The new BMW 118d answers many of the criticisms of the original model, David Thomson reports.
Launched back in 2004, the original BMW 1-series was a controversial car. While scorned by some for its quirky looks and tight interior packaging, it was loved by others for providing traditional rear-wheel-drive handling dynamics in a compact car class otherwise dominated by front and all-wheel-drive machines.
Fast forward to 2012, and Drivesouth has its hands on the all-new second-generation 1-series, in 118d turbo-diesel guise.
It is obvious from the outset that BMW has put in the hard yards with the car to answer the criticisms levelled at its predecessor.
The general look and proportions of the original are maintained; the need for a long bonnet to handle the longitudinal rather than transverse mounting of the engine for rear-drive making that inevitable. However, the fussier elements of the old flame-surface styling are gone. This, along
with a bluff nose and wider track, has eliminated the delicate look that was a feature of all but the sportiest variants in the previous range.
Finished in black, with tinted windows and minimal chrome highlighting, the test car looked especially staunch on its 17in alloy wheels.
As well as being a little wider, the new 1-series is significantly longer than its predecessor, with an overall stretch of 85mm, of which 30mm is in the wheelbase. It is no surprise this extra length has been used to increase space in the back seats and the boot.
An extra 20mm in legroom is sufficient to turn the rear of the cabin into an environment that offers acceptable space for taller adults, at least for short round-town trips. Boot space increases by a useful 9% to 360 litres too, and a 40/20/40 rather than the usual 60/40 split folding arrangement for the rear seat backs adds extra flexibility for load and passenger carrying.
In standard form, the 118d lists for $56,600, and features dual zone climate air-conditioning, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, auto lights, rear parking sensors, keyless start and go, a 6.5in display screen for the sound system, an iDrive controller, basic Bluetooth, and iPod/USB plug-in points.
The test car augmented this list with a further $14,300 of options, opening with the $2000 Sport Line package that adds special wheels, front sports seats, a leather sports steering wheel, and a choice of colour thread stitching and trim highlights. The test car took the attractive coral red stitch and trim highlights.
Other key items on the extras list included extended Bluetooth and internet capability, full satellite navigation, a sunroof, adaptive xenon headlights with high beam assist, and variable sports steering.
The driving position in the test car was excellent, with a comprehensive range of manual adjustment, including BMW's excellent adjustable under-thigh support.
Placed on an attractive dash, console and instrument binnacle, the car's key controls and instruments are nicely positioned for the driver, and have a quality look and feel.
Despite its designation, the 118d is powered by a 2-litre diesel engine. The motor, which is twin-turbocharged to produce peak outputs of 105kW and 320Nm, delivers its power to the wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear limited-slip differential.
Straight-line performance is solid rather than startling, even in full Sport + mode, which is the most aggressive of four driving options selected through the Drive Performance Control button to the right of the gearshift. That said, with maximum torque produced at just 1750rpm, in-gear
acceleration is brisker than one might expect from a car with an official 0-100kmh sprint time of 8.9sec.
Step down through standard Sport and Comfort settings, and the 118d offers a special Eco Pro mode, which softens the throttle response and alters the engine management to deliver the best possible economy. Testing Eco Pro in open road conditions, and aided by the car's stop-start
engine switch-off technology, Drivesouth recorded an impressive 4.2 litres/100km economy return tackling a set route on the Taieri Plain. A neat display shows how many extra kms of range you are garnering through running in this mode.
Opt for Sport or Sport + modes, and there is another clever display with a rather different focus; digital power and torque readouts that appear in the central display screen.
As was the case with its predecessor, the rear-drive dynamic and perfect 50:50 weight distribution are the core elements that define a driving experience that delivers its greatest rewards on winding highways and byways.
These are aided substantially by outstanding suspension control and steering which, while lacking some feel about the straight-ahead, is precise and weights up nicely when see sawing through the twists and turns.
Sharp turn-in and on-throttle adjustability are standout features, along with the car's ability to hold the driver's chosen cornering line at speed, even in the face of quite savage mid-bend bumps.
While it would probably cope just fine with one or two fewer ratios, there is little to fault about the gearbox's operation either.
There are obvious improvements in ride quality too, but aural refinement misses a beat due to the high levels of tyre roar on coarse-chip surfaces.
True, some may crave a little more power and punch, especially at the top end. BMW has that base covered too, with new models arriving later this year to include a flagship 182kW 128iS variant.
In the meantime, the 118d can take a bow as a somewhat pricey, but superbly well-balanced, compact luxury car that combines fine handling with a frugality that in the right open-road conditions, is on a par with a state-of-the-art hybrid.
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