This car – the 2015 BMW 118i – represents the most affordable way to get into a vehicle from the venerable German maker in Australia.
Priced from $36,900 plus on-road costs, the updated entry-level model for the BMW 1 Series range has is not called the 116i anymore, despite running the same powertrain. The old 118i is now the 120i. Confused? Sorry, just remember this is the most affordable 1 Series you can buy.
So, the price is the same, but there’s more value for money with the facelifted model, including the standard inclusion of a reverse-view camera, and the standard navigation system now has a real-time traffic information system.
Other goodies fitted to the 118i include 16-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, and BMW’s ConnectedDrive technology which includes emergency calling in the event of an accident, automated service data delivery to BMW dealers, and internet connectivity through BMW Online.
As standard buyers get the Sport Line styling package including high gloss black mirror caps and grille/bumper highlights, 16-inch five-spoke wheels, BMW Sport sill finishers, sports seats, and grey, black and red interior trim highlights.
Our car had the Urban Line, which includes a range of styling changes over the Sport line. From the outside, the front air inlets and rear bumper have silver and chrome highlights, there are different alloys, the mirror caps are colour-coded, and the key has pearl chrome detailing, too.
The pearl chrome continues inside in the form of coloured surrounds on the air conditioning and radio controls, coloured inlays on the dash and doors, aluminium doorsills with “BMW Urban” insignias, and variable coloured interior lighting.
Other boxes ticked include DAB+ digital radio ($385) and “Convenience telephony with extended smartphone connectivity”, which allows you to view videos/photos/album art from your phone on the car’s screen, use Siri voice control on iPhones, and connect more than one Bluetooth device at once.
All 1 Series models also come with rear parking sensors, a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel, LED daytime running lights, rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights, USB input, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and there are six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain).
The entire CarAdvice team agrees the new model looks more attractive than its droopy-eyed predecessor, with the new sharper headlights and wider kidney grilles complemented by a new front bumper. The rear has seen some attention, too, with revised tail-lights and a new bumper.
Inside, BMW hasn’t changed the game with the updated model’s cockpit, but there is a revised centre console with updated media and climate controls that the brand claims offer a more premium feel than before. It looks better to our eye, even though the analogue controls aren’t the most luxurious fixtures going.
So, it’s a bit basic, but still well presented – the white highlights of the Urban Line definitely add some flair inside the cabin (a friend who is an interior designer thought these were particularly special), and choosing that pack also means you get an upgrade from Sensatec (faux-leather) upholstery to Dakota leather trim, though our car had the fake stuff.
Pragmatic buyers will appreciate the storage on offer up front, as there are big door pockets with bottle holsters, and cupholders positioned between the front occupants.
However, there are no door or seat pockets in the rear, just a small slot where a set of airvents would usually sit. The space in the back is very tight, mainly due to poor leg room, and you wouldn’t want to regularly take five adults on trips – four is a much more comfortable number.
The boot, too, is on the small side – 360 litres, where an Audi A3 has 380L – and there’s no spare wheel (instead, buyers get a tyre repair kit for the standard run-flat tyres).
Under the bonnet is the same engine as was previously seen in the old 116i, a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit producing 100kW of power from 4400-6450rpm and 220Nm of torque from 1350-4300rpm.
As you can probably tell from those outputs, this is an engine that offers plenty of linear power right across the rev spectrum, feeling lively from a standstill and pulling hard through the redline. It feels at its best from 2000-4000rpm, but it’s a refined thing from go to whoa.
The BMW bucks the small hatchback trend with a rear-drive powertrain, and between the engine and the back wheels is an eight-speed automatic gearbox. And there are three drive modes – Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro – which alter the throttle, gearing and steering reactiveness.
The transmission offers smooth, quick shifts for the most part, but it can be a bit busy between ratios on the highway when you attempt a quick overtaking manoeuvre, dropping gears rather than relying on low-rev torque.
And while there are no paddleshifters fitted to this version, you can select gears yourself using the shifter. This, combined with the Sport drive mode, made for a surprisingly engaging drive experience. In more mundane driving, the engine’s stop-start system proved quick and hard to fault.
BMW claims fuel use of 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres, but we saw a much higher average of 9.5L/100km during our time with the car. Our week included highway stints, windy roads and some limited urban driving, so this figure was disappointing.
What wasn’t disappointing was the way the car drove on those windy roads, as it displayed a lovely balance through the bends, and, again, a surprising amount of playfulness in Sport mode including a few moments where the rear-end flicked out on slippery surfaces (in a fun way!) before the traction control system reined things in. The steering is on the heavy side, but it is manageable around town when parking and tootling around the suburbs.
Because of its stiff-sidewalled tyres, the BMW’s ride is firmer than, say, an Audi A3, quite a bit of thumping that can enter the cabin over harsh surfaces, and sharp edges can be felt in the cabin. That said, it coped well over big bumps like speed-humps and potholes.
While mainstream hatchbacks are known for their ownership credentials, premium models may deter some potential shoppers who are worried about expensive servicing costs.
However, luxury brands are increasingly improving their ownership programs, and BMW offers condition-based servicing (where the car monitors its own use and recommends when servicing is required) and buyers can also pre-purchase a basic service package for up to five years/80,000 kilometres of cover from just $1140, which includes filter and spark plug replacements and oil changes. The standard BMW warranty is three years/unlimited kilometres.
As an upgrade from a more conventional hatchback, the German-made BMW 118i offers plenty to like. If you option it modestly like our test vehicle, it has very few downsides.
Click the Photos tab for more images of the 2015 BMW 118i by Sam Venn.