I imagine the corporate sales team at BMW UK must have rubbed their hands with glee when head office in Germany called to announce the changes to the 1 Series line-up.
Not only was the existing five-door model being given a facelift, but there would be a three-door version too, to appeal even more to drivers wanting a sporty car, an upgraded interior using better-quality materials and more powerful engines. All well and good, and I imagine the British arm would have been happy with just these changes.
But then Germany announced that all 1 Series models would be far more environmentally friendly than before with improved fuel economy and lower CO2 emission figures. Cue high fives and cheers all round, because this makes marketing the 1 Series even easier in the increasingly fleet-dominated premium lower-medium market – a sector where badge appeal is just as important as the lure of lower benefit-in-kind tax bills.
BMW prides itself on building drivers’ cars, and the 1 Series is no different thanks to a great chassis, communicative steering and slick six-speed manual gearbox. What is different about the new 1 Series models is the way that this focus on performance sits side-by-side with emission and economy figures which are the envy of some superminis.
This has been achieved by adding in technology to the model (and most other cars in BMW’s line-up) under the Efficient-Dynamics banner. In the case of our 120d this includes automatic stop-start, brake energy regeneration and a gearshift indicator light.
Automatic stop-start works simply by cutting the engine when the vehicle is stationary, such as when waiting at traffic lights. All the driver has to do is put the car in neutral, lift the clutch and the engine dies. When you’re ready to move off again, simply dip the clutch and the engine fires up again instantaneously.
The gearshift indicator located in the digital display in between the speedometer and rev counter suggests the optimum gear to be engaged for the best fuel economy returns.
Rather less noticeable to the driver is brake energy regeneration, a system which uses energy normally lost such as when the engine is on the over-run or when braking. This energy is then used to power other systems in the car, reducing the need for extra power to be produced in the first place.
What this means is that when all three features work together, they reduce CO2 emissions on the 120d from 152g/km to just 129 – a drop of two benefit-in-kind tax bands. Fuel economy rises to a claimed 57.6mpg – and real-world experience so far suggests that mid-50s is easily attainable. Not bad for a car which has recently had its power boosted from 163bhp to 177.
EfficientDynamics has taken most of the headlines with the 1 Series revisions, but other changes are welcome, too.
The styling has been tweaked only slightly but in three-door form the 120d now looks far sportier. The better quality fixtures and fittings make for a more inviting cockpit, while the wider door openings and frameless doors make the 1 Series feel less claustrophobic inside.
That said, the BMW isn’t blessed with room inside and rear-seat passengers will not relish the prospect of a long journey. The over-riding darkness of the cabin materials doesn’t help, either, although high-gloss black trim to lightens the atmosphere a little.
Other than that, the 1 Series still offers the best driving experience in the sector. It’s unique in being rear-wheel drive, which means the front wheels just have to steer rather than having to contend with distributing power down to the road as well.
Coupled with weighty steering and a slick six-speed manual gearbox, the 120d makes a convincing package. With 177bhp and 260lb-ft of torque available from just 2,000rpm the 120d makes rapid progress easy, with a surfeit of power available low down in the rev range.
A few options make our 120d even more sporting, all coming through the £570 Dynamic Package which adds 17-inch alloy wheels, stiffer M Sport suspension and sports seats in the front.
While it doesn’t have the visual impact of a a fully-kitted M Sport model, our 120d blends sporty looks, frugality and an attainable front-end price and low benefit-in -kind tax bills.
Price (OTR): £21,995 (£23,585 as tested)
CO2 emissions 129 Company car tax bill (2007)
40% tax-payer: £130 per month
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 57.6
Test mpg: 53.2
CAP Monitor RV: £8,750/40%
Contract hire rate: £418
Expenditure to date: Nil>br> Figures based on three years/60,000 miles
Equipment and options
Price (OTR): £21,995
Price as tested: £23,585