Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BMW 1 Series Review

The 1-Series coupe, on sale from late November 2007, is derived from the 1-Series hatchback, which arrived as a five-door in 2004 and gained a three-door version earlier in 07. But under the largely familiar skin, it's been re-engineered from the ground up. Three engines, two transmissions and three specification levels will be available in the rear-wheel-drive, 2+2-seat coupe, priced from £21,585 to £29,745. Only one of the three engines, the 120d, is familiar from the three- and five-door 1-Series. That's a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel with common-rail injection, now revised to make 174bhp and 258lb-ft of torque at 1,750-3,000rpm. The other diesel, the 123d, makes its debut in the Coupe but will also be available on the hatchback and other BMWs. Again, it's a 2.0-litre four with common-rail direct injection, but this time with variable twin turbos, both of which serve all four cylinders. A small, low-inertia turbo ensures instant pulling power at low revs, then at higher revs the larger turbo kicks in to provide more performance. It's the world's most powerful production 2.0-litre diesel engine.

The 123d produces 201bhp, 27bhp more than the 120d, and the maximum torque of 295lb-ft comes slightly higher up the rev range, at 2,000-2,250rpm. And then there's the real hotty, the 135i, using an engine that's a proven winner in other recent BMWs. It's a 3.0-litre straight six with direct injection and two turbochargers. Each one serves three cylinders, which enables them to be small and light, and thus quick to respond when engine revs rise. It peaks at 302bhp, with 295lb-ft of torque at 1,300-5,000rpm.

The Coupe's many new parts include a five-arm rear axle and - on the 135i - a new electronically controlled differential lock to control spin and aid traction during rapid driving. Despite the many changes to the bodywork and chassis, the Coupe retains the 50:50 front-rear weight distribution that BMW regards as being so important to its cars' beautifully balanced handling. The standard gearbox is a six-speed manual, with an automatic option on the 123d and, from spring 2008, a paddleshift auto available on the 135i.

Aside from the Alfa Romeo coupe duo, the and Brera, plus the Audi TT and Nissan 350Z, the competitors are hatchbacks. But arguably the real rival is BMW's own 3-Series Coupe, which in its current form is bigger, heavier and rather more expensive than many potential buyers would like; they now have a brilliant new alternative.

The 120d ES costs £21,585, the 120d SE is £23,025, the 120d M Sport is £24,705, the 123d SE costs £24,855, the 123d M Sport is £26,290 and the 135i M Sport tops the range at £29,745.

Reliability and Quality
Today's BMWs all feel solid and well put-together. Neither of the two 1-Series Coupes we've driven on a wide range of road surfaces rattled or squeaked, and everything is well finished inside and out.

On the Road
If you've driven a 1-Series hatchback with one of the better engines you'll have a good idea of what the Coupe is like to drive. You sit low, with your legs forward, and you very soon start to feel a psychic bond with the steering. The 135i's rack and pinion system is different from the diesels' electronic set-up, but the end result isn't very different. The Coupe's steering is precise, predictable, informative, and controlled by a small, thickly rimmed steering wheel.

The ride feels slightly firmer than the hatchback's, especially on the 18" wheels fitted as standard to the 135i, but it's not as firm as any of BMW's M cars. You could happily drive the Coupe all day without fearing for your teeth or your spine.

When you're outside the car it sounds very much like a diesel, but when you're inside you barely notice, apart from some vibration through the 123d's gearknob when the engine's idling. It does 0-62mph in 7.0 seconds, with a top speed of 148mph.

If the 123d was the only 1-Series Coupe engine we'd tried, we'd say it was smooth, revvy, responsive, lively, strong and very powerful. But step from the diesel into the petrol and you have to recalibrate your brain: the 135i is smoother, revvier, more responsive, livelier and faster - licence-losingly so. That said, it's a fast mini-GT, not a super-sharp sports car.

