BMW 116i

2006 BMW 116i Road Test

$5,830 $6,930 Dealer
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When I initially approached the BMW 1 Series with the thought of reviewing it, I was a little apprehensive. Because just about every review I have read of this car was not a good one. Yet, they didn’t seem to comment on the car itself, it wasn’t liked because it was not a “real” BMW. So, I decided to focus on what it’s actually like as a car and not whether I believe it is a “real” BMW or not.

However, after having said that right from the beginning the car makes sure you know you are driving a BMW. To unlock the car you press on the BMW symbol on the remote control, and to open the boot you flip the BMW symbol up and it becomes a handle, which I found quite clever.

Other than the branding, the first thing I noticed about this car is how good looking it is. Even though this was just the base model with a 1.6 liter engine it has a low stance and fat tires, giving the car a mean and sporty look. From the vertical grill, even down to the way the roof slopes down at the back, this car looks good from any angle. It makes you wonder why the same design philosophy wasn’t applied to the rest of the BMW range.

Step inside and you are greeted with equal style, a minimalist design with an emphasis on quality. The great thing about this car is that every single detail imaginable has been thought of, right down to the coat hanger handles above the windows that are spring loaded and dampened so they glide back into position rather than flick back like in most other cars. A similar mechanism is applied to the arms in the cup holders that ensure any sized drink is always held in place. Another quality feature I liked is that the handbrake well is entirely sealed with a leather jacket so that no grime can fall in and get stuck. Now, although these might seem like minor additions, it’s this eye for detail that creates the overwhelming feel of amazing build quality and engineering. This is certainly one thing that BMW can do better than any other competitor in the small 5-door car market.

The driving position is fantastic and any facet of it is adjustable, however the mechanism on the base model isn’t electric but still works very well and it’s very easy to adjust the seat and steering wheel. The steering wheel itself is also excellent; it’s thick with a small diameter. This adds to the overall sporty feel of the car and it is trimmed in leather adding to the feel of quality.

This is the first car that I have driven that doesn’t have a key at all. You insert the remote control into a slot on the dash and are greeted by an animation on the multipurpose LCD located between the speedometer and the tachometer, showing you how to push the clutch in and push the start button. One touch of the start button and the engine comes to life, it’s a nice… er, touch.

The car I had the pleasure of driving was the bottom of the pack so to speak and therefore was only equipped with a 1.6 liter engine, however it is BMW’s new engine which uses new Double VANOS variable vale timing technology. It manages to put out a respectable 85kW of power at 6,000rpm and 150 Nm of torque at 4,300 rpm, whilst hardly using any fuel. Given the fact that this small car is relatively light, weighing in at 1205 kg and the engine is mated to an excellent and precise 5 speed manual gearbox, the car feels quite zippy. It manages 0-100kmh in 10.8 seconds and goes onto a top speed of 200kmh, which I feel is very decent for a 1.6 liter engine.

What really stands out to me about this car compared to other cars of its class is that this car is a real BMW, meaning that it is of course rear wheel drive. This, coupled with the fact that the cassis is amazingly engineered for perfect 50/50 weight distribution, there is almost no overhang over the front and rear wheels and the engine is even set right back, starting over the front axel. This makes the car stick to the road like glue. The car has also benefited from its heritage by replacing the traditional wishbone rear suspension with the fantastic five-link rear suspension used on the 5 and 6 series. This allowed BWM engineers to change the camber of the wheels for better handling.

As a drivers car it is superb. You can really see and feel that although it is a small car, it has retained the technology and the DNA of its bigger BMW siblings. The car will do seemingly impossible things, turning smoothly through any corner you push it through. The power steering isn’t overly assisted, connecting you with the road. The gear changes are short and precise and you can tell that this car has been built with the driver in mind. BMW designed this car with a bigger power plant in mind to create the ultimate driving machine, which is of course is the 130i with its inline 6-cylinder engine producing 190kw. Thanks to this, the 116i drivers are still left with a car that is just so fun to drive, yet for $30k less.

Despite its small size and being built around handling, the 116i has managed to score a 5 star safety rating, the highest there is. It has 6 airbags, including intelligent, dual-stage front airbags that inflate in speed and size depending on the severity of the impact. They work in conjunction with active seatbelt tensioners to insure the best possible chance of the occupants surviving an accident. The car also has an impressive array of active safety features including the latest generation Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and Dynamic Brake Control (BDC).

The advanced BMW electronics allow you to view average speed, average fuel consumption, current fuel consumption, external temperature, distance to empty and even the oil level. All this is displayed on the LCD in the dash at the touch of a button.

Other BMW innovations that have been passed down to the 116i include the use of run flat tyres backed by the BMW Tyre Puncture Warning System that alerts the driver to a loss of pressure in a tyre. The car can drive safely for 150km at 80kmh with all tyres punctured eliminating the need for a spare. This has allowed BMW to move the battery to the boot to further help with weight distribution and increase battery life. Also included is BMW’s Brake Force Display, meaning the brake lights become brighter the harder you push the pedal to warn drivers behind of a sudden stop.

So, with a staring price of $34,900, is the BMW 116i worth it? Definitely. It contains all of the cutting edge technology, engineering and luxury that make BMW what they are, packed into a compact and practical form that looks better than any car in its class. So even though I wanted to focus on the car and not the brand, I have unintentionally found this to be a real BMW. They managed to downsize and cut the price without cutting out anything that makes BMW’s special. If you are in the market for a car like this you will not be disappointed with the BMW 1 series.

- Lloyd Clearihan

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