Adaptive four-wheel drive adds winter safety and dynamic interest to the BMW 1-series’ solid base at a potentially attractive premium
Richard Webber
14 December 2012

What is it?

It's a BMW 1-series with four-wheel drive. UK orders for the BMW 320i xDrive since its book opened in June have been encouraging, and have had us eyeing Munich’s other non-SUV four-wheel-drivers with interest. In Germany, most models can be had with xDrive, including the 1-series hatch in sprinting M135i form and in workaday 120d guise as seen here.

The model answered demand from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and joins an expanding xDrive range that already accounts for a third of BMW's sales. Germany, the USA and China all buy more xDrives than Audi quattros, so, clearly, that leaves room for improvement in the UK.

Most of Audi's quattro-equipped cars use a Torsen centre differential to apportion torque but, like the A3 and TT, xDrives use a multi-plate wet clutch instead. BMW claims its system is the most quick-witted, reacting in 0.1sec, and anticipating wheel slip via the DSC’s myriad sensors. Torque can be totally redistributed fore or aft from the default 40 per cent front, 60 per cent rear setting.

The 120d xDrive is largely identical to its rear-drive counterpart that was packaged to accommodate four-wheel drive from the start. The extra 40kg or so, plus friction increases, means a 4g/km CO2 penalty (theoretically adding £70 to the road tax bill on the smallest wheels), while fuel economy drops less than four per cent to a still-superb 60.1mpg, and performance is barely affected. BMW chassis engineers have aimed to maintain the rear-driver’s sporty-yet-supple set-up using revised springs and dampers.

What's it like?

The sensible money banks on both winter tyres and four-wheel drive, and that’s how our test car was equipped for a stint in the Austrian Alps. On snow, the xDrive system was hamstrung by DSC, which constantly cut the power, but switch the Dynamic Traction Control to a setting that permits some slip and understeer could be tamed with an increase in rear-bound drive without stifling progress.

Similarly, on the driest road we found, the 120d xDrive showed signs of overcoming the rear-driver’s strong tendency to wash out. Unless DSC was fully engaged, though, unchecked oversteer would cut doughnuts in the snow all day. When required, the ABS system performed efficiently and inspired confidence, while the accurate steering was uncorrupted by xDrive.

Body control was taut, but the ride disappointed over broken surfaces, the new suspension settings seemingly reprising the previous 1-series’ tendency to fidget, despite sensible wheels and tyres.

The engine, though gruff, remains a wonder of power and economy, and the xDrive system distributed its considerable torque ably. The pairing’s potential in a 3-series host is even more of a prospect to wish for.

Should I buy one?

All-wheel drive corrupts the fundamental essence of BMW's rear-drive purity, but a more secure, sure-footed 1-series certainly has appeal. German buyers pay around £2000 extra for an xDrive 1-series, but we’d probably fork out more like £1535 – that’s the premium charged for the 320i xDrive, aligning closely with Audi’s £1600 supplement for the A3 quattro.

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BMW 120d xDrive 5dr

Price £25,015 (est); Top speed 140mph; 0-62mph 7.2sec; Economy 60.1mpg (combined); CO2 123g/km; Kerb weight 1500kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1995cc, turbodiesel; Power 181bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1750-2750rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

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507 14 December 2012

Adaptive suspension

If you opt for the adaptive suspension you have a comfort setting which puts the car in a different category.

Citytiger 14 December 2012

507 wrote: If you opt for

507 wrote:

If you opt for the adaptive suspension you have a comfort setting which puts the car in a different category.

At the prices they charge it should come as standard, its a pity they just cant make the basic suspension more compliant, other non premium manufacturers seem to be able to get it right.

 

audiolab 14 December 2012

Slap in...

Slap in the 8 speed auto and i'm done. If I had the money that is.

 

jamesf1 16 December 2012

Exactly

Citytiger wrote:

507 wrote:

If you opt for the adaptive suspension you have a comfort setting which puts the car in a different category.

At the prices they charge it should come as standard, its a pity they just cant make the basic suspension more compliant, other non premium manufacturers seem to be able to get it right.

 

 

if your prepared to pay a big chunk of extra money you can have a BMW which rides actually properly. Ride quality is an optional extra.

Harry P 14 December 2012

Driving Spirit wrote:I'd have

Driving Spirit wrote:I'd have thought BMW UK bosses would have been following the success of Audi's quattro badge with envy and would be desperate to get as many xDrives into the range as possible.

That's because few manufactures really understand the UK 4WD market. Is 4WD there to enhance  performance / traction or there for off road capability.  Manufacturers like VW bring out a Passat 4WD estate ideal for rural users who want a practical 4WD without the size and bulk of a SUV, but then go and fit 18” low profile alloy wheels!     Audi do the same with the A4 Allroad.  There  is a market for 4WD BMW’s here in the UK especially if they can produce them with Tax efficient low C02 engines. They just need to decide who they want to sell them to before they fit low profile whhels and tyres and hard suspension!

 

typos1 14 December 2012

It would have been amazing 10

It would have been amazing 10 years ago, but nowadays autos are often more efficient and faster.

507 14 December 2012

Amazing xDrive

I do agree regarding the auto gearbox, but the 4 wheel drive efficiency is till rather unique!

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