ROAD TEST: Cheapest Beamer you can buy - the 118i
THE cheapest ticket to a new BMW, the 118i five-door hatch, has just been given a "Life Cycle Impulse update” for 2018. That's BMW corporate gobbledygook for a midlife nip and tuck and it comes with a price rise of $2000.
So the 118i now costs $39,990, with a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic. It's a big ask for a small hatchback with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine, even if it is German. You can get into a new Golf for $23,990 drive away.
The 1 Series interior was looking tired and low rent compared with the designer chic cabins of the Mercedes A-Class and Audi's A3, so BMW has trowelled slabs of high gloss plastic around the dash and smartened the place up with red trim and stitching as part of the 118i's now standard Sport Line specification.
BMW latest iDrive6 infotainment set-up includes navigation, speed limit information, digital radio, voice control and Apple CarPlay. The 118i gets a small 6.5-inch screen with no touch functionality. Pricier variants have an 8.8-inch touchscreen.
LED headlights have also been added.
Even at 40-large, the 118i gets no dual zone aircon, just a single control job. Rear parking sensors and camera are standard but not front sensors. Adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are absent too. Such is life at the poverty-stricken end of a blue-chip German brand.
Sport Line also includes BMW's superb sports driver's seat, upholstered in cloth, generously padded and exceptionally supportive thanks to an extendable cushion and backrest bolstering that adjusts in width for different physiques.
Separate adjustment for seat height and angle, plus lots of travel and steering wheel reach, allow any driver to finesse the seating position within the signature BMW twin cockpit. All controls are within easy reach.
Reliable Bluetooth includes email reading, voice control gets audio, phone and navigation commands right most of the time, long range radio reception is strong and stark olde-worlde analog instruments are clear and informative. You get just one 12V outlet and one USB socket.
Rear passengers do it tough with tight legroom, no storage, no 12V or USB and no air vents. Boot space is reasonable, though, and the extended floor is flat.
Many BMW buyers splurge on optional big wheels and low-profile rubber - which can also make the ride harsh and uncomfortable, amplifying the lack of give in BMW's run-flat tyres. The 118i's standard 16-inch wheels and 205/55 tyres might be $20,000 shopping trolley spec but, teamed with compliant standard suspension, they give it the most comfortable, absorbent ride of any small to mid-size BMW I've driven for a long time. The Goodyears are also very quiet and cabin noise levels are low.
At $40,000 the 118i should surely include the driver-assist safety features mentioned earlier. They are now standard on some mid-$20K hatchbacks. Camera-based automatic emergency braking, with pedestrian detection, only works between 10km/h- 60km/h. Forward collision alert, lane departure warning and a speed limiter are provided.
A three-cylinder displacing 1.5 litres and producing 100kW will never make your eyes bleed but the long-stroke triple is boosted with a twin- scroll turbo, so it's torquey at low revs and generates respectable shove from 2000rpm-6500rpm, especially in Sport mode which dials up throttle and transmission responsiveness.
It's mostly quiet and smooth for a triple, though a band of vibration between 1500rpm-2000rpm is particularly severe and annoying on the highway, where the engine is ticking over at 1750rpm at 100km/h in eighth gear.
In cruise mode the 1.5 is consuming just 5.0L/100km, which is diesel territory. Around town, expect 7.0-8.0L/100km in Eco mode with auto stop/start. Premium is recommended.
The 1 Series is the last small hatch on the market with rear-wheel drive. This gives it a unique feel when you point it at a string of corners. No front-drive hatch handles with the grace, agility and precision of the 1 Series - its steering, unadulterated by power and torque, is light, sharp and wonderfully tactile.
The 118i is not as tightly tied down on its suspension as sportier variants but light weight, disciplined control over body movement and near perfect front-rear balance are BMW fundamentals that define the way it moves.
I want a BMW and can afford this one, even if it's low on power, short on gear, expensive and small.
Sure, it's pricey but the Ultimate Driving Machine sends power to the rear wheels and steers with the fronts.
MERCEDES A180 FROM $38,700
Smallest Merc runs 90kW 1.6-litre turbo/seven-speed auto/front-drive, 17-inch alloys, auto parking, blind spot and adaptive suspension.
VW GOLF HIGHLINE FROM $34,490
Worksburger Golf with a 110kW 1.4-litre turbo/seven speed DSG/front-wheel drive. Leather, sunroof, heated seats - you name it. Add $1500 for full safety kit.
A four-star drive but it's pricey, under-equipped and short on safety features, too. A Golf with the lot costs less.
AT A GLANCE
PRICE $39,990 plus on roads (pricey)
SERVICING AND WARRANTY $1340 in advance for 5 years (cheap); 3-yr w'ty (short)
ENGINE 1.5-litre 3-cyl turbo, 100kW/220Nm (average)
SAFETY Not rated, 6 airbags, low-speed AEB only (below average)
THIRST 5.2L/100km (good)
SPARE None; run-flats (bad)
BOOT 360L (average)