And BMW’s smallest offering is no different. The 1-series shares the same DNA as its bigger brothers the 3, 5, 6 and 7-series cars, meaning rear-wheel drive, almost perfect weight distribution, steering laden with feel, a chassis which blends a sporty edge with long distance comfort, and a driving position which is close to perfect.
None of which should come as a surprise, but when you consider that the 1-series is taking on high-end lower-medium hatchbacks it shows BMW’s attention to detail.
It could have designed a less complex front-wheel drive car, but that engineering integrity means this was never on the cards. So what you have here is pure BMW DNA for the masses and, in particular, the corporate masses.
BMW says 45% of the 17,000 models it plans to sell in the UK this year will go to fleets. And most of those will be conquest sales, rather than existing owners downsizing from the 3-series. That will cause some serious headaches for the likes of Alfa Romeo, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Audi at around the £20,000 price point.
While they offer quality products, none can match the driving experience of the 1-series.
From the moment you get settled behind the chunky three-spoke steering wheel to the first time you use the pedals, you know this car is going to be great to drive.
The 2.0-litre engine produces 150bhp, which is nothing special these days, but allied to a slick six-speed manual gearbox it makes for decent acceleration. And I don’t know what clever electronics BMW has applied to the car’s exhaust system, but it sounds really rorty when the rev counter passes 4,000rpm.
But it’s when you point the 1-series’ nose (you’ll either love or loathe the front-end styling) at a winding road that it really comes alive. With weight distributed evenly over both axles, and with the front wheels left to steer while the power goes through the rears, the 120i revels in being pushed through corners.
But it’s also very refined on the motorway. Although it revs higher at 70mph than the diesel-engined versions, the level of refinement is excellent, with hardly any engine noise making its way into the cabin. Wind roar is also very well suppressed.
Inside, the cabin resembles the 3-series, with a broad strip of aluminium across the dash and a neat centre console housing the stereo and air-conditioning controls. It all feels very solid and it’s all very intuitive to use.
The only downsides are the small boot and limited space for adult passengers in the back. But these are small grumbles, and as the car is aimed primarily at youngish, successful professionals without children, it isn’t that much of an issue. In all other areas, the 120i is as well thought out and engineered as the rest of the BMW range. The masses have never had it so good.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £20,437
CO2 emissions (g/km): 178
BIK % of P11D in 2005: 22%
Graduated VED rate: £150
Insurance group: 13
Combined mpg: 38.2
CAP Monitor residual value: £9,475/46%
Depreciation 18.27 pence per mile x 60,000: £10,962
Maintenance 3.66 pence per mile x 60,000: £2,196
Fuel 10.47 pence per mile x 60,000: £6,282
Wholelife cost 32.40 pence per mile x 60,000: £19,440
Typical contract hire rate : £397
Three rivals to consider
THERE’S a big gap in price between the Alfa and the others. The 147 is included as it is roughly the same size and has the same power as the BMW (150bhp). All the other cars are all chosen because of their proximity on price. The Audi has roughly the same power but is larger than the 120i, while the Golf matches the BMW for size but its turbo gives it 197bhp.
Alfa Romeo £17,322
A STRONG performance from the Audi in servicing, maintenance and repair costs, with a likely cost of £1,770 over three years/60,000 miles. However, with the Audi Variable Servicing system, costs will vary according to how the car is driven. The Alfa is second at £1,974 and the Golf is third on £2,070. The BMW will cost £2,196, but opt for the BMW Service Inclusive pack and that figure will fall. The £500 pack covers service and some replacement parts for five years/60,000 miles.
Alfa Romeo 3.29ppm
WITH a claimed combined economy figure of 38.2mpg, the Audi and BMW tie for top spot here. The A3 and 120i should cost a fleet £6,282 in visits to the petrol pump over three years and 60,000 miles, although the weight of your drivers’ right feet will affect this figure. The Golf will cost £6,876 in fuel, which is impressive when you consider the GTI has far more power than the other cars here. The 147’s Twin Spark engine returns 31.7mpg for a fuel cost of £7,566.
Alfa Romeo 12.61ppm
THE Volkswagen leads the way here, which is hardly surprising as the Golf GTI has always been a desirable car and the Mark V model is one of the best hot Golfs for years. CAP estimates it will retain 47% of its cost new after three years and 60,000 miles, leaving a cash lost figure of £10,970. The BMW will retain 46% for a cash lost figure of £11,150 while the Alfa will lose £12,000. The Audi will retain 41%, but its higher price means it ties with the 147.
Alfa Romeo 19.66ppm
IT’S tight at the top of this test, with first and third places separated by 0.68 pence per mile, or £408 over three years and 60,000 miles. The BMW sneaks the win from the Golf GTI, with just £270 separating them. The A3 Sportback is in third place, with its challenge blunted by a low finish in the depreciation sector – its predicted RV of 41% is very good, but it can’t match the 46% and 47% of the 120i and Volkswagen respectively. The Alfa’s fuel and depreciation costs mean it can’t compete here.
Alfa Romeo 35.56ppm
Emissions and BIK tax rates
DESPITE its price advantage, the Alfa isn’t the car to choose for low tax bills. With the highest CO2 emissions it falls into the 29% benefit-in-kind band, leaving a 22% taxpayer with a bill of £92 a month. The 147’s not the most expensive car in tax terms though; that falls to the Golf GTI. Even though it’s in a much lower tax band than the Alfa, its higher front-end price results in a monthly bill of £93. The BMW will cost £82 a month, while slightly cheaper is the Audi on £80.
Alfa Romeo 211g/km/29%
DO you opt for the engineering excellence and superb driving experience of the BMW, or do you go for the Golf GTI, which is a great drive, well-built and has much more power and space? Both are level-pegging in driver tax liability and operating costs, but the Volkswagen’s extra power and more practical interior just edges it for us.
At a glance