Drivers wouldn’t know the bulb had gone until they were told by someone, unless the car was sophisticated enough to alert the driver to the fault with a dashboard warning light. The BMW 1-series not only alerts the driver to the blown bulb in the brake light but actually illuminates the neighbouring rear light when the brakes are applied until a replacement bulb is fitted.
It may seem a small thing but it illustrates the meticulous level of engineering that has gone into developing the smallest member of the BMW range.
With a new 3-series around the corner, the 1-series will assume the mantle of a sub-£20,000 BMW and pose a serious threat to the Audi A3 as well as top-end volume lower-medium cars.
True to BMW tradition, the 1-series is unique in the lower-medium sector in offering rear-wheel drive, which helps achieve weight distribution of 50% over each axle.
The theory is that using this layout with the 1-series would match the driver appeal of other BMWs, even though it is out of step with conventional thinking for compact cars.
This configuration does bring with it compromises in packaging. If the engine was fitted transversely instead of lengthwise and there was no driveshaft running to the rear axle, the 1-series might have been as roomy inside as a new Ford Focus.
Faced with this argument, BMW would probably suggest that the 1-series offers other benefits than space.
Yes, the new Focus is even better to drive than the old one, but when you are tackling a series of fast bends on a B-road you notice the difference in the BMW. You feel a little more involved and an integral part of the car.
The 118d we tested is the entry-level diesel in the range but offers significantly more performance than the entry-level diesel in the Audi A3.
The 118d will hit 62mph from rest in 10 seconds. It will potentially run on to a maximum of 125mph. The Audi A3 1.9 TDI covers the sprint benchmark in 11.7 seconds and runs out of steam at 116mph.
The Audi is a little more practical and spacious and better looking in the conventional sense. I like the challenging appearance of the 1-series, but I would agree with many others that the A3 Sportback is easier on the eye.
Inside, the BMW is finished to typically high standards and, even with the movement by volume manufacturers towards premium levels of build quality, the 1-series is still marginally ahead.
The SE specification is the least you should have for car park cred – it adds climate control and alloy wheels (alloys are present on the basic A3 Sportback) over the standard car, which might seem rather stingy.
BMW 118d SE
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value) £19,137
CO2 emissions (g/km) 150
BIK % of P11D in 2004 16%
Graduated VED rate £115
Insurance group 11
Combined mpg 50.4
CAP Monitor residual value £8,975/47%
Depreciation 16.47 pence per mile x 60,000 £9,882
Maintenance 3.75 pence per mile x 60,000 £2,250
Fuel 8.16 pence per mile x 60,000 £4,896
Wholelife cost 28.38 pence per mile x 60,000 £17,028
Typical contract hire rate £369
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles
Monthly rental quote from HSBC Vehicle
AT A GLANCE
Three rivals to consider
THE BMW 118d is closely matched with the Audi A3 Sportback – separated by just £60 on their P11D value. The pay-off for the BMW is better performance. It boasts 122bhp to the A3’s 105bhp and 207lb-ft to the Sportback’s 184lb-ft. But the two less expensive cars offer more power. The Volvo S40, the only other premium car in the comparison, offers 136bhp and 236lb-ft, while the Volkswagen Golf GT TDI has 140 bhp and 236lb-ft.
THE BMW appears to be last here, but our figures do not take account of options fitted, and one of these is the Service Inclusive pack which costs £500 and fixes servicing for 60,000 miles. Choosing this would impact on the driver’s BIK liability, but bring servicing costs more in line with the others. Without it, the SMR bill would be £2,250, compared with £1,548 for the Golf and A3, and £1,422 for the Volvo S40.
AUDI’S less powerful engine bodes well for low fuel bills, with an expected saving over the BMW 118d of £270 over 60,000 miles based on the car’s official combined fuel consumption readings. Both tied on 49.6mpg over the combined cycle, the Golf and S40 would cost £4,974 each, compared with £4,896 for the BMW and £4,626 for the Audi. These slight differences will be made less conclusive with differing driving styles.
WE expected the BMW to do best here with a higher retained value, according to CAP Monitor, compared to the A3 Sportback (47% over three years/60,000 miles versus 45%). With just £60 separating them at the front end, CAP Monitor puts their values at £8,975 for the 118d SE and £8,575 for the Sportback 1.9 TDI SE. Our pence per mile figures give the A3 a £126 advantage, losing £9,756 compared with £9,882. The Golf is streets ahead, losing just £9,438, although its front-end price is lower than the Audi and BMW.
USING the figures here, the 1-series comes a resounding last. However, taking into account that the vast majority of customers would prefer the fixed cost servicing provided by the Service Inclusive pack, we think it would move the 118d SE ahead of the Volvo S40, but it might not be enough to overtake the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3 Sportback. The Audi excels on fuel costs and larger discounts than the 1-series which gives it a head start in the depreciation table. The Golf GT TDI finishes just £30 behind the A3.
EMISSIONS AND BIK TAX RATES
ALL four cars here have Euro IV-compliant diesel engines and offer low carbon dioxide emissions. However, the Audi has the lowest emissions which would keep BIK tax bills stable over the next few years at about £95 a month for a 40% taxpayer. Bills for the other three would rise next year as the emissions scale lower limit goes down from 145g/km to 140g/km. From April 2005 a BMW 118d SE driver would pay £108 a month, compared with £104 for a Golf GT TDI driver and £101 for a driver in a Volvo S40 S 2.0 D.
THIS is the heart of the user-chooser sector and personal preference will have a great deal of influence over decisions. Much as I like the 1-series, the running cost figures suggest the Audi would costs fleets less money and, as a highly competent compact premium car, we would also give it our blessing.
WINNER: Audi A3 Sportback SE 1.9 TDI