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  • Strong & frugal engine; intelligent stop-start system; on-road manners
  • Rear leg room tight for adults; some option pricing a little dear

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BMW 120d Review & Road Test
BMW 120d Review & Road Test
by Matt Brogan

BMW 120d: the economic hot-hatch

Model Tested:

  • 2009 BMW E87 120d; 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel; six-speed manual; five-door hatch – $46,790*

Options Available:

  • See bottom of page.

CarAdvice Rating:

by Matt Brogan & Alborz Fallah

Marrying sharp driving dynamics and strong performance credentials with drip-sipping fuel consumption figures and a low carbon footprint sounds like a match that, if not already deep in couple’s therapy, is well en route to a bitter divorce.

In fact most so-called green vehicles are about as exciting to drive a fun park go-kart – you know, the ones that couldn’t fight their way out of the proverbial wet paper bag – a stigma I’m certain no self-discerning driving enthusiast would dare want gracing their garage.

BMW’s Efficient Dynamics program has set about changing the ‘green means gutless’ philosophy with a range of cars that finally melds the best of both worlds expectation that, until now, has been sorely lacking.

BMW 120d Review & Road Test
BMW 120d Review & Road Test
BMW 120d Review & Road Test
BMW 120d Review & Road Test

Case in point the newest member of the Bavarian brotherhood, the compact 120d.

Combining on-road substance with environmental responsibility the 120d features a powerful yet lean 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine mated to a slick shifting six-speed manual gearbox and intelligent stop-start technology.

The result is an eager performing five-door hatch capable of accelerating from rest to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds whilst simultaneously delivering a hybrid-esque fuel consumption figure of just 5.2L/100km (combined, as tested).

It might seem tantamount to mechanical voodoo, but the smooth, confident power delivery and impressively low figures of the 120d’s fuel consumption figures prove otherwise.

This 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit develops a sinewy 130kW of power and, from just 1750 rpm, a brawny 350Nm of torque that sees this green go getter perform in a manner not far off “hot hatch” times just a few years back. An intelligent and quick thinking stop-start system is also on hand to save precious fuel while idling, as is a gear shift indicator to provide hints as to when best shift gear for maximum efficiency.

BMW 120d Review & Road Test
BMW 120d Review & Road Test

It’s all well and good to stick a giant Efficient Dynamics sign on the side of a car and claim fuel efficiency, it’s a totally different matter if you can actually deliver results. BMW’s Efficient Dynamics program is essentially the idea that there are enough technologies available today to make fuel efficient cars without the need for hybrids.

This is not to say BMW is not going into hybrid cars, far from it, the German company is currently developing hybrid cars for the future, so if you can appreciate how frugal these Efficient Dynamic models are now, just imagine how good they will be with a hybrid system. Plus knowing how well BMW build engines, its future hybrid systems will certainly revolutionise hybrid cars.

The key features of BMW’s Efficient Dynamic models include highly optimised engines, an auto start stop function which turns the car off when not moving, brake energy regeneration technology that harnesses and captures the vehicle’s kinetic energy (as soon as you take your foot off the accelerator or you brake) into electricity to charge up the battery.

There is even an electric power steering system that uses an electric motor to assist the steering. As oppose to a hydraulic system, BMW’s electric steering assist only activates only during actual steering manoeuvres. Combined with the other technologies in the car that help generate electricity, it all means more bang for your buck at the bowser.

Getting a little more technical here, BMW has developed a simple but genius (as often the case) system that can close the vents in front of the radiator when cooling in not needed, helping reduce air resistance and hence fuel consumption. When the engine requires it, the vents are open and air flows in.

Special reduced rolling resistance tyres are also employed for all BMW’s Efficient Dynamic models. Using special materials in the tread and side sections of the tyre means less flexing and hence better fuel economy.

All these ideas separately probably won’t make much difference, but put them all together and employ a brilliant diesel engine and what you get is a car that is not only efficient but also fun to drive.

During my time with the 120d I had the pleasure of being stuck in Melbourne traffic for two hours and 14 minutes (yes, I had a stop watch). This meant moving five metres, stopping for two minutes and moving for another five metres. The sort of traffic that would drive Mother Theresa mad.

Initially I thought, oh dear, mix this with a manual transmission and it’s going to be hell, but as the 120d is so easy to drive it was a non-issue. In fact with the auto-start system it meant the car continued to turn itself on and off for each one of those two minute periods.

