I walked into a BMW dealer nearly 9 years ago, desiring a compact and economical car with that little bit more luxury and pizazz than the Golf I had been checking out. I was drawn into the showroom by a BMW advert - $42888 drive away for a 118d manual diesel with leather. I was told there were no manuals available. I complained to BMW about bait advertising and a few weeks later, my manual BMW arrived with the added bonus of cruise control and voice "control" - a very euphemistic description of a system that can sometimes call home, but no amount of cajoling or shouting can persuade it to call anywhere else. Fortunately Siri has now come to my rescue.
Three years later, I walked back into the Volkswagen dealership, ready to trade the BMW for that Golf. I was offered a derisory amount as a trade-in, so I decided to persevere with my BMW.
My main complaint was the road roar and harshness of the ride - I know BMWs are advertised as the "Ultimate Driving Machine", but I was fed up with constant sound inflicted by every coarse chip in the bitumen and the transmission of every imperfection in the road surface to my aching rear. I was desperate for the OEM Bridgestone run-flat tyres to wear out. After 45000km I decided I could justify their replacement with conventional Yokohama Advan tyres with their claim of quietness and comfort.
This was when I started to fall in love. The ride and noise were transformed; not necessarily plush, but perfectly liveable. At last I started to experience the "Sheer Driving Pleasure".
Acceleration is rated at 8.9 seconds to 100 km/h, which is fairly sluggish by today's standards. It's not able to hustle from the lights at any great pace, but get it into third at around 60 km/h and there's a sudden sense of urgency as you hit peak torque. Back in 2010, diesel wasn't quite the dirty word it is today and one of the motivations for my purchase was the fuel consumption figure: officially 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle. On my thrice-weekly 120km commute along Melbourne's choked freeways, average consumption works out at 4.8 l/100km - I don't think many other cars come within cooee of that.
The start-stop system works flawlessly on this manual car and undoubtedly contributes to the economy - you come up to some red lights, depress the clutch and the engine cuts to eerie silence as you glide to a stop. It then reactivates the very instant you depress the clutch - very impressive. As long as you're up front in the BMW, you're in relative comfort. The leather seats have finally conformed to my body contour and are wearing well. Space in the rear is more cramped, necessitating positioning behind the shortest person to ensure adequate legroom. Ride comfort in the rear isn't too bad on the flat, but you need to watch for any approaching speed bumps and duck slightly to stop your head hitting the roof.
The BMW hasn't let me down after 157,000km, but has had a few gremlins: a leaking rear differential, a defective oxygen sensor and some bizarre electrical issues. Apparently the leaking rear differential is fairly common and required a complete (expensive) disassembly to replace a couple of seals. The oxygen sensor showed up as an engine management issue and could only be resolved with another expensive trip to a BMW dealer for diagnosis and replacement. The electrical issues involved the computer randomly scrolling through the functions on the dashboard display - solved with a new battery. After the initial 3 years of BMW servicing, I have been taking the car to an independent who charges less than 50% of the price.
Next year BMW will be replacing the rear-wheel drive 1 Series with a front driving version, and I get a sense (perhaps unfounded) that this will degrade the handling of the car. My wife catches me glimpsing at the current 1 Series on the BMW website, but no diesels or manuals are featured. I've never kept a car for this length of time before, but feel this one will go on for some time yet. My son has just started to learn to drive. Maybe I'm an outdated luddite but driving a manual just gives you that extra engagement with your drive making it a true "Joy to Ride".