The first-generation BMW 1 Series was one of those cars that were praised and criticized in equal measure. On the one hand, we all appreciated the fact that BMW chose to stick to its brand DNA and launch a compact rear-wheel drive hatchback. This had obvious benefits for the vehicle’s dynamic ability. On the other hand, the decision directly impacted the One’s suitability as a compact family car, because the drivetrain layout robbed it of space, especially in the rear. Nevertheless, the first-generation 1 Series was deemed successful enough for BMW to continue with this drivetrain layout for its successor. But… BMW says they've addressed the shortcomings. Is this the case in the BMW 116i?
Awkward looksAnother area in which BMW has very much followed in the first car’s footsteps, is in design controversy. When images of the new 1 Series were first revealed most comments were extremely negative, with particularly the awkward lines at the front and the Polo-esque rear lights drawing scathing criticism. At least the odd flame-surfacing of the old car has gone, so the newcomer looks a bit “tauter” in profile. In the metal, though, the new small BMW 116i is quite a looker. The nose may look awkward in two-dimensional images, but is both interesting and attractive in 3D. Even the rear lights look quite fitting when viewed in person. Overall, the BMW 116i looks less top-heavy than before and a bit more muscular. This perception has much to do with the significantly wider track widths. What helps the looks further are big alloy wheels… So, while 16-inch alloys may cut it on most entry level vehicles, they don’t quite do the job with this BMW.
Riding on a lengthy 2 690 mm wheelbase, it is clear that BMW had targeted rear access and legroom as areas to improve. Certainly, entry no longer requires the kind of twisting and squishing of feet that were hallmarks of getting into the back seat of the previous model. And there’s more knee room once seated, too. But… the BMW 116i is still not as spacious as most cars in this class. At least the boot is reasonably big at 360 L.
Improved cabin qualityAnother area in which the previous 1 Series was often criticized was trim quality. Although the fit and finish was good, as you’d expect from BMW, the quality of the materials used weren’t quite up to scratch. That’s certainly not the case with the new BMW 116i. BMW has also been clever in the way it has used coloured plastic trim pieces to actually add to the ambience, rather than detract from it. A variety of trim options are available, but whichever you choose – even red strips on the facia – the end result is appealing.
At first glance the BMW 116i also appears to offer a good standard specification, but check the options boxes very carefully, as the price can very quickly escalate. You get air-conditioning, electric mirrors/windows, a radio/CD player and keyless entry, among a few other items, but there are many options to choose from, and some of them are very pricey. Leather will set you back at least another R6 400. A sunroof costs R9 600 and navigation adds R10 100. The problem is that some of the options are really quite desirable – including a “Connected Package” which will demand a cool extra R26 000… But hey, even if you leave it stock standard, it’s still a comfortable, neat cabin that gains an element of sophistication courtesy of the standard fitment of iDrive and its neat freestanding screen.
Good performance/economy balanceThe BMW 116i is powered by a sophisticated, twin-scroll turbocharged, direct-injection 1,6-litre petrol engine that also boasts stop/start technology. A slick six-speed manual transmission sends power to the rear wheels. On paper, the power figures don’t look terribly impressive – there’s 100 kW and 220 Nm of torque on tap – but in reality the little BMW is quite a lively performer. BMW has worked hard to keep the weight down and it shows – the BMW 116i tips the scales at only 1 290 kg.
The performance on offer is actually very impressive, with a claimed 0-100 km/h time of 8,5 seconds and a 210 km/h top speed being more than good enough for most. Like most new BMW’s, the 1 Series features the Driving Experience controller which allows for the selection of Comfort, Sport and Eco Pro modes. Select Sport and the throttle response is immediately sharper. Opt for Eco Pro and the priority is very much fuel economy, with accompanying lazy responses. Drive carefully in this mode and you may well end up achieving the 5,5 L/100 km fuel consumption claim, but a realistic daily figure is closer to 7 L/100 km.
BMW 1 Series – still the dynamic benchmarkThe previous 1 Series always offered entertaining dynamics, but at some cost to interior comfort. The ride was just a little bit too firm, and the steering perhaps on the heavy side. The new model has very clearly been improved in both areas. The electrically assisted steering offers very nice weighting and is also impressively precise. Around town and during parking manoeuvres it makes the BMW 116i far less of a muscle building machine.
And the ride? Well, it’s still firm, but the damping has markedly improved, so it rides bumps better without getting crashy. This is not to say that it has gone soft, either. In fact, the extra suppleness actually boosts its composure on poorer surfaces. There’s not quite enough power in this specific model to fully exploit the rear-wheel drive dynamics, but there’s always a feeling of being behind the wheel of something that doesn’t mind being thrown around a bit – you feel connected to it, which is such an important part of the BMW driving experience.
BMW 116i - VerdictAt first glance it would appear as if BMW hasn’t done anything radically different with the new 1 Series, but it comes across as a very different car. BMW has addressed all the problem areas of the previous model. In some instances, most notably rear space, the improvements are marginal, and in others (ride quality, cabin quality), the improvements are far more impressive. Either way, the BMW 1-Series is improved all-round.
- Improved cabin quality
- More space
- Ride/handling balance
- Fuel economy
- Pricey options
- Not exactly a performer
Fast factsEngine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol Power: 100 kW @ 4 400 rpmTorque: 220 Nm @ 1 350 rpm Transmission: Six-speed manual Wheels: 16-inch alloy Top speed: 210 km/h 0-100 km/h: 8,5 seconds Fuel economy: 5,5 L/100 km
- Audi A3 Sportback 1,8 TFSI Ambition: Nearing the end of its lifecycle, but the Sportback remains a very desirable offering. In 1,8-litre TFSI guise it packs more power than the BMW, and the cabin is also more practical. Not as modern, though.
- Volkswagen Golf 1,4 TSI Highline: Ultimately the VW doesn’t have the snob appeal of the Audi, but it’s a more practical offering, and also in this case more powerful and better equipped.
- Mercedes-Benz A200 Avantgarde: OK, in reality the A-Class pursues a different type of buyer, but if you must have a premium German badge, this is one of the few options. More spacious than a 1 Series, but that’s where its advantage starts and stops.