Interestingly if the climate control is on and you’ve been sitting in idle for a little too long with the engine off, it may start to get a little hot in the car. Thankfully the Be-em-veh is smart enough to work this out and turns the engine back on for your comfort. Heavy traffic is probably the only environment in which a Prius would have it over the 120d, having that battery to power the cars electrics and drive the car completely on electricity is what the Prius does best.

What the 120d does that current hybrids can only dream about is proper acceleration. Unlike other green cars, the 120d actually goes and when I mean goes, I mean it really goes.

Put your foot down in second at about 30km/h and the turbo will kick in and you’ll be pushed back into your seat. My partner said during the drive “how is this efficient, it’s too quick to be saving fuel”. I suppose that should give you an idea of how BMW intends to change perceptions. 250+ kilometres of traffic and lead-foot driving and we were only just starting to go under the 3/4 mark.

It will get you from 0-100km/h faster than a basic Commodore or Falcon and that’s saying a lot for a car which is focused on being fuel efficient.

Efficient Dynamics apart, the driving dynamics are typical BMW; precise, sporty and extremely fun. Driven via the rear-wheels (like all BMWs ) the 120d will grip into corners (despite the special tyres) and can act like a sports car when needed. There is nothing “green” and slow about the way this car gets about.

On the highway road noise is kept at a minimum thanks to BMW’s obsession with quality window seals, meanwhile the stereo even in this basic 120d will put many rivals to shame.

It’s a similar story throughout the cabin with all features being of excellent quality while also simple and intuitive in function.

While the rear seat may be a little cramped if you’re facing taller front seat passengers, the 120d is indeed spacious enough for its intended purpose and boasts a decent 330 litre boot that can be expanded to 1150 litres with the 60:40 split fold seats out of the way.

Safety features include ABS with cornering brake control, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. A full house of airbags, traction and stability control also contribute to the 120d’s five-star ANCAP crash test rating.

The 120d is the current entry point in to BMW’s Efficient Dynamics range, and with a price point of just $46,790*, is the best value, best of both world’s premium hatch on the market.

The 120d will be joined by a less performance orientated version, the 118d, early in the new year.


CarAdvice Overall Rating:

How does it Drive:

How does it Look:

How does it Go:

Options Available:

  • Metallic Paint $1308; Seat Heaters $561; Sunroof $2246; Headlamp Washers $576; Leather Upholstery $2000; Lumbar Support $493; Ski Bag $300; Voice Recognition System $700; Satellite Navigation $2500; Premium Audio Package $1600; M Sport Suspension $600; Electrically Operated Seats (with memory) $2239; Comfort Access System $1154; Active Steering $2200; M Sport Package $4000; Park Distance Control $550; Bluetooth Connectivity $790; Bi-Xenon Headlamps $1577; Anti-dazzle Mirrors $539; iPod Interface $500; Alarm $769; High Beam Assist $246; Adaptive Headlamps $723

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BMW 120d Review & Road Test
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  • TomR

    This thing points to the future of sports cars, what a nutter of a thing!!! I think with a hybrid motor chucked in and maybe a Double-clutch robotised manual, this car would be an absolute ripper and sort that traffic problem.

    As it is though, I wouldnt hesitate one moment to buy one… except that its a BMW, but thats just my bias =P

  • Frank

    So how does this hatch compare to a VW Golf 2.0 TDI? Fuel consumption is about the same, although the Bimmer may be a tad quicker and is rear wheel drive, I think the VW interior fit and finish and rear leg room is far superior over it. Not to mention the start price is way up there in comparison to the Golf. Throw in the new Polo 1.2 TDI and it smokes the 120 on fuel consumption and it is not that much smaller than BMW hatch. The A3 Audi hatch is certainly much nicer looking as well.

  • Allan

    where’s the 123d?


    • KM

      123d is due to come out very soon..

      God this is a good car!

    • The Realist

      A junior colleague of mine just factory ordered a 123d Coupe M Sport due here in November.

      160kW with 400Nm torque… and eligible for the $75K LCT limit… Sat Nav, Logic 7 HiFi, adaptive headlights, performance wheels…

      It looks like one super little package to me.

  • Will

    Very nice and appealing compact machine from BMW. Well done, although personally I would lean to the RS Skoda wagon.

