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MOTORNET: Free-Revving Six - BMW 130i

Free-Revving Six


SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie - onlinefotos.com/neil


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It’s a Friday night. Things are quiet at this end of town, and few people are about save a couple of commuters who perhaps stayed for one beer two many and now make haste to catch a train to the suburbs. The night is unusually still for Wellington, and yet the still air of the carpark is punctuated by a noise petrolheads everywhere would recognize – the revving of a BMW straight six singing sonorously. Like giddy schoolboys, we simply can’t get enough of its gloriously mechanical noise.

My lasting impression of the 1-Series was ‘great car, wonder what it will do when it gets more power?’ Up until now, my pick of the 1-Series range would have been the 120d. Surfing the midrange torque curve was addictive and delightful. But it still lacked serious grunt. Not so the 130i Sport.


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A cliché it may be ‘but wait, there’s more’ is certainly true in this case. BMW have done with the 1-Series what they have so successfully done with many models before – taken a relatively small car and shoehorned in a big engine. An engine with muscle I might add – 195kW and 315Nm of torque to be precise (though still less than the 120d’s 340Nm). And it’s quick to boot, BMW reckoning it will do 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds. Simply put your foot to the floor and the tremendous six-speed automatic gearbox does all the work, laying down the power without fuss, though there were more than a few occasions where the electronic aids kicked in, in some part spoiling all the fun.

This is no ordinary looking 1-Series either. A moderately aggressive M-style body kit has been added along with a sporting mesh grille and sublime looking low profile wheels, topped off by stylish chrome twin tailpipes, all of which helps ensure your 130i isn’t mistaken for a lowly 118i. The styling of the 1-Series is not to everyone’s taste, but few will deny that this particular iteration packs a punch in the looks department.

It helps too when you’re enjoying yourself on the twisty bits. Slower drivers can’t help but notice there is something special in the rearview when they spot the macho-ed up front-end, thus getting out of your way at the earliest opportunity. The chassis dynamics are excellent and the combination of rear-wheel drive, 50:50 weight distribution, and the might of the straight six ensure a very rewarding drive indeed. The steering is both responsive and well weighted, and the car is immensely taut, tackling corners with gusto in typical BMW fashion. Likewise, the aforementioned electronic aids are quick (some might say too quick) to help you out of any potential mess.


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The sporting nature of the 130i is reinforced on the inside too with hip hugging sports seats, M style trim and a ‘super fat’ steering wheel which won’t appeal to everyone (or their hands for that matter). The interior is typically BMW – reasonably austere but exceptionally well built with top quality materials and finishes. Some will find the interior a little on the cramped side – particularly the backseat – but that’s a price I would be happy to pay for the advantages of rear-wheel drive. Like most BMW’s of late, storage space in the cabin is limited which is a nuisance but no reason not to like the car as a package.


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Unfortunately, the 130i has a sizeable flaw and it’s nothing to do the with interior cubby spaces. The ride is frankly appalling. I like a firm ride – in fact, I even expect it – but the 130i is so uncomfortable on even moderately average surfaces as to be downright distracting. Presumably, a combination of sport suspension and low profile run-flat tyres has led to this predicament but somehow other manufacturers seem to achieve sporty ride set-ups without the bone-jarring outcome of the 130i. Why is that, I often wonder? For ride quality, BMW’s report card must surely read ‘Shows potential, but must do better.’ Interestingly, I have found the ride in previous 1-Series to be pretty good.


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The 130i has another problem – it’s expensive. If you opt for the superb six-speed automatic version (which I suspect most will as it is excellent) you’ll only see $100 change from $80k, or about the price of a decent electric toothbrush. That’s a sizable $22,000 more than what you would pay for the 120i or 120d and fractionally more expensive than a fully loaded 320i. Similarly, the three litre proves thirsty if pushed. I was admittedly driving it pretty hard most of the time, but never came close to the claimed combined cycle fuel usage of 9.1 litres per 100km.

Verdict? If you want a supremely capable, fast, balanced and drivable hatchback, and you definitely want a BMW, then the 120d or the 120i will come up trumps time after time. But if you’re addicted to the throaty sound of a straight six BMW at peak revs, then you won’t be able to go past the 130i. Ride issues aside, some might even think of it as a bargain.


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ENDS


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