18000 Miles in an F20 120d

The new BMW 1 Series, Urban Line (06/2011) Last fall (2012) we took home our very own F20 120d hatch. A car many of you in the US have longed for and a car that we know that the NA market will unfortunately never get.

Part of the perks of moving to Germany is the ability to sample the fruits of European only offerings from BMW- The all new 1 series being one of them. In all honesty it was a huge toss up between the F30 3er and the One when it came to the purchase but the truth is, the 120d just hit the right spot in all areas. Its size has served us as a family of 3 well and we have been comfortable touring Europe. If the 18000 miles in 8 moths doesn ‘t drive home that point I am not sure what does.

Our car is pretty unique in packaging, as BMW AG let ‘s you build a car however you want. No power seats, no added weight in a sunroof, no safety nonsense like lane departure but the full bells and whistles such as the full navigation, speed limit notification and adaptive xenons. Parking in our walled city can be stressful for even the most season driver so we checked the boxes for park distance and park assist- and together they work flawlessly and relieve a lot of stress! With BMW offering base models or “lines ” now, we opted for the “Urban ” line. Not sport this go around and the reason was simple- we wanted something that the US would never see and with other cars in the stable a sports version was not needed. Yes, we have white exterior accents, wheels and interior trim and it is SOOO European. But it ‘s a look we ‘ve grown to love, even the headlights look normal now as there are so many of these on the road.

The new BMW 1 Series, Urban Line (06/2011)

Not that everything is perfect. One glaring issue has been the HORRIBLE harmonics we have at 2700 RPM. Everything in the interior rattles and makes a racket for about 100 RPMS.Then suddenly, all is well. The shifter, trim pieces and center console all seem to get pissed off and scream at the same time. It does a great job of driving me in particular insane. Yet it ‘s only a consistent problem at about 160 kph on the autobahn and lasts a mere second or two. Another gripe (and perhaps the largest) is with the manual. In order to shave a few thousand euro off the price we went with the 6 speed manual.

And opposite of what you ‘d expect it was the worst choice imaginable. Rather than increasing the fun it really only adds frustration. Sure its sacrilegious for a left foot snob to say a manual is the wrong choice but if I am being honest it surely was. Due to the low rev nature of the diesel and its turbo lag you end up shifting all the time. The ZF 8 speed (as pictured) is a much better choice for this engine and (in my mind) clearly BMWNA made the right choice as the only transmission available in the US for the upcoming 328d.

Everyone assumes that a manual is more fun, more engaging and the better choice for enthusiasts. I am here to tell you that is a crock of BS. The engine is torquey, efficient (we get 50 mpg mixed) and has enough life to be entertaining but the low rev nature and curve make it ideal for the fast shifting ZF and its algorithms; let alone the plus the auto has in MPG. It is the first time I have ever had buyer ‘s remorse about an option choice, and damned if it isn ‘t the tried and true manual tranny.

The new BMW 1 Series, Urban Line (06/2011)

Best thing about the 120d is by far the miles per gallon, it is nice to know you can drive almost 700 miles on a tank, that saves money (especially with the miles I am logging in touring) and time at the pump. The increase in interior room is appreciated as the rear seat actually doesn ‘t require one to be under four feet tall or have super human flexibility like its predecessor. We are able to pack for us two and the little man for a week and keep it mostly in the hatch which is something we were not expecting considering how much stuff he requires and he stays warm back there because BMW has gifted rear seat passengers with a center climate run on the 1 now.

There have been zero issues with the car as far as things breaking goes, it all just works and the build quality and materials far exceed the 1er that still is being sold stateside. It ‘s a huge step in the direction towards a premium entry offering and when the 2 Series hits the states that should be the stand out improvement; if a car being more neutral is not a huge selling point. This week I will finally be taking the steel winter wheels off and putting on the shiny and new summer tires- yep 18k down and its all on the snows (and the reason I used stock photos!). Having lived with the leather and cloth combination on the seats I can say that it doesn ‘t feel cheap and it wears a lot better than the full leather seats while being more grippy and breathable- something on 8 hour trips in the middle of the night is notable.

With all that said, this fall I will try dumping this car (haven ‘t told my wife yet), not because of the drive as it is fun. Not because it is too small but because it is not the ZF 8HP. We ‘ll get the auto in the same car because outside the manual we love the car. It is great at the pump, small, toss-able and with the driving dynamics control and optional sports steering the car is really fun to drive even without the sports suspension. It ‘s a shame the US will never see the practicality of this hatch and the fun it can be but be thankfully BMWNA is limiting the option to the 8 Speed auto on the same engined 328d because I hate to say it but it is truly the only choice and I ‘d know it.

Images: BMW

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  • rick longino

    That’s it? Wow; I would expect much more detail here.

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      What exactly would you like to see?

  • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

    Interesting overview. Definitely reaffirms some of my assumptions about the 8 speed being the right choice for BMWNA to offer as the only choice in the 328d.

    Also nice to see such gaudy figures in the MPG area.

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      I hate to say it but they are right- I love this car but hate the manual. It’s been a great car and is fun because of its size and it is light by today’s standards.

  • lavardera

    I have to be redundant and say how much I prefer the stock fascia better than the overwrought M trim fascia.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    Nice piece Micheal. It sucks to have buyers remorse for the 6 speed but as you say, someone else will be able to enjoy the car in the near future.

    I like your option choices; adaptive xenons are great as are the cloth/leather seats. Diesel; yes. I’ve read seventy percent of all European new car sales are diesel. I’m liking the 700 miles on a tank of fuel; that is such a plus. You didn’t mention what fuel costs are per gallon but I suspect they are comparatively high. Enjoy your time in Europe driving and owning vehicles that aren’t available in the USA…

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      Diesel is cheaper than petrol here by about 10%- It’s about €1,30 a liter if my memory is right- costs about $100 to fill up.

      I forgot to add that we do have the heated seats and I really don’t consider them an option anymore as every car I have ever had has had them being in the NorthEast and here it is a necessity!

  • John

    How does the steering feel compare to the F30?

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      We have have the servotronic and Park Assist so the algorithm is a bit different than the base model.

      I have been down this steering “feel” road before but I will honestly say that it is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be but the road noise and underboosted fantastic E9X steering it is not. It is more like E60 5 Series and way better than the current 5er.

      It provides information when you need it- when slip should be felt it is when there is a rough patch of pavement you feel it. One way I can attest this is on snow covered roads I had no issues counter steering and making adjustments with the feel. If I cross over the center line (which the stripes are grooved in here) I feel it in the feel and in my rear.

      Is it the best steering ever? No, but it is not nearly as bad as an Audi or the rest of the competition and they selling like hot cakes.

  • 03BeastCharmer

    Is the motor in the 120d the same one that will be in the US 328d?

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      Same motor in principal just the US gets the urea injection as standard and here it is optional as part of “Blue Performance” (AdBlue). It makes it EU Bin 6 emissions which is the next tier that takes effect in a few years in other words- CARB compliant. Unless there were US specific changes we are not aware of.