    • Frank

      Will I agree, for the money we are talking about here, the Skoda 2.0 TDI combi is a far better value vehicle and not a slouch in the power or fuel economy department. I would not really say they compare in the handling/ drive-ability sector, but the value for money bet is the Skoda without a doubt.

      For me this car would be far more appealing if its pricing was more in line with its competition, but then again BMW is nearly always the most profitable car company year in and year out and you can’t make profit without over charging- I think though as mentioned above Porsche is king of that domain.

  • davie

    It’s probably a good car for those in that market space but holy-options-list Batman! It will probably cost another 10k in accessories which you dont get back at sale time.

    • Devil’s Advocate

      The Germans are experts of the large, expensive option list. Just look at one for a Porsche!

  • Yianni

    The Germans sure know how to build em’.

    What more can you ask for? Power, comfort, fuel efficiency and quality all rolled in to one package. This makes the Prius look like a fridge on wheels and a complete joke in that similar price range.

  • http://www.forumsglobe.com esam

    Very nice and useful for who want to buy this BMW 120d

  • Simon

    “This 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit develops a sinewy 130kW of power…….”
    Alborz, I’m probably a little slow but I don’t get what “sinewy” power means. Can you elaborate for my sake please?
    This must be the quickest Factory 2.0L Diesel going anywhere. Doesn’t BMW have a type of DSG? Would have lots of potential in this little tyre-tearer!
    Typical BMW WRT pricing, options ect.
    Don’t know how they do it, but they do it well, AND get away with it!

  • Mookey Stik

    Wheels mag (Nov 2009) pan it for the (what they consider) excessive NVH and the nasty ride on the runflats (feeling like they are filled with cement rather then air). Amazing what spin reviewers can put on a car depending upon what they are looking out for.

  • Michael

    regarding the pricing, the \’packages\’ (M-Sport or Executive) include a LOT of the other options listed seperately, to the point where it would be nuts to order the options individually….
    I\’ve posted on my ownership of a manual 120d previously (see the other article about it on here). I\’ve now got just under 10,000k\’s on it, and the consumption is averaging low to mid 5\’s

BMW 1 Series Specs

Car Details
E87 MY09
Body Type
New Price
Private Sale
$14,850 - $16,880
Dealer Retail
$16,470 - $19,580
Dealer Trade
$11,800 - $13,500
Engine Specifications
Engine Type
Engine Size
Max. Torque
300Nm @  1750rpm
Max. Power
105kW @  4000rpm
Pwr:Wgt Ratio
Bore & Stroke
Compression Ratio
Valve Gear
Drivetrain Specifications
Drive Type
Final Drive Ratio
Fuel Specifications
Fuel Type
Fuel Tank Capacity
Fuel Consumption (Combined)
5.4L / 100km
Weight & Measurement
Kerb Weight
Gross Vehicle Weight
Not Provided
Ground Clearance
Towing Capacity
Brake:1200  Unbrake:690
Steering & Suspension
Steering Type
Turning Circle
Front Rim Size
Rear Rim Size
Front Tyres
205/50 R17
Rear Tyres
205/50 R17
Wheel Base
Front Track
Rear Track
Front Brakes
Rear Brakes
Front Suspension
MacPherson strut, Coil Spring, Gas damper, Anti roll bar
Rear Suspension
5 links, Coil Spring, Gas damper, Anti roll bar
Standard Features
Automatic Air Con / Climate Control
Control & Handling
17 Inch Alloy Wheels, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Traction Control System
Cruise Control, Leather Steering Wheel, Power Steering, Trip Computer
Radio CD with 6 Speakers
Fog Lights - Front, Power Mirrors
Cloth Trim, Power Windows
Dual Airbag Package, Anti-lock Braking, Head Airbags, Seatbelts - Pre-tensioners Front Seats, Side Front Air Bags
Central Locking Remote Control, Engine Immobiliser
Optional Features
Power front seats, Power Sunroof
Control & Handling
18 Inch Alloy Wheels, Sports Suspension
Satellite Navigation
Premium Sound System
Metallic Paint, M Sport Package II, Xenon Headlights
Leather Upholstery
Alarm System/Remote Anti Theft
Service Interval
12 months /  25,000 kms
36 months /  999,000 kms
VIN Plate Location
Driver Side Inner Guard
Country of Origin