Alfa Romeo
Land Rover
BMW 120i 1 series: 118i and 120i
Baby BMW is the 1!
February 2005

AFFORDABILITY is not a word often used when discussing BMWs.

For most of us, such German motoring masterpieces remain in the "when I win Lotto``basket of dreams.

Enter the baby BMW 1-Series, launched in Australia late last year.

Its maker hopes to sell 100,000 worldwide and give younger buyers a crack at European quality, with a view to luring them perhaps up to a 3 Series if and when their pay packets increase.

The 1 has two guises - the 118i, priced from $37,900, and the more powerful 120i, as tested, priced from $41,900.

Reasonable performance, superb grip and high levels of comfort and safety ensure the premium rear-wheel drive hatch will command plenty of attention.

So will its looks.

The 1 attracts a mixed response, ranging from "it`s beautiful`` to "what`s happening with the rear end?".

The newcomer is stylish enough without being stunning and at first glance, it looks as though two quite different cars have been sandwiched together.

From the front it`s pure BMW and the rear, well ... it`s a hatch.

The 1-Series features 17-inch alloys, climate control air conditioning, ABS, Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Brake Control (DBC) and an array of ingenious electronic chassis systems, such as Dynamic Stability

Control (DSC) and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC).

These work to keep the driver in complete control even under the most challenging conditions.

The 120i comes with a powerful 2.0-engine that produces strong acceleration across the rev range.

Performance figures are decent, with the power plant producing 110kW of power at 6200rpm and 200Nm of torque at a low 3600rpm.

For a small chariot, the 1 weighs a solid 1260kg, but can be spurred from

rest to 100km/h in a respectable 8.7 seconds. Braking power is awesome and complements the BMW`s sprinting capabilities.

Transmissions include a five-speed manual in the 118i and a six-speed manual and auto in the 120i.

Whether you are whizzing around the city or cruising along the open road, the 1 Series is a delight to pilot.

Fuel economy is commendable, with the little newcomer consuming only 6 litres for every 100km of highway motoring and around 10.7 litres/100km around town.

The only frustrating thing about the baby Beamer is the front seats. There are a million levers that tilt them or make them longer, shorter or taller, and even a button for the lumbar support which tightens around your kidneys like a bear hug.

It takes an eternity to get comfortable and then if someone else wants to have a drive, the whole process starts again. Arrgh!

Visibility rearward is never brilliant in hatches, particularly small ones. The 1 is no exception and three beefy headrests across the back seat make it next to impossible to see anything in the rearview mirror. Generous side mirrors and parking sensors go some way towards making life easier.

Leg room is fine for the front passengers but the rear seats are only for youngsters.

There is much to like about the smallest addition to the BMW stable. It is refined, and built to the highest of standards.

The key attraction is that it has brought prestige motoring within in closer reach of those with driving ambition.



ENGINE: 2.0 litre 4-cylinder

POWER: 110kW at 6200rpm

TORQUE: 200Nm at 3600rpm

0-100km/h: 8.7 seconds

FUEL ECONOMY: 10.7 litres/100km on city cycle and 6 litres/100km on highway

PROS: Agile handling, safety features, fuel economy

CONS: Awkward front seats, lack of rear space, firm ride

BOTTOM LINE: from $41,900