It’s only the hefty emissions that might put off some company buyers (myself included sadly). Had this car been the same money as the A3 then it would have been no contest, and that’s not forgetting that the A3 is a good car in its own right. It just goes to show how BMW have managed to go one step better with virtually every aspect of their car. As they said in the film Highlander, “There can be only one”…. and for me it’s the “1” from BMW.
Did you know?
• The run-flat tyres allow you to drive up to 150 miles at 50mph after a puncture.
• The standard stereo will play MP3 CDs, but make sure you put all your files in the ‘root’ directory of the CD. If you use sub-directories, the player won’t see them.
• The auto box will hold the car without rolling, unlike the VW Golf or Audi A3.
• Tailgate opening is via the badge on the boot – a trick being used by more and more manufacturers.
• The car boasts an iPod ready AUX socket, but strangely enough doesn’t provide a satisfactory area in which to rest Apple’s MP3 gadget, except for this strange curved ‘tray’ in the centre console.
The BMW 120d SE Auto, Xenon lights, lumbar support & heated seats (heaven!), Hi Fi speaker option and the comfort pack.
Audi A3 2.0TDi SE DSG, bit slower and a bit less refined, but slightly cheaper for company car buyers, has a bit more boot space and has the looks. Golf 2.0TDi DSG GT, cheaper still but refinement and build quality are lacking when stacked up against the BMW and Audi.
Summary: A well built, quick, refined hatchback that's rewarding to drive - marred only by high CO2 emissions