On a 700km jaunt up to Kuala Lumpur and back, I became familiar with the 116i Urban and 118i Sport, the two most junior members of the BMW family.
First things first – they share the same direct injection turbo 1.6-litre engine, tuned differently for the “16” and “18”. So, the 118i is not a 1.8L, but it does have 34 more horses under the hood.
Other than the extra horsepower, the 116i is mechanically identical to the 118i. Aesthetically, the 116’s Urban package is trimmed and “rimmed” differently from the 118’s Sport package, but you can specify the latter for your 116i if you dislike its ornamental twin-kidney grille with a total of 22 chromed slats (the Sport has 16 in glossy black).
I for one don’t like the Urban design, which somehow makes the ‘1 Series’ look even more aesthetically challenged. Then again, any assessment of style is “pretty” subjective – some guys think that Karen Mok is hot, for instance.
What I do like is how the 116i drives. Its driveability won’t leave anyone feeling short-changed, even though the $150k hatchback lies at the bottom rung of the Bimmer ladder for social mobility. This is basic-fantastic motoring at its German best.
With 220Nm of torque available in a flat band from 1350rpm to 4300rpm and accessed through a close-ratio 8-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox, the 116i feels much peppier than your average Category A car.
While 136bhp is nothing to write home about, it is enough power for city commuting and highway cruising – without triggering the radar guns of the Malaysian polis, if you know what I mean. The engine is quiet, too, and it doesn’t need a lot of revs on the dial to be effective, yet it will rev smoothly to the redline when required to do so.
Best of all, the 116i returns impressive mileage. On the KL driveaway, I managed an average of 10km per litre, despite a heavy right foot. With less pressure on the accelerator pedal, the trip computer showed 12.5km per litre. This was with the (occasionally irritating) stop-start function deactivated and the fuel-saving Eco Pro mode used sparingly.
Our convoy made good time, nevertheless. Charging confidently from corner to corner in rural roads, the 116i demonstrated unflappable handling that could have left a full-blown hot hatch behind. There is no wallow or uncontrolled oscillation, and the brakes are great. At the same time, the supple suspension and its 215/55 R17 tyres provide excellent comfort, even over the patches of broken tarmac common across the Causeway.
On the whole, the 116i is likeable. There is decent cabin space, although rear seat passengers on a long journey may find the ride a tad firm, and the interior is more interesting than the generic Golf’s. From a driver’s standpoint, the 116i goes much better than it looks – especially since he cannot see much of the sheet metal from his seat.
BMW 116i 1.6 (A)
ENGINE 1598cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged
MAX POWER 136hp at 4400rpm
MAX TORQUE 220Nm at 1350-4300rpm
GEARBOX 8-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 9.1 seconds
TOP SPEED 210km/h
CONSUMPTION 17.9km/L (combined)
PRICE INCL. COE $153,800
Check out the latest BMW 1 Series hatchback