BMW 120i (2007) review

Published: 28 February 2007

BMW 120i (2007) review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

It’s a 1-series with two fewer doors

Well spotted. Two years after we first got our hands on the original five-door 1-series, BMW has given us the sportier (if only psychologically) three-door. Wheelbase, length and interior space all remain the same, but this new derivative, introduced together with a facelifted five-door, should appeal to a younger market. BMW expects to shift 4000 in the UK this year, together with 19,000 of the original five-doors.

Facelift? They shouldn’t have bothered. I can’t tell the difference!

Not exactly radical, is it? The kidney grilles are slightly bigger, the bumpers are new front and back, and there have been some changes to the lamp units apparently, but unless you see old and new side by side, you’re unlikely to tell the difference. Same goes with the interior changes: they’re mostly limited to new interior colours, although BMW claims to have boosted cabin quality and reshaped the glovebox area.

Anything else of interest?

Oh yes. How about 60.1mpg? Amazing as it sounds, that sort of supermini-shaming economy is within reach of the 118d. And the petrol engines aren’t far behind: the new 118i and 120i are capable of 44.1mpg and 47.9mpg, respectively.

So what’s the secret?

Clever engineering, that’s what. Every petrol and diesel engine gets electric power steering and Auto Stop Start, a Citroen-style system that cuts the engine in traffic to save fuel. Step on the clutch again to re-engage a gear and the engine restarts. We tried it in traffic and it works well, killing the engine but leaving you with power for the lights, stereo and air-conditioning. Other fuel-saving measures specific to the new 2.0-litre engine in the 118i and 120i include direct injection, an electric water pump that only operates when needed and an alternator that only charges the battery during braking or when the engine is on the overrun. Unencumbered by turning all these pulleys, the new engines give around 10mpg more than their predecessors and more power too. The 118i climbs from 129bhp to 143bhp and the 120i (effectively the same engine but with a variable length inlet manifold) jumps from 150bhp to 170bhp, allied to 155lb ft of torque. The diesel get more power too: 143bhp (up 21bhp) in the case of the 118d and 177bhp (+14bhp) for the 120d, and every engine comes with a six-speed box, including the 116i which, without direct injection or Valvetronic, now looks distinctly old-tech and, at 38mpg compared to 48mpg for the 118i, thirsty too. Which is why the three-door car won’t be available with the 1.6, making the cheapest 1-series the 116i five-door at £16,360. The entry-level three-door is the £17,785 118i which costs £530 less than the equivalent five-door. On M-Sport models the difference is £495. Confusing, isn't it?

What’s it feel like to drive?

We drove the £20k 120i which gets to 62mph in 7.7sec, a whole second quicker than before, and liked it. In terms of pace and excitement , it lags miles behind the Civic Type R, Focus ST and Golf GTI it competes with on price. But it feels brisk, composed and fun, in a grown-up sort of way. The electric steering loses a little in terms of feel but also the oppressive weightiness that characterised the old rack at really low speeds. There’s so much grip at both ends that you soon give up trying to coax the tail out and concentrate on pointing the 120i neatly through corners.

Any clues that I’m in the three-door from behind the wheel, apart from the obvious of course?

Nothing significant in terms of the way it drives, but the front doors have sexy coupe-style frameless glass and the rear seats come with a storage space in the centre of the rear bench in place of the usual cushion, reducing the number of people you can carry to four. But since the wheelarch intrusion resulting from the One’s cab-backwards layout makes it virtually impossible to carry three anyway, it’s no great loss. But if you really want the normal full bench you can have it at no extra cost.

Verdict

Still absurdly expensive (and prices have risen fractionally) and still, to many eyes, uglier than a troll with leprosy. But the addition of a three-door model certainly increases its appeal and it's hard to argue with the brilliant engine line-up. It'd be difficult to pass up a Golf GTI for the privilege, though.

Specs

Price when new: £18,995
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1995cc 16v four, 170bhp@6700rpm, 155lb ft@4250rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Performance: 7.7sec 0-62mph, 138mph, 44.1mpg, 152g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1395kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4239/1748/1421

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  • BMW 120i (2007) review
  • BMW 120i (2007) review
  • BMW 120i (2007) review
  • BMW 120i (2007) review
  • BMW 120i (2007) review
  • BMW 120i (2007) review
  • BMW 120i (2007) review

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker