• Aug 5th 2008 at 11:58AM
  • 12
Click above for high-res gallery of the BMW 123d

We've reviewed a number of high-mileage and alternative fuel cars that can't be purchased here in the USA. Why bother wasting time on such unobtainable machines you might ask? It's because the number of high mileage cars available in this market is relatively small compared to elsewhere in the world. Even more scarce are high mileage cars that are fun and interesting to drive. Until we get to buy more hybrid, electric and diesel-fueled cars here, we will keep bringing you samples of what the rest of the world has to offer. With that in mind we bring you the BMW 123d. BMW introduced the 1-series to the U.S. market for the 2008 model year, but only with six-cylinder gasoline engines. Across the pond buyers have the choice of three variants of a 2.0L four-cylinder diesel engine with various power levels. Automotive supplier Bosch tossed us the fob (no premium cars use actual keys anymore) to a 123d for a week. Read on to find out what it was like.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

BMW is only offering the 1-series in 2-door coupe and convertible forms with gas 6-cylinder engines here in the U.S. In Europe 3- and 5-door hatchback versions like our test sample are also offered. The 1-series coupe is 9.4 inches shorter with a 4 inch shorter wheelbase than a BMW 325i coupe, but it only weighs 100lbs less than the larger car. The hatchback is a further 4.75 inches shorter but no lighter at a porky 3,274 lbs. The 123d is powered by a dual-turbo 2.0L diesel four-cylinder that generates 204 horsepower and a massive 295 lb-ft of torque.

The 123d hatch is actually similar in size than a VW Golf/Rabbit, but looking at the two in profile shows that a significantly larger chunk of the BMW is devoted to its engine compartment. That means the passenger compartment, particularly the rear seat area, has to give up volume. Like all other BMW cars, the 123d has rear-wheel drive and a longitudinally mounted engine while most small hatchbacks mount the powertrain side-to-side and drive the front wheels instead. BMW's priority is clearly the dynamic characteristics of its cars, but that doesn't mean they ignore the issue of fuel efficiency.

Lets address the bull dog looks of the 1-Series first. Like virtually all BMWs introduced this decade, the 1-Series has been controversial. Unlike the MINI, the 123d is not cute and it sure isn't pretty, but you certainly won't mistake it for anything but a BMW. The blunt nose and relatively long hood give the 1-Series hatch unusual proportions and the "flame" surfacing certainly catches the light and eliminates any slab sided look. Is it attractive? As we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It's unlikely anyone would call the hatchback pretty, although the coupe and convertible versions certainly look more balanced.

On the inside the 123d is more like a previous generation BMW than its larger contemporaries. The first thing someone familiar with modern Bimmers will notice is the absence of the dreaded iDrive knob and screen in the center of the dash. Our test unit was equipped with the M-Sport package that includes a more aggressive looking front air-dam in the style of M-cars, a 17-inch wheel/tire package and heavily bolstered seats to hold you in place. The animal hide-wrapped steering wheel has a nice thick rim to grab hold of and the shifter is nice and stubby. Strangely, in spite of being a rear-drive car with the shifter right on top of the gearbox, it didn't feel quite as precise as the MINI D. One thing you will not find anywhere in a European spec 1-Series is a cup holder. Not even bottle holders molded into the doors. Nada, not one anywhere. Now you know you are in a German car.

The seats are comfy and supportive and even the thigh supports are adjustable for length, which addresses one of my biggest gripes in most cars: cushions that are too short. The long hood proportions of the car do mean that sacrifices must be made. Since BMWs are billed as the "Ultimate Driving Machine", the operator's area obviously is not the place to sacrifice. Instead, passengers relegated to the back seat will deal with a snug environment. Head room and width are adequate for two passengers, but leg room is definitely at a premium unless the front seat occupants are willing to scoot forward. The hatchback does prove its utility by providing a respectable amount of cargo space and even more if you choose to drop the rear seat backs.

