Published on October 19th, 2015 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
BMW 120i ‘M’ Sports test drive review
Our first meeting with BMW’s hot hatch product was in 2004 in Munich at its global launch and test drive event. Codenamed the E87, it was designed to knock the VW Golf GTI Mk4 of its hot hatch perch. Our first drive impression was good however we were not all together taken but its Spartan interior and rather tight rear seating space. It arrived in Malaysia months later with little enthusiasm as the buyers here as well as other markets were still ‘taken’ in by the VW Golf GTI, especially the all-new 2005 model VW Golf GTI Mk5. Still, the 1-Series had its followers and so the next generation, codenamed the F20 arrived in 2011. Today, the F20 has seen a couple of facelifts before a 3rd generation 1-Series is released.
This latest version of the BMW 1-Series offers more speed, better fuel economy, improved dynamics, and increased visual impact. It does so also adding a suite of ‘M’ induced and produced enhancements certain to appease even the most discerning petrol-head.
This 1-Series variant is distinguished by new yet familiarly-styled 18-inch alloy wheels in matt black with polished silver inserts (RM16,999 with tyres), ‘M’ sport brakes (RM12,000), ‘M’ aerodynamic bodystyling kit (RM1,570) and the obligatory ‘M’ insignia in as many places as possible. There is also a pair of ‘M’ side view mirror caps (RM2,600).
Included in the deal this time round for this locally assembled 120i ‘M’ Sport is fabric seats instead of leather with fabric inserts on the doors and also air vents surround. Both front seats are electric and offer good comfort and we liked the fabric more than hard and taut leather seats. The generous use carbon fibre inside the cabin is welcomed and shows how BMW Malaysia had to move quickly to give this 1-Series enough sportiness to challenge the segment best seller, the Mercedes A250. The ‘M’ steering wheel (RM3,999), handbrake lever and ‘M’ gear shifter in Alcantara (RM3,500) feels and looks the part and compliments the sporty attitude of this BMW hot hatch.
There is also the professional navigation system that features a sleek design and a superior range of services: It delivers a simple and easy-to-use navigation system that is seamlessly integrated into the BMW, with iDrive operating concept and iDrive Touch Controller included.
The system comprises the hands-free facility with USB interface and voice control and the Radio BMW Professional with DVD drive, as well as 20 GB memory for audio files. The built-in 8.8″ LCD colour display with split screen function (main and supplementary screen) is designed for optimal readability and clarity.
The iDrive Touch Controller with direct menu control buttons, eight functional bookmarks and voice control makes operation intuitive. Music delivery is done well and sound quality is impressive. In the rear the 360-litre luggage compartment can accommodate luggage bags with its low load sill and with the rear seats down it hauls more stuff than necessary.
This BMW 1-Series has its fair share of competitors which look fresher and with more showroom appeal due to their more recent introduction in the segment and higher branding, however it must be noted that the infusion of ‘M’ accessories across this vehicle which costs near RM40,000 plus gives something to think about. For a car selling for RM219k with RM40k worth of performance accessories added, it brings the base price to below RM180k and this is already skirting on Japanese car prices.
Driving ON THE ROAD
Push the starter button (comes with keyless go and there is no need to turn the key here) and a muted engine comes to life. The 1.6 twin turbo engine under the hood is shared with the Mini and it is a willing performer with good manners. This engine is docile and friendly in city driving returning good fuel economy in Eco Pro mode. The ride maybe a little stiff due to the slim wide run flat tyres which we have never been a fan for its stiffness, but it does the job well when you ‘stretch its legs’.
Heading down an open highway this 120i in ‘Sports’ mode has no trouble snapping cleanly through its 8 given gear ratios, climbing with ease beyond 200km/h. The car behaves predictably through corners and the average driver will find themselves slowly being a hero around corners as the tail stays tucked in at speeds that will leave many others scouring for traction.
The drive comes instantly and with great traction, pulling this 1-Series from the apex with neutrality not many drivers can really handle. And unlike so many in this class, the rewards seem to come entirely without compromise. Under quick point to point driving the steering isn’t wrenched from your hands as you fight to maintain direction and there is no nagging electronic intervention. The meaty well damped steering wheel is a joy to hold and abuse around corners and there is some element of question to why this package was not offered at launch to keep the competitive predators away.
If we had to pick a negative to any aspect of the 1-Series model, aside perhaps from the tight interior and rather harsh ride on our Petaling Jaya badly maintained roads, we will have to say lateness…..yes lateness in bringing this ‘M’ package to market. BMW product planners will probably explain to us that this was done to avoid any issue with selling the basic models and keeping profits high, but will debate back and say, if you had put this car on the road 2 years ago, there would have been little that Mercedes Benz could do to take the segment by storm with their A-Class models.
BMW 120i Specifications:
Engine: 1.6L Twin Power Turbo
Transmission: 8-speed Steptronic
Max power: 177bhp @ 4800-6450rpm
Max torque: 250Nm @ 1500-4500rpm
Top Speed: 222km/h