This week we have the BMW 116i Sport in for review and road test. Is the new entry-level BMW experience a big step forward?
It’s hard to believe that the BMW 1 Series has been with us for seven years, or maybe that’s just a sign of getting older? So this week we get the all new BMW 116i Sport in for a week of review and road test to see if the slightly controversial 1 Series has become a bit more BMW in its second generation.
The 1 Series brought something new to the premium compact party when it arrived with a proper driver’s RWD setup, something BMW hasn’t forsaken for the latest 1 Series (although apparently 80 per cent of 1 Series owners think their car is FWD), so from a car lover’s perspective the 116i Sport comes well-equipped for a bit of fun.
The new 1 Series also comes with an evolution of the original 1 Series’ styling, with a long nose and a squat rump; a bit like a rounded Reliant Scimitar GTE on a boil wash. It’s a love it or hate it shape, but to our eyes it looks pretty good, at least at the front, although in profile it does have slightly odd proportions.
The original 1 Series was a bit lacking in space, a bit low on quality and not exactly at the top-end of BMW driving dynamics. So does the new 1 Series address those issues – in the way the new X3 has – or is it still a bit of a BMW anti-climax?
BMW 116i Sport – inside and out
When BMW launched the new 1 Series we had comments running from ‘Love it’ to ‘Can someone please pass me something to cover my eyes?’, so it’s clear the looks of the new 1 Series are polarizing. But that seems to be the way with BMWs, even after Chris Bangle left.
What BMW has done with the 1 Series – apart from evolving the original styling – is make it bigger and, despite the increase in size, make it lighter too. They’ve also made sure that two-thirds of the extra 30mm in the wheelbase has gone to the rear passengers, so although you won’t get a rugby team in the back, it’s not restricted just to children anymore.
Up front there’s more room, and it’s easy to get comfortable and feel in control. The dash gets updated to look more like the latest high-end BMWs, the steering wheel has a nice feel and, even though there a lot of plastics around, they do seem decent quality and the shiny black dash trim looks fine with its red inserts.
Which all adds up to a cabin that’s a chunk better than the original 1 Series, even if it’s not quite the leap BMW managed with the X3. Equipment in this 116i Sport is not exactly lavish for a £21k car, and the screen that sits on top of the dash won’t be able to tell you how to get to where you’re going.
BMW 116i Sport – Performance on the road
What we have in the 116i Sport is the least powerful petrol-engined BMW 1 Series on offer, despite which it offers decent enough performance with 136bhp and 162lb/ft of torque resulting in a 0-62mph of 8.5 seconds and a top speed of 130mph. It’s not enough to frighten hot hatches, but it is enough to make decent progress.
Use the performance you do have available and you won’t get close to BMW’s claimed 49.6mpg, but we did average 41.2mpg over a week of less than sluggish motoring. And on a long drive of mixed motoring it came in at 46.6mph – far from shoddy for a nippy, sporty premium hatch.
What BMW has done in the new 1 Series is improve the ride, without wrecking the handling. The handling still isn’t up with the rest of the BMW range, but it does feel more able than before. That said, unless you provoke it to do otherwise it does tend towards understeer, despite the RWD.
But the 116i is a far nicer place to be if you’re driving out of necessity rather than choice. It now deals with ridges and ripples competently instead of protesting, and it’s an all-round more comfortable experience for driver and passengers. It’s not gone soft – the ride is still firm and feels quite sporty – but the balance compromise if far better than before.
Steering is good too, with the old steering replaced by a new electric steering which could have been a numbing experience, but isn’t – it’s fluid and direct and easy to know where you’re pointing. The brakes are terrific too, with plenty of feel and very good stopping power.
So all round the new 1 Series is a better drive than the old 1 Series, more comfortable, more rewarding and more accurate. But don’t run away with the idea that the 1 Series is a smaller 3 Series; it’s not. But it is an able and enjoyable premium compact that’s now fun to drive.
BMW 116i Sport – Verdict
BMW has managed to evolve the original 1 Series in to a much better entry point to the BMW ownership club than we expected.
In terms of the cabin it has much more room than before – although still not commodious – and the majority of the fixtures, fittings and controls are better quality than before – and look it too. The cabin is not luxurious, but it feels a good place to be – and not just for the driver.
The evolution of the original long bonnet, stubby tail may not be to everyone’s liking, but it does make the 1 Series a bit more individual and it does – from most angles – look exactly how you’d hope a compact premium car should look; decently dynamic with a whiff of sporty promise.
The driving experience in the 116i is better too, with a much more comfortable ride without sacrificing dynamics, good steering and even better brakes. There’s still something a bit detached about the drive compared to BMW’s more costly offerings but – just like the X3 – BMW has managed to bring the 1 Series properly in to the BMW fold with a car that actually can be mentioned in the same breath as the rest of the BMW range.
The new BMW 1 Series is not cheap, but it is actually appealing.
BMW 116i Sport Quick Tech Specs
- Engine: 1598cc, 136bhp
- Performance: 0-62mph 8.5 seconds / Top Speed 130mph
- Economy: 49.6mpg - Official / 41.2 mpg - Test
- Emissions: 132g/km
- Price: £21,305
- Full BMW 116i Sport Specifications
- Test car supplied by BMW UK
(50 photos – click any thumbnail for full gallery)