The 135i's peak torque of 295lb-ft comes low down the rev range and must get the credit for the 0-62mph time of 5.3 seconds. It's the quickest time of any BMW not carrying the M badge, and is 0.2 seconds quicker than the 335i. The 135i's top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.

We haven't driven the 120d, but we have driven the 320d, which has exactly the same single-turbo engine, and it's a very solid performer in that heavier saloon, which bodes well. It has a 0-62mph acceleration figure of 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 141mph.

Safety and Security
There are no Euro NCAP crash test results for the Coupe yet, but the 1-Series hatchback scored five stars for occupant safety, with three for child protection but only one star for pedestrian protection.

Six airbags are fitted as standard, along with traction and stability control. The 135i comes with a more advanced stability control system with extra features including Hill Start Assist, which holds the car on a slope for two seconds, and Brake Drying, which clears the film of water from the brake discs in wet weather.

Running Cost
The 1-Series Coupe is the first BMW to come with the full set of Efficient Dynamics attributes, including energy-saving electric power steering and ancillaries that operate only when required, such as the air con unit and water pump. There's also Auto Start Stop, which can turn the engine off in stationary traffic, and Brake Energy Regeneration, a system that recharges the battery when the car is slowing down but disconnects the alternator during acceleration, thus reducing the load on the engine so that power is increased and fuel use reduced. Not all versions get the complete set, though, with the 135i missing out on Brake Energy Regeneration, for instance.

The 120d achieves 58.9mpg on the combined cycle, and its CO2 emissions of 128g/km put it in band C for road tax. The 123d is also in band C, with a CO2 rating of 138g/m, and its fuel consumption is almost as impressive as the smaller diesel's at 54.3mpg. The 135i's figures reflect its scorching performance: 30.7mpg on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 220g/km.
BMW's servicing is relatively affordable for a premium brand, but insurance tends to be on the high side.

Comfort and Equipment
The ES specification level, which is available only with the 120d, is intended largely for business buyers, and BMW doesn't expect to sell many. Both diesels are offered in SE and M Sport spec, while the 135i is M Sport only. That involves more leather and aluminium in the cabin, sportier suspension, tweaked mechanicals and a unique bodykit. But even in basic SE spec, the 1-Series Coupe has more pronounced sills than the hatchback, giving the sides a bulging, muscular look.

Some elements of M Sport spec are different on the petrol-engined car, such as a tiny lip spoiler on the boot lid and uprated brakes with the BMW logo stamped on the calipers. How can you tell your 1-Series Coupes apart at a glance? From the front, the SE has rectangular foglights, the M Sport has round foglights, and the 135i M Sport doesn't have room for front foglights, because the air intakes are so big. At the back, the SE versions have a chrome tail pipe, the M Sport has a black chrome oval pipe and a diffuser, and the 135i M Sport has twin round black chrome pipes.
The 120d comes with 16" wheels, the 123d with 17s and the 135 with 18-inchers. Options include the iDrive multifunction control system, a USB interface, 'favourite' buttons (for radio stations, sat nav destinations, phone numbers and climate control settings), active steering and DAB digital radio.

Like the 1-Series hatchback, the Coupe has decent-sized rear seats whose usefulness is limited by the very poor rear leg room and foot room. If there's a six-footer in the front, there won't be room for a six-footer behind him or her. The head room is good, though. There are only two seats in the back, with an oddments tray in between. They split and fold to increase the boot space.

The boot is surprisingly big - much longer than it appears from the outside, although it's fairly shallow, and the underfloor space traditionally occupied by a spare wheel is here filled by the battery (it doesn't need a spare, as the tyres are run-flats).

Used Value
The 1-Series hatchback is one of the best-depreciating new cars in the segment, retaining around 50% of its original price after three years. The Coupe's rarity should help it hold its value: BMW GB expects to sell 3,500 in a full year, compared to 22,000 for the five-door and 8,600 three-doors.

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