BMW 120d; M135i - Finely tuned

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BMW 120d; M135i

Price: To be announced when car arrives in third quarter of this year

Engine: 1,995cc 16-valve inline-4 turbodiesel; 2,979cc 24-valve inline-6 turbocharged

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual override; six-speed manual

Power: 190bhp at 4,000rpm; 326bhp at 5,800rpm

Torque: 400Nm at 1,750rpm; 450Nm at 1,300-4,500rpm

0-100kmh: 7; 5.1 seconds

Fuel consumption: 3.9; 8 litres/100km

Car buyers looking to purchase their first BMW can soon consider a diesel-powered 1-series.

The most basic BMW on offer here is currently the 116i, powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine that puts out 136bhp. The carmaker is not willing to customise a detuned version that qualifies for Category A, and the 116i will be rebadged 118i when the facelifted version arrives.

But the new 116d, a 1.5-litre turbodiesel that puts out 11bhp and 270Nm, should allow BMW to claw back its presence in the mass-market segment.

Elsewhere in the world, BMW will be offering a 116i model with a new three-cylinder petrol engine. It is 0.6 seconds slower to 100kmh than the 116d, consumes 1.3 litres more fuel per 100km and spews 19g more CO2 per km. That certainly makes it less attractive than the 116d, especially with the new Carbon Emissions-Based Vehicle Scheme kicking in on July 1.

Unfortunately, the new diesel was not available for test drives during the international media launch of the facelifted 1-series event. The 120d xDrive that was available, however, reminds me just how relevant a diesel option can be in a city setting such as Singapore.

The 120d is equipped with a 2-litre four-cylinder power plant that puts out 190bp and a meaty 400Nm of torque.

In the backroads of Lisbon, it kept pace with the highly tuned M135i, thanks to the availablity of torque from low in the rev range. Acceleration is brisk and the car never feels lacking, even for high-speed overtaking manouvres.

At triple-digit highway speeds, the tachometer reads well below 2,000rpm, and the onboard computer reports an 8 litres/100km consumption figure. Mind you, that is with heavy-footed driving.

The range-topping M135i gets updated with the same drivetrain seen under the skin of the M235i. It gets 326bhp (+6bhp), and still sprints to 100kmh in 5.1 seconds.

The version tested here was equipped with a six-speed manual. The engine showed its flexibility as in-gear acceleration was strong throughout a wide rev band.

On the go, you can easily leave it in fourth gear and the generous amount of torque allows you to accelerate instantly without the need to downshift (unless you are going really slowly). Even in sixth gear, you could breeze through the automated toll booth and accelerate to highway speeds without any left-foot action.

Singapore-bound M135is will still mainly be the eight-speed automatic version.

Apart from these slight changes, the rest of the midlife upgrade is mainly cosmetic. The front of the car has been redesigned, with BMW's signature kidney-shaped grille sporting wider-spaced slats for better airflow into the engine compartment. It also gets a more pinched pair of headlamps. New headlights can also be specified with LEDs.

Together with a wider wheel arch and a more defined shoulder line, the rear looks more sophisticated. From some angles, the hatch appears to have a boot like a sedan.

Inside, not much has changed, with the exception of new glossy panelling on the centre console, a feature seen across all recently refreshed BMWs.

For those looking for their first step into the premium car market, the revised 1-series should be high up on the list with the new diesel variant. Of course, those with a bigger budget should still go for the superb M135i.

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