The 1-Series can be had with three different variants of the 2.0L diesel engine with 143 and 177 hp in addition to the 204-hp unit we tested. The 123d is officially rated at 45.2 mpg (US) while the 143-hp 118d is rated at 52.3 mpg (U.S.). BMW claims the 123d can scoot from 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) in a mere 6.9 seconds, a number that corresponds closely to my informal timer. This is one quick little car. Like other current four-cylinder BMWs (none of which are offered for sale in the U.S. by the way!) the 123d features Efficient Dynamics that includes an auto-start-stop system. When the vehicle comes to a halt with the shifter in neutral, the engine shuts off. As soon as the clutch pedal is pressed it fires right back up again. As in the MINI, you have to make sure not to rush things to much or you might select a gear and engage the clutch before the engine restarts. In most reasonable conditions (and all ABG readers are reasonable right?) you'll never encounter this issue. Frankly I'd rather have the start-stop system and slow down a bit pulling away from a stop than the other way around.

On the road the rear-wheel-drive configuration comes into its own with a more balanced 50/50 weight distribution than you would find in a front-wheel-drive car. Unfortunately, there is that thorny issue of all that weight to distribute. The BMW is significantly larger than the MINI and 600 lbs heavier. The 123d handles beautifully with excellent grip and minimal understeer, but it just doesn't feel as nimble or responsive as the MINI. The ride is also somewhat on the stiff side although opting for a non-M-sport model would ease things up.

The steering also doesn't provide as much feedback as the MINI, although the effort required to turn the wheels is just about perfect. The engine has a nice pleasant growl and having 50 percent more torque than the gas-fueled 6-cylinder 128i means that more velocity is just a squeeze of the right pedal away. From a standing start it doesn't feel as fierce as a larger gas engine, though once the turbos are generating boost, accelerating down an on-ramp or passing along a two lane road are no problem at all.

As with the MINI Cooper D, the dynamic behavior of the BMW encourages you take it out and play. Even without being particularly cognizant of minimizing fuel consumption, this car is very thrifty with diesel. During our time with the 123d that included a mix of highway cruising, stop-and-go urban driving and back road play-time, it averaged an impressive 37 mpg (US). As usual, your mileage will vary, although given the type of driving this little animal encouraged in me, mid-30s is probably about as low as it will go. The 123d has a particulate filter that eliminates virtually all the soot but it doesn't pass Tier 2 Bin 5 NOx standards in its current form. Since the displacement is only 2.0L BMW could probably get by with a lean NOx trap like VW uses on the Jetta instead of urea injection if they chose to bring it to the U.S. Unfortunately BMW has indicated that it doesn't currently have any plans to re-introduce any of its four-cylinder engines to the U.S. market. That really is a shame because a 177-hp version is available in the 320d in Europe. With the interior volume of a 320d Touring wagon, and only 100 lbs more mass, this would be a killer combination with near 40 mpg real world mileage. Come on BMW, get on the stick and show America what you can do!

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Months Ago
      This thing makes first gen M3 HP and current gen M3 TQ! Now if only BMW had a chassis that weighed what a first gen M3 weighs (~500lbs less than 123d), it would have a dynamic monster on its hands that should easliy get mpg well into the 40's.
      • 8 Months Ago
      BMW doesn't bring it over because of fear of 318 part deux. Granted some of us liked the 318 but most of the public didn't and hence off it went and why we don't see 1-series hatchbacks.
      • 8 Months Ago
      37 mpg. 204 horsepower and massive 295 lb-ft of torque... me likes.

      I think that in a few years Americans/Canadians will finally come to their senses about diesels and hopefully the automakers will grant us the opportunity to purchase awesome machines such as this one.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I'm an American living and working in Scotland, and I'm also a 2007 BMW 120d owner. The car is excellent! Yes, you can get a similar car from VW or Mazda, but the build quality is not the same. I also think the new Subaru Imprezza is similar. The fit and finish and refinement in the BMW is worth every penny. This is my first ever BMW, and both me and my wife are very impressed. The diesel has excellent fuel mileage. 40 mpg at 80 mph on a road trip through France. It'll get 50 mpg if you drive it closer to 65 mph. The torque from the diesel is so much fun, and the rear wheel drive is excellent compared to the crappy torque steer you feel when accelerating in a front wheel drive car. The hatchback is a great alternative to a pickup or SUV. My wife has fit quite a bit of furniture from IKEA inside it. When you only have 1 car, this is a great car to have.

