The 2018 BMW 118i represents an incredibly affordable entrée into the BMW stable, and while it might not be as premium as its bigger brothers and sisters, it’s still very much a premium offering at the affordable end of the small-hatch segment.
With pricing that starts from $39,990 before on-road costs, a sub-$40K BMW is no longer a pipe dream. Well, before you pay any extras of course. If you’ve seen or read this new 1 Series referred to as LCI, that stands for ‘Life Cycle Impulse’ – BMW's term for a midlife update – so let’s leave that jargon to one side.
The 118i is definitely something of an oddball, whether BMW fans want to admit it or not. It’s the cheapest BMW money can buy, it’s powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder, has an eight-speed automatic and is RWD…
Which parts of this mashed-up equation feel like a BMW and which parts don’t, then? Let’s try to find out.
What is very decidedly BMW is the iDrive 6 infotainment system, which has been added to the 118i’s cabin and is the headline act of the revised model range. It’s standard across the 1 Series range and is as clever in this small platform as it is in any other big BMW.
Other standard equipment highlights include: full LED headlights are standard, as is the Sport Line styling package, 16-inch alloy wheels, Navigation System Business, climate control, DAB+, rear-view camera, sports steering wheel, speed limit info, front sports seats, cloth trim, rain-sensing wipers and BMW’s ConnectedDrive services.
Under the bonnet, there’s a perky 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine that generates 100kW and 220Nm. The little hatch can scoot from 0–100km/h in 8.7 seconds and uses a claimed 4.8L/100km. On test we saw low double figures around town in heavy traffic and low sixes on the freeway for a prolonged run.
While this is likely to be the last tweak of the existing platform before an all-new model arrives, there’s still a lot to like about the little BMW, the only RWD in its segment. Along with the infotainment system, the driving experience is still very BMW, despite the sharp pricing and entry-level nature of the 118i, but more on that in a minute.
First, the cabin. The cloth seats don’t look as special as swathes of leather, but they are comfortable and the material doesn’t look or feel cheap. The driver’s seat has plenty of (manual) adjustment, especially down into the cabin, which will help taller drivers. With tall occupants up front, there is enough serviceable room in the second row for adults, but they won’t want to be too tall over longer distances.
The second-row seats themselves are comfortable at the outer positions, not so much the middle. There is, however, excellent outward visibility from all four main seating positions.
The luggage section is more than big enough to suit this segment and the buyers within, but you can’t release the seat backs from the boot, which is a bit annoying if you need to do it quickly.
The floor is flat when the second row is folded down, though, but there are no storage pockets, power outlets or air vents in the second row. There’s one USB input up front in the centre console and a 12V socket with the cupholders further forward.
For me, along with the excellent iDrive 6 system, the highlight of the updates is the driver’s gauge cluster, which manages to cut a beautiful line between traditional analogue cleanliness and modern LCD smarts.
It’s beautifully designed, understated and clear. I found it easy to view even with polarised sunglasses on, and I love the way the needles switch colour to orange when the headlights activate at dusk. In fact, the whole dashboard design and layout is classier and more prestige than you’d ever expect at this price point.
The infotainment screen is actually a little smaller than it looks, thanks to the gloss black surround, but it is clear and easy to view, with BMW’s control system, graphics and design, as ever, excellent.
The iDrive control dial, switches and steering wheel controls are all cleverly and clearly laid out too, making mastery of the system a lot easier than most competitors.
On the subject of tech, the active key is clever, and it offers up the option of setting different driver profiles through the infotainment system.
Onto what I believe is decidedly ‘BMW’ when it comes to assessing the 118i, and that’s the driving experience. Firstly, the engine is a little cracker. It’s no fire breather and it retains that characterful buzz or vibration that is unique to the three-cylinder design, but combined with the turbocharger, it’s got more than enough punch for the task at hand. It revs cleanly and with a fizzy note all the way to redline.
The eight–speed automatic is likewise exceptional and works as well with this tiny three-banger as it does with much larger capacity engines. It’s not perfect, we noticed it can be slow to shift back on kick down, and that can slow acceleration out of a corner for example.
We also noticed a very slight hesitation crawling along in traffic, but under any other load or road speed, the eight-speed is faultless.
Once you’re up and rolling, the 118i feels nimble and, dare I say it, fast. It’s got a proper go-kart-like feel to the inputs – sharp steering, responsive engine, beautifully weighted brake pedal – it’s just a really fun hatch to punt along. Slow cars driven fast, there’s a real theory to be explored here.
The 16-inch alloy wheels help the 118i thumb its nose at stupid big wheels for no point other than styling, and also to deliver a sensational ride around town. The 118i soaks up nastiness with more aplomb and ease than many SUVs, some in BMW’s own stable, it’s that comfortable.
The ride strikes a perfect balance between not being a boat, but also ironing out the worst Sydney could throw at it.
I never expected the 118i to ride as effortlessly comfortable as it did. It’s a real bonus and a reminder than you don’t always need 20s just because they look good. For this type of vehicle that will spend its time in the cut and thrust of city traffic, it’s near perfect.
So, is the 118i ‘BMW enough’? I reckon it is.
That it can be had for just over $40K once you factor in on-road costs will put it squarely in the minds of the exact buyers BMW wants to attract – those of you looking for a premium badge without the premium pricetag.