Overall rating: 3.5/5
Representing the facelifted BMW 1 Series at its international launch was the 120d xDrive model. The extra security and traction afforded by BMW's all-wheel drive system will be sought after by a tiny section of buyers in this part of the world, but the range-wide updates will be welcomed.
In the metal 4/5
Many didn't like the snout of the pre-2015 BMW 1 Series hatchback. It was extremely colour and specification sensitive, varying from downright awkward and ugly to aggressively appealing depending on your choices. Thankfully, despite a relatively short list of new components, the new model has more universal appeal, even in lesser forms. That's thanks to much shapelier headlights, new bumpers and larger (and restyled) kidney grilles. The reinvented rear end is more obvious, due to the inclusion of much bigger lights. These two-piece units feature a distinctive LED signature and are complemented by a redesigned back bumper.
Inside, there's less to report on. It's still a little snug in the rear, but some buyers will accept that compromise for the sense of high quality. BMW has enhanced that for the revised car by tweaking the switchgear for a higher-quality feel. New trim materials are also offered, while the base level of standard equipment has been improved so even the cheapest 1 Series comes with an iDrive controller and the clear 6.5-inch colour display screen.
Driving it 4/5
The warm and dry roads around Lisbon didn't give us much opportunity to really appreciate the added traction afforded by the xDrive four-wheel drive system. Saying that, a few quick exits from tight junctions on a dusty surface did reveal how much more secure the 1 Series can feel with all-wheel drive. No doubt it will be in its element in the winter and it may even entice those that moved away from BMW because of worries about traction in icy conditions. Driven quickly on a twisty (dry) road, it feels little different to a regular 1 Series, with a good mix of agility and suppleness, though it certainly loses the standard 120d's rear-drive stance, instead adopting a more neutral balance on the exit of corners.
The 120d's 2.0-litre diesel engine has been updated, so it's now the same 190hp/400Nm unit found elsewhere in BMW's line-up. It's not at all short on performance - and the efficiency numbers are good too - but it makes too much noise. Actually, having experienced the same engine in other cars, with less intrusive noise, I'd have to assume it's more down to the sound deadening than the engine itself. Thankfully this is only noticeable if you're pushing the car along an interesting road. On the motorway it quietens down appreciably and the 1 Series is a comfortable place to while away a long journey.
As ever, the eight-speed automatic gearbox is a cracker - and it helps the 1 Series be at its most efficient. BMW has further refined the transmission (we didn't think it needed any changes) and it now features a predictive shift strategy that uses data from the navigation system (where fitted) to choose the ideal gear ratio. I must admit that I didn't notice this in operation, but perhaps that's the best thing anyone could say about such a system.
What you get for your money 3.5/5
The updated BMW 1 Series line-up goes on sale in Ireland on March 28, priced from €30,050 on-the-road for the three-door model, or €30,840 for the more popular five-door car. Standard equipment includes electric windows, keyless engine start and stop, automatic air conditioning and the iDrive system mentioned earlier. Trim lines are SE, Sport and M Sport, though models like the M135i and 116d EfficientDynamics Plus have unique specifications.
Petrol models are the 118i, 120i, 125i and M135i, while diesel cars are badged 116d, 118d, 120d and 125d. BMW Ireland's pricing suggests that xDrive four-wheel drive is only available on the 120d, though it can be specified on the 118d and M135i in other markets.
Bear in mind that the xDrive four-wheel drive system can only be ordered in conjunction with an automatic gearbox. It adds 65kg to the weight of the 120d (in comparison to the rear-drive, automatic model), but the added traction knocks the 0-100km/h time from 7.0 seconds to 6.8 seconds. Nonetheless, the weight affects its efficiency, increasing the CO2 emissions from 103- to 113g/km (on standard tyres) and increasing fuel consumption by 0.4 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle. These are all small differences really and should have little or no bearing on a buyer's decision. The purchase price and preference for rear- or four-wheel drive will be the deciding factors.
Useful as it is, the BMW 120d xDrive model isn't largely relevant to the Irish market, but it has helped introduce the much-improved 1 Series, which looks better than before, comes with more equipment as standard, is both faster and more efficient and, topping it all off, offers buyers of premium hatchbacks more choice than ever.