      As mentioned, there are cupholders available, and a few hundred other options. We have the memory seats because my wife and I are about a foot difference in height. The comfort access means you can leave the key fob in your pocket and don't even have to put it in the dash to start the car. Same thing when locking the car, just swipe your finger along the top of the door handle with the fob in your pocket, and the doors lock. Traction control is great when you have this much torque and drive in the wet. We got the sport package which is shorter and stiffer springs, bigger anti-roll bars, 17" wheels. Sport seats are top notch when you add the side bolster and lumbar support options and the seat heat. Visibility package has active headlights that move when going around corners, and also the HID bulbs.

      High end options that are available are SAT Nav, active steering which adjusts the ratio with speed, full leather, bluetooth, and plenty more...
      • 8 Months Ago
      :yawn: Gosh, a $30K VW Golf.

      Just what everyone needs.

      I realize BMW has this name thing going, but seriously...what makes this worth ten thousand dollars more than a VW hatchback? It don't get better mileage, or go faster, and it looks like...just another econobox hatch.

      BMW might be worried about cheapening their brand, but if it smells like cheap, and looks like cheap...well...good luck with it.

      Heck, if you really wanted an econohatch for thirty grand, buy a Mazdaspeed3. It might not get quite the mileage, but it uses less expensive gas, not omigod-its-so-great diesel, so the actual fuel cost is roughly the same.

      I can see BMW selling about 5000 of these a year in the US, mostly to daddies buying their daughters a graduation present.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I agree about BMW's build quality (the interior materials in particular feel like they will outlast most cars) but from personal experience, their reliability and maintenance costs leave a lot to be desired. I wouldn't want to own one outside of warranty, for example.

      I too was disappointed to learn that they were only bringing the 6 cylinder versions of the 1 series to the U.S. Not only for fuel economy, but the lighter engine (and thus less weight over the front of the car) and high-revving nature of a twin-cam four mated to a nice RWD package would be a fun and unique offering in the U.S.
      • 8 Months Ago
      It's a shame BMW (and MBz, and Audi, and VW) is so terrified of "cheapening" its brand in the US by bringing over the less-lavish models that sell like crazy in Europe. If they sold a 120d 5-door hatch with a stick and AC and not much else in the US I'd already have one.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I'm pretty sure small cars with small engines is where the new money's at.

        I just strolled through a local honda dealership. $500 "Market Markup" is now charged on all Civics and Fits. No market markup on the Accord or anything bigger.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I drove a 118 diesel 5 door in Munich last year and it was fantastic. When I heard they were bringing the 1 series to North America I was so excited, but when they only brought the coupe with the same engines as the 3 series I was upset!

      This would be a great step up for someone who wants something "the next step up" to a Jetta TDI. With the Jetta TDI selling so well I am certain they would sell out if they brought the 1 series in diesel here.

      I think they are bringing the 335i with the diesel engine for 09 (at least in Canada anyway) but that is too pricey for me.

      I will just have to import my own from Germany I guess.
      • 8 Months Ago
      II wonder how they are calculating 245 miles. Seems their efficiency calculation is wrong at 30 keg per 100 miles.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Here's a bit more seat time in Bosch's beautiful blue 123d:
      • 7 Years Ago
      As a (Euro) 1-series owner:
      The cup holders in the center console are included in the "Advantage package", which includes air conditioning, fog lights, velour floor mats, additional 12V plugs, central arm rest and a storage bin on top of the dash.
      Since the price of the Advantage package is only a bit more than the price for air conditioning only, everybody takes the package.

      The 123d and 130i have air conditioning as standard equipment, so people overlook the advantage package on these.
    Share This Photo X