Road test: BMW 1 Series 120d xDrive (15-)

  • BMW’s facelifted family hatch tested with most popular features
  • Early drive of new car shows great promise in Portugal
  • Can a hatchback really command a £28,335 list price?

At the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month a facelift was revealed for the incredibly popular BMW 1 Series hatchback. While on the surface the changes might be difficult to spot, Parkers flew out to Portugal to drive the new car and find out first hand if the tweaks go any further than skin deep.

We tested it in five-door 120d xDrive guise – a model which BMW believes will prove very popular. Unfortunately, while the European specification cars we drove were close to SE specification, UK buyers have a choice of Sport or M Sport trims for this particular combination of engine and gearbox. To get an SE you'll have to downgrade to the 118d model.

The 120d has long been one of the most popular options in the range, and with its xDrive all-wheel drive system gaining sales momentum across the firm’s range to battle with Audi’s famed Quattro, and five-door 1 Series out-selling the three-door two-to-one, we took advantage of this chance to test it all in one neat little package. Is this hatchback all things to all people?

To start with, if you didn’t like the previous 1 Series design, you’re probably not going to warm to the new one. It doesn’t look a huge amount different. There’s a subtly revised grille and front bumper along with redesigned front and rear lights, but that’s about it.

Brilliant to drive

However, In terms of sheer on-road ability, this car is almost without equal. In fact, we’ve not driven a diesel hatchback that is quite this good. It uses a new 2-litre diesel engine with 188bhp and 400Nm of torque, which translates to a 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 138mph.

In isolation those figures are very appealing for a small diesel car, but it’s when combined with claimed average fuel economy of 62.8mpg - though we suspect 50mpg is more realistic on UK roads – and CO2 output of 119g/km, that it makes a seriously impressive proposition.

That’s because VED car tax will cost you £30 per year (it’s band C) and company car drivers will be in for Benefit-in-Kind tax at 21 percent. Given that this car’s pricing starts at £28,355, you can expect monthly bills of at least £99 per month on the 20 percent pay scale using 2015/16 figures.

Automatic gearbox as standard

If you’re thinking the list price is a little high, that’s because with the 120d xDrive model you get an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. It’s an optional extra on most of the 1 Series line-up.

And what a great gearbox it is. The really impressive bit is how obedient it is: using the paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel it’ll always find the gear you’re looking for. Left to its own devices it’s just as proficient, continuously keeping the engine at a point where there’s more than enough power to deal with the situation in hand. This isn’t just good luck, though. This gearbox actually works with the sat-nav system in the car to predict which gear is required based on the type of driving you’re doing, the sort of roads you’re on and the topography you’re about to drive over. It works faultlessly, too.

But you’d never know it’s working, which is also the case with the xDrive all-wheel drive system. This gives the 1 Series the ability to send power to all of its wheels, which means traction is simply never an issue. It works behind the scenes, not changing the character of the car one little bit until you get close to the limits of traction. Where a traditional, rear-wheel drive 1 Series will spin its wheels, the xDrive just sends a little power to the front axle to keep you moving.

Kit considerations

Standard equipment in the UK – even for base-spec SE cars – includes rear parking sensors, air conditioning, automatic windscreen wipers, keyless ignition, a sliding front armrest and 16-inch alloy wheels. You also get the Professional radio system which includes a 6.5-inch screen, CD player, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, an aux-in jack and BMW’s iDrive rotary control system. 

You also get ConnectedDrive as standard, which is a SIM card built into the car that allows the driver to access a number of special features such as the optional ‘Concierge’ personal information service – a call centre which will order flowers for you and other such niceties. Another feature is real-time traffic information, which is fed directly into the sat-nav if you’ve got one fitted.

We did – the Navigation Professional system working very well in our test car. It’s clear, easy to understand and very slick in its operation. It uses a larger 8.8-inch screen along with a touch-sensitive iDrive controller, and along with the traffic info it’ll also update its maps on the move, too.

Other options fitted included the 18-inch alloy wheels, the oyster leather, the electric front seats with memory function… there were a lot of extras.

One definitely worth mentioning, though, is the adaptive M suspension. BMW expects a big take-up for this extra on the higher-spec 1 Series models, and it’s an impressive set-up which allows the driver to have a comfortable (yet still a little bumpy) car for normal driving and a firm, sporty chassis when quicker progress is required.

Another thing worthy of consideration if you do a lot of motorway driving is the adaptive cruise control. This will brake for you if a slower vehicle is detected in front. It works well in combination with the Driving Assistant package, which includes lane-departure warning and collision warning systems as well as a fatigue detection feature if the car senses you’re feeling tired.


We came away hugely impressed after our initial drive of this car in Portugal. It handles as well as any hatchback of this size we’ve ever driven, yet offers running costs which will please most drivers. The only sticking point for us is price – it’s very expensive, even before you start adding those optional extras.