REVIEW: 2019 BMW 120d xDrive Hatchback

We knew this moment would come. BMW told everyone years ahead and yet, nobody seemed ready for it, somehow. Yes, the BMW 1 Series is no longer rear-wheel drive. You can start mourning now, but the truth of the matter is, as uniquely as it was positioned in the segment, the rear-wheel drive aspect of the car didn’t really make a huge difference to the end user. It did make a difference for BMW though.

Years ago, BMW conducted a study which showed that a large majority of people buying the 1 Series don’t really know where the power goes in the first place. And, if we’re being honest, we’re only disappointed about the BMW M140i being gone, the one with the six-cylinder engine under the hood, as that was the biggest, baddest boy in the range. So, when people cry out about RWD models being gone, they are actually talking about the BMW M140i. Care to guess what was the percentage of six-cylinders sold in the 1 Series range? 5 percent.

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That’s right, 95 percent of all BMW 1 Series model sold were four-cylinders. The other 85 percent of people just wanted a BMW hatch along with all the perks that come with it. Another important factor that shows just how much people cared about the RWD aspect of the car is the intake rate of xDrive. In some countries, 90 percent of the 1 Series models sold were all-wheel drive. Looking at those numbers and listening to what the customers are saying about the product, it’s rather easy to understand why BMW decided to move the 1 Series to a front-wheel drive production line.

As for what the customers were saying, most of it was related to the competition and the shortcomings of the 1 Series. Namely, most drivers wanted a roomier and more premium cabin. The Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3 offered those advantages.

Size and Packaging

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The new F40 1 Series solves all those problems and is now a more potent rival in the segment. On the outside, the new 1er is 5 mm shorter than its predecessor and 34 mm wider while the wheelbase is 20mm shorter. The biggest difference comes up front where the long hood of the previous car is now gone.

Instead, we now get a shorter, taller bonnet that tells you right away this is an FWD car. Even though bringing out a new model that’s shorter than its predecessor might go against the stream these days – as we’re used to seeing cars grow and grow over the years – inside the cabin there’s noticeable more room than before.

Up front there’s ample space even for people on the taller side of things, partly thanks to a taller roofline as well – the new 1 Series is 13 mm taller than before. In the back you get 33 mm more legroom, which is impressive since the exterior is shorter overall.

However, there’s still not enough headroom for people over 6 feet (around 1.85m). The same story goes for the boot, where you’ll find 380 liters of storage (just 20 more than before) and up to 1,200 liters with the seats folded which is about the same as the competition.

Don’t expect to carry items as large as what the X7 might allow you to though.

Is it a practical car? Well, within its means, yes. Don’t expect to carry items as large as what the X7 might allow you to though.

Since we’re talking practicality, I’ll also mention that the rear bench can be folded in a 40:20:40 split, which could prove useful and that there are decent storage spaces inside. The transmission tunnel is still present in the back and it makes travel in a formation of five a bit of an issue.

The Cabin Design And Tech

As standard, the car comes with iDrive 6 and a digital instrument cluster, albeit not the new Professional Live Cockpit onea. To be honest, I found it better than the more expensive choice. As I mentioned in a couple of articles before, the new Professional Live Cockpit looks good but, I reckon it’s a bit counterintuitive. I thought I’d get used to it later on, but it’s been over a year since I first drove a car fitted with it and I’m still not warming up to it.

The standard digital instrument cluster is more to my liking for one reason: It’s simple! There’s nothing fancy about it, nothing to blow you out of the water, it’s just there to offer the information you need. The layout is simple enough and looks roughly like the old analogue cluster from the 1 Series and the current 2 Series.

The materials, for example, are of good quality and well within the segment quality requirements.

The graphics are clean and of decent resolution and visibility is good even in strong sunlight. The middle area has all sorts of useful information and, most important, the right side has a proper rev counter that goes around the right way. As for iDrive 6, it’s just as good today as it was years ago, when it was unveiled. It’s easy to use, and has more functions right now, thanks to added tech.

It does feel a bit dated, to be honest, compared to iDrive 7 but it’s not a big deal. I’d definitely go for this standard version and invest the money saved into more tech in other key areas.

The interior is well built and everything feels familiar. If you’re thinking it looks like any other BMW in the range, you’d be right, but there are some notable differences. The materials, for example, are of good quality and well within the segment quality requirements.

But they won’t be as good as on the 8 Series, for example. Considering the price difference, I don’t think anyone would expect that. The build quality is a step up as well and everything is positioned in easy to reach locations and following the same logic as on any other BMW today. One gripe I have is that the center console sits unusually low and it feels as if you have to stretch to get to the gearshift knob. I’m just nitpicking, of course.

The Much Need M Sport Package

Our tester was fitted with the M Sport package and the M Sport seats which are truly a beautiful addition to the cabin. They are wrapped in Alcantara and look very similar to the ones used on the Z4 M40i. They are also just as sturdy and wrap around your back ever so tightly, especially if you’re on the wider side of things, such as myself.

The seats are rather stiff combined with a similarly stiff ride and 18” wheels, so the end result isn’t exactly what I’d call comfortable, especially over uneven roads. Then again, this is an M Sport model and it’s expected to be a bit on the harsher side of things.

That M Sport package brings a couple of changes on the outside too. The exterior design of the new 1 Series was controversial from the moment it was unveiled. While I don’t like to focus a lot on the design of things, as it is the most controversial topic you can talk about, I will point out a couple of things. The new 1 Series has an exterior design that tells you, right away, this is a front-wheel drive car. The longer overhangs both up front and in the back and the shorter, taller hood are dead giveaways. That considered, it’s not a bad-looking car.

