Overall rating: 4/5
A four-wheel drive BMW saloon or hatchback may sound like an odd idea in this part of the world, but elsewhere, cars like this are the norm. With long-time rival Audi now offering quattro for the new A3, BMW decided the time was right to do likewise with the 1 Series. The result is a car that drives just as you would expect a rear-drive BMW to, but with added control and predictability - especially in slippery conditions.
In the metal 3.5/5
Save for the xDrive badging and smaller than usual alloy wheels (on our test car in any case) there is little to differentiate the four-wheel drive model from its two -wheel drive brethren. Whether this is a good thing or not we will leave up to you but, while we are still not the biggest fans of the 1 Series' looks, we do have to admit it has begun to grow on us.
Likewise the cabin is exactly what you would expect of a 1 Series; low slung seat, a six-speed manual transmission, BMW's iDrive infotainment system and enough space for five (at a squeeze). Leather touches and a solid assembly give the 1 Series a premium look and feel.
Driving it 4/5
Under normal driving conditions the 120d xDrive behaves exactly as you would expect it to thanks to a rear-biased four-wheel drive system that sends 60 per cent of torque rearwards. Should you drive the car enthusiastically, or if the myriad of sensors associated with the Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) detect wheel slip, it can distribute all the power to either front or rear axle, depending on which needs it the most. The effect is a system that never leaves you short of traction as it shuffles power around the wheels with impressive speed, something you will be glad of if you happen to find yourself driving the car through an Austrian ski-resort.
The xDrive system, while always intended to be fitted to the 1 Series, does add 40kg to the weight of the car, necessitating changes to the springs and dampers. However, the engineers have tailored the suspension to make it similar to the standard car's rather than differentiate it and the effect is an entertaining hatchback that rides well, has responsive steering and minimal body roll. If anything, when driven hard, the four-wheel drive model is preferable to the standard car due to the added sure-footedness.
Power for the 120d xDrive is provided by a 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine that impresses with its performance as ever - if not its refinement.
What you get for your money 3/5
This is a difficult one to comment on, as the 120d xDrive has yet to be confirmed for right-hand drive markets. However, with Audi charging a €1,850 premium for quattro on the 2.0 TDI A3, BMW really needs to offer the car for less than €35,500 if it wants to take its German rival on at its own game. Even at that price the 120d xDrive is likely to remain a niche model, but when the first snows of 2013 arrive those who have purchased will be thankful.
Worldwide, BMW sells 68 different models equipped with four-wheel drive. If Ireland continues to experience inclement winters more of them could be offered here; the 1 Series was always designed to house four-wheel drive, as too was the 3 Series and while the 5- and 7 Series models are offered as xDrive models in left-hand drive markets, they were not engineered as such for right-hand drive (a fact illustrated by the M550d - the 'diesel M5' - not being offered here). If there is enough demand for xDrive models in the UK and Ireland we expect BMW to expand its right-hand drive offering to fully enable it to take on Audi and its quattro technology.
The sales figures at the end of next year are unlikely to show the 120d xDrive at the top of the charts (assuming BMW Ireland offers it), but its mere existence does mean that buyers searching for a premium hatchback with the added security of four-wheel drive now have an alternative to the Audi A3 quattro. While most will plum for the regular car (maybe with some tasty options) there will be those who live in remoter areas for whom the xDrive system is a Godsend.