REVIEW DATE: 08 Mar 2007
Don't write off the 116i just because it's BMW's entry level 1-Series. It offers a lot of talent for the money. Andy Enright reports.
Now that the initial shock of the styling has worn off, the BMW 1-Series is starting to find favour with a great many customers and the latest facelift has helped. Most would finger the diesel-engined models as the pick of the bunch but if you do prefer a petrol engine, there are a couple to choose from, the best of which is probably the entry-level 116i. Yes, you did read that right. The cheapest 1-series is one of the highlights of the range.
Just don't put too much store in BMW's base price for the 116i. The advertised price of this variant is around £16,400 but, like MINI, this really is a basic price. Most buyers will add air-conditioning, alloy wheels, metallic paint and body-coloured door handles which will add another £2,000 onto that asking figure. Somewhat coincidentally, this is virtually the price of the better equipped SE and M Sport-trim levels, leading us to believe that BMW is merely using the base model as an eye-catching price tag knowing that virtually all customers will be spending at least £18,000 on their 1-Series.
The SE and the M Sport models feature climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels and front fog lamps. Try to resist the temptation to upgrade to the 17-inch alloys. Although the car does look a bit beefier with the bigger wheels, the rigid sidewalls of the run-flat tyres don't do a great deal for ride comfort. For the same reason, the firmly-suspended M Sport trim level isn't the one most would choose on typically bumpy British roads. Buyers who can't stretch to the SE or M Sport models can try the ES which yields more equipment than the standard model for a premium of under £1,000 or the Sport which is better equipped again. The range-topping M Sport model comes with lower spoilers and sills, bigger alloy wheels and M Sports suspension. Choose the badge delete option on your 116i M Sport and passers-by will be hard pushed to tell it's not a 130i.
The 1.6-litre engine is good for 122bhp and will accelerate the big-boned 1-Series through 60mph in 10.1 seconds. The lightest of all the 1-Series models, the 116i is also the nimblest. The low weight in the nose of the car makes turn-in razor sharp and if you wanted a car that demonstrated how relevant rear wheel drive is to cars with modest power you couldn't choose better. Put simply, the front tyres are utterly unburdened with trying to put power down and can devote themselves to steering. It may sound simple but it works. There's no scrabble, tug or kickback through the steering wheel. At first, you may not be able to quite put your finger on why the 1-Series feels so much better to drive than, say, an equivalently priced Volkswagen Golf or Audi A3 but punt one down a twisty road and it'll become apparent. What more powerful rivals gain on the straights, the BMW claws back through the bends.
"The BMW 116i is a definite grower"
The advantage of getting from A to B just as quickly but with less power is that you're not burning huge quantities of fuel. These days, 116i drivers are burning even less thanks to BMW's introduction of Brake Energy Regeneration which recharges the car's battery when it's braking or going down hill. Drive a 116i in a sensible fashion and you'll return over 48.7mpg. Better still, due to clever gearing of the five-speed 'box, the 116i doesn't feel a great deal slower than the 120i during everyday use.
Designed to compete in the prestigious part of the Family Hatchback sector, the 1-series might be truncated in length but spend any time behind the wheel and you'll soon realise you're not being shortchanged any of BMW's look and feel. Rear wheel drive has traditionally been something of an anomaly in this market sector and key rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf, the Alfa Romeo 147 and the Audi A3 are built around front wheel drive platforms. Where front wheel drive has traditionally scored is that it's easy and cheap to manufacture a transverse engined hatch with a front gearbox and drive going to the front wheels. You needn't worry about a bulky transmission tunnel running through the cabin so it works in terms of packaging too. BMW think otherwise.
Open one of the narrow back doors and you'll spot the compromises made. There's less room in the back of the 1-series than you'll find in a supermini like a Honda Jazz. With a six-footer behind the wheel, legroom is shockingly bad and the transmission tunnel means that you won't ever want to travel piggy in the middle on the rear bench. That's not what the 1-series is all about. If you want a practical car, go and buy a mini-MPV. If you want the latest urban bauble that will turn heads and get tongues wagging, the 1-series will be more your thing. At a stroke it manages to make the Audi A3 in particular look ridiculously staid.
Today's 1 Series now features a larger kidney grille for improved airflow to the engine. The lower front spoiler has also been reprofiled to create a larger air intake, while the spoiler protrudes further for a more pronounced, sporting look. The headlamp cluster remains the same size but a darker cover gives a subtle, more distinguished front end. At the rear a restyled bumper gives the impression of a wider, lower car. The rear lamp cluster now features a new arrangement of lights, but retains its original shape.
The BMW 116i is a definite grower. The styling that took a little time to bed in has been successfully finessed but the big asking price and modest power may well exclude it from the shortlists of many buyers looking for a five-door funster. Their loss. Even if it isn't particularly quick in a straight line, the 116i rewards the keen driver with a level of tactility and poise utterly missing from all of its rivals. If BMW can get prospective customers into the driver's seat, they'll make the sales.
The results below show the top 1 SERIES deals on buyacar
|BMW 1 Series 116i [2.0] Sport 5dr hatchback|
|BMW 1 Series 118d ES 2dr diesel coupe|
|Price £20,155||Save £2,445|
|BMW 1 Series 116i Sport 5dr hatchback|
|Price £19,164||Save £2,116|
|BMW 1 Series 118i ES 2dr convertible|
|Price £22,147||Save £2,783|
|BMW 1 Series 116d EfficientDynamics 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £18,989||Save £2,106|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT 1 SERIES DEALS|
|For 1 SERIES 116i|
|OVERALL||6.9 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||5|
Let our car quote assistant help you configure your ideal new 1 Series - it's 100% free and easy to use...
Click below for more information: