The 120i is BMW’s answer to practicality, comfort, luxury and class packed into a package that remains affordable, despite the BMW badge. This particular example is the 4 cylinder 2.0L petrol variant and comes equipped with the 6 speed automatic transmission.
Upon first glance, the 120i is unmistakably BMW. When armed with a mobile phone, I’m no photographer, but the classic BMW lines are so recognisable I don’t need to be. Muscular, aggressive and purposeful whilst simultaneously remaining classy and refined is how to describe the exterior of the car; not what you’d usually expect to be saying when eyeballing a hatchback.
Opening the door and sitting in driver’s seat, I must admit that the interior seems a little old hat. Not much has changed in BMW’s interior styling department for the past 15 years with their base model vehicles. Not to say there’s anything wrong with that, but a freshen up wouldn’t go astray, either.
Despite being familiar, the interior remains impressive. BMW’s use of high quality leather, coupled with equally high quality trims exude quality and give a luxurious feel that is synonymous with BMW. The build quality feels distinctly European and it’s a pleasurable environment to be in. The little hatch has a ton of usable space and I’m sure you’ll agree with me unless your name is André the Giant. It’s deceiving how generously roomy the 120i is.
I have one gripe regarding the 120i’s interior. The rearward cup-holder is only accessible when the centre console lid is lifted up. Not a huge issue by any means, but it could spell a mess if you had to hit the picks abruptly and the lid slammed onto your morning coffee.
Having passed interior scrutiny relatively unscathed, it was time to put the 120i through its paces. Sliding the key into the dash and hitting the starter button, the BMW sprang to life. After turning the wipers on forgetting I was in a European car, I turned my brain on, indicated and pulled out onto the road.
The suburbs of South Brisbane have some fairly awful road surfaces and it was apparent when I began to drive the BMW that this wouldn’t be an issue. The ride quality was nothing short of excellent. Very smooth with minimal road noise, exactly what you want during your daily commute.
The brakes on the 120i are impressive, lots of initial bite with a very progressive feel to them. They’re more than ample for the average commuter and definitely up to the task of keeping the little BMW in line.
The steering has a nice weighted feel to it, not too heavy but not unnervingly light. There’s a nice amount of feedback through the wheel that I personally appreciate. The 120i turns on a dime and the Bridgestone Potenza’s offered a sure footed feel.
The 2.0L engine offers a smooth and pleasant drive, but that’s where the accolades end. I’d love to call it the Bavarian Bullet, but the 120i’s 2.0L power-plant is undeniably asthmatic.
OK, I’m being a little unfair. The engine in the 120i does what it’s intended to do, but it has two hurdles that really hinder its performance. The first being the flyby wire accelerator, it’s crap. There’s not enough sugar at the CSR factory to coat the awful delay between moving your right foot and the engine deciding to do something. It takes at least a second and sometimes from a standing stop it can take longer.
The second issue is the automatic transmission. Yes, it’s silky smooth and you barely notice the car changing gears, but the 2.0L wakes up a little higher in the rev range than the shift points allow. This is much improved in sports mode and better again when you drive the car around manually shifting it.
Overall, I’m being critical. The 120i was never intended to be a sports car, its purpose was to commute and to do so in style. It has style in droves and fulfills its intended purpose to a T. It’s comfortable, stylish, affordable to purchase, run and maintain and its a pleasurable drive.
Well done, BMW