This is the home of automobile road tests in South Africa. We drive South African cars, SUVs and LCVs under South African conditions. It also just happens that most of the vehicles we drive are world cars as well, so what you read here probably applies to the models you can get at home.
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Published in The Witness Motoring on Wednesday February 10th, 2010
Back in the early ‘eighties BMW launched the 3-series, a small, personal intercity transporter. It was aimed at those yearning for something to fill the void left by the departure of the pocket-sized '02 series cars, of which the 2002 tii was the most desirable.
In the manner of car manufacturers all over, the sexy little car developed increasing bloat until it became almost as big as the original 5-series; a car considered by some to be too big in the early ‘eighties, hence the need for a small, personal intercity transporter. Excuse me, but haven’t we been here before?
We have, so in 2004 BMW introduced the 1-series, a small, personal yadda, yadda, yadda…
Just as the original 3-series was targetted by the huge-engine-in-tiny-body engineers for instant performance enhancement, so too was the 1-series. A three litre 130i was introduced in 2005 and followed by a turbocharged version dubbed 135i, in coupe versions during 2007.
The baby Beemer that occupied my thoughts and driveway a couple of weeks ago, was the five-door 130i hatch, with a naturally aspirated 3,0 litre straight six developing 195 kW and 315 Nm of torque.
Despite not having driven an ultra compact BMW since my own 320i bought in 1984, I felt at home immediately. There was the same feeling of wearing the car like a favourite jacket, with everything in easy reach, and of being ready to tackle the long road on any day, at any time.
While the 2,0 litre six in my 320i whirred like a turbine and felt as though it wanted to rev forever, the 3,0 litre simply delivers gobs of grunt from almost any speed and in any gear. Both were equally satisfying, just with different characters.
Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. I did not even attempt to drive the 130i economically. I enjoyed it, because that’s what Beemers are all about; blasting from bend to bend with a permanent silly grin splitting your face in half. If you want to brag about fuel economy, buy something boring. Little BMWs are for hedonism and cost-be-damned. The manufacturer claims average fuel usage of 9,2 l/100 km, Car magazine reckons 11,0 and I averaged 12,4. So what?
At the heart of it is a 2 996 cc, 24-valve straight six with both constantly variable camshaft timing (double vanos) and continuously variable valve timing (valvetronic). The result is an engine that thinks on its feet as it were, extracting maximum possible power and torque at all times and regardless of circumstances. The figures confirm that the system works very well.
Being a BMW, it is fitted with all their regular safety kit, including six airbags, ABS, Automatic Stability Control, Dynamic Stability Control, Cornering Brake Control, Dynamic Traction Control and Brake Pressure Compensation. To steal a thought from a competitor’s brochure though, all this good stuff does is help keep the car under control.
It is not a licence to drive like a brainless hooligan. You might get away with disobeying traffic laws and even those of common sense for a while, but the laws of physics are inviolate. Cross those boundaries and you will depart this life in a blaze of glory. Here endeth the lecture.
One-series cars offer adequate boot space for two, and room for small to medium-sized passengers in the back seat, but daily taxi service is not their main purpose. They are engineered to be personal road machines for covering distances in a hurry and that’s what they do best.
Price: From R347 500
Engine: 2 996 cc inline 6 cylinder
Power: 195 kW at 6 650 rpm
Torque: 315 Nm at 2 750 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h (claimed): 6,1 seconds
Maximum speed: Governed to 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption (claimed): 9,2 l/100 km
Tank: 53 litres
Maintenance contract: 5 years/100 000 km
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the central hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and go to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
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