The front and rear ends tell you immediately this is a BMW. Up front, the corona rings and the massive kidneys are dead giveaways while the rear-end looks even better in my book, with those slick LED strips and slim taillights. On M Sport models you get a diffuser on the rear bumper as well as twin tailpipes, all these confirming, once again, that this is a Bavarian machine. The only angle that might make you pause for a moment is the side view. Looked at from the side, the 1 Series doesn’t exactly exude Bavarian style for some reason. I was also surprised to see that the rear doors end at the very edge of the glass and that edge is quite sharp.

Our tester was wearing the Misano Blue color, a truly eye-catching paint and had the Shadowline treatment applied on the exterior trims, creating a rather nice contrast, combined with the matte grey wheels. Up front, the chromed kidney grille also stood out quite a lot and I would’ve gone for a blacked-out choice, just to hide their size a little bit.

The Driving Experience

From behind the wheel though, you won’t notice any of that, as you’ll be focused on the way this car drives. Do you feel the difference compared to the RWD predecessor? Yes, it’s inevitable. Will most customers care? I don’t think so.

Our tester in this instance was the rather popular 2019 BMW 120d xDrive model. That means you’ll find a 2-liter diesel engine under the hood, good for 190 HP and up to 400 Nm (295 lb-ft) of torque. If those numbers sound familiar, it’s because the B47 powerplant is one of the most popular across Europe and on other markets as wel. It is used in anything from the 118d to the 520d models and even on some 7 Series versions, albeit with twin-turbos. On the 1 Series you can only get this engine with all-wheel drive and the 8-speed automatic Aisin gearbox. That may change later down the line but for now, that’s the only combination available for the 190 HP version of this 2-liter diesel.

Does it work? Absolutely. If you’re looking for a smooth cruiser that sips very little fuel and is also quite brisk off the line, this is the one to get. There are other diesel choices available in the range as well right now, but this is the most powerful choice momentarily – and quite possibly on the longer run too as the 125d might never be offered.

The engine is all too familiar to European users. It has plenty of punch from down low and works great with the 8-speed Aisin gearbox, which was set up perfectly. It’s smooth around town and fast when you enter Sport mode. Speaking of which, changing between driving modes doesn’t do a lot for the performance as far as the engine is concerned.

Adaptive dampers will make the ride harsher while the steering also stiffens up but when it comes to the engine, not a lot stands out. From the outside, it has an agricultural sound, to be honest, not the best in my book.

Inside, things are a bit quieter, and you only get some annoying sounds into the cabin only above 3,500 RPM. Truth be told, you’ll rarely need to get the engine revved that high, as you really don’t need to push it to get the most out of it.

I couldn’t say there was any kind of understeer present while driving this car. At the same time, I didn’t really push it hard either, as going over a certain threshold felt as if I was punishing it. It’s a decently fast machine but it wasn’t created to be used on the track or driven hard at all times. I also didn’t get to fight with the steering wheel as torque steer was basically non-existent and understandably so, since this was an xDrive model. As for the steering feedback, it’s nothing to write home about. What most people will be interested in though will be comfort and fuel consumption.

For the former, I’d mention you shouldn’t go for the M Sport package or 18” wheels on the 2019 BMW 120d xDrive model. It makes everything feel so much harsher, especially on rough roads. If you’re looking for comfort, stick with a different exterior line, the standard 17” wheels and don’t get adaptive dampers or the M Sport seats.

According to BMW, a passively damped car will feel just like one with adaptive dampers in Comfort mode. Since I don’t see the point in trying to use this car in Sport mode, I’d stick to the standard setup. The M Sport seats, as I already mentioned, are a bit on the firmer side of things and a taller tire would definitely also help out in the comfort department.

As for the fuel consumption, I saw an average of 8l/100 km (35 mpg UK, 29.4 mpg US) around town, at an average speed of 22 km/h (13.6 mph) and 5.8 l/100 km (48.7 mpg UK, 40.55 mpg US) outside the city limits, with an average speed of 110 km/h (68.3 mph).

Should I Buy One?

So, where does that leave us? Well, the 2019 BMW 120d xDrive still appeals to a very certain demographic, one that I think could do well with the cheaper BMW 118d too. That’s because, while the 40 HP difference could mean a lot to some, the 118d will prove to be just as useful and fast in 90 percent of situations.

As for the move to a front-wheel drive platform, the new 1 Series will be perceived a lot different depending on who’s driving. According to BMW, a hefty amount of their customers didn’t really care where the power was going, but they did care about the badge and the lack of practicality of previous models. The badge is still there while the new model is definitely more practical and comes with all the technology you could possibly need and want, as long as you pay for it.

Is it a better car, then? For 95 percent of the buyers it will definitely be a better car. It may not be perfect for everyone, but it will be pretty damn close for most people.

Exterior Appeal – 8

Interior Quality – 7

Steering Feedback – 7

Performance – 7

Handling – 7

BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine – 6

Price Point – 6

6.9

As for the move to a front-wheel drive platform, the new 1 Series will be perceived a lot different depending on who’s driving. According to BMW, a hefty amount of their customers didn’t really care where the power was going, but they did care about the badge and the lack of practicality of previous models. The badge is still there while the new model is definitely more practical and comes with all the technology you could possibly need and want, as long as you pay for it.

Is it a better car, then? For 95 percent of the buyers it will definitely be a better car. It may not be perfect for everyone, but it will be pretty damn close for most people.

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