In the AutoblogGreen Garage: 2008 BMW 123d 3-door hatchback

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.

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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!

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Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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