An engaging entry: Driving the BMW F40 116i Luxury

With a 1.5litre 3-cylinder power-plant slotted under its bonnet, the BMW 116i is currently now the most accessible gateway into the world of BMW motoring but don’t let its entry level credentials fool you into thinking it’s a paired down build offering nothing other than its storied badge because it is quite literally the opposite. What BMW have packed into their latest smallest hatchback is nothing short of remarkable.

Visually, the latest 1-Series also signifies a major change in its styling, with the platform now utilising a transverse engine layout powering the front wheels instead of BMW’s traditional longitudinal front-engined rear-drive setup, the overall aesthetics take on a shape much more reminiscent with a key German rival, of course, peppered with key design details that can only come from Bavaria. The slightly hunkered down angled stance, those double kidneys enveloped by a pair of (LED) headlights on each side and the slightly unwieldy redesign of the much-loved Hoffmeister kink are all proudly present.

While it might have lost its previous incarnation’s long-bonnet flair, this new platform did allow the designers to give the 1-Series a much-needed boost in practicalities. A shorter bonnet upfront means a larger cabin with an all-around increase in interior space, larger doors for better ingress and egress, a lower central tunnel for the rear seats and a noticeable gain in cargo space.

It might not look like it, but even with the more capacious cabin and boot, the latest 1-Series is packaged into a body that isn’t all that much bigger than the car it replaces, with only a 34mm increase in width (1,799mm from 1,765mm) and 13mm increase in height (1,434mm from 1,421mm). Lengthwise the latest 1 is 6mm shorter overall than its predecessor (4,319mm from 4,325mm) along with a reduction in wheelbase of 20mm (2,670mm from 2,690mm).

That reduction in wheelbase however does not in any way come at the expense of interior space as rear legroom is significantly improved over the previous model. Seating for those in the back is no longer as tight and with a much lower central tunnel (still required for those AWD Xdrive models), scooting front side to side is much easier. Headroom for those in the back is adequate but the low tapering roofline does detract from what is otherwise a rather sizeable cabin.

For those opting for the 116i’s Luxury trim level, Dakota leather will be fitted to its fully electric standard seats as opposed to the Sport trim level’s cloth/sensatec sport seat combination. Though cloth might seem slightly less fancy than leather, its more playful appearance and better usability in our local climate is something I’d much rather go for.

For the driver up front, the 116i takes a lot of visual cues from its bigger 3 Series brother and with a host of tech features equipped within a really well put together cabin, there is very little giving away its entry-level positioning within the range, unlike the previous generation.

Like the 3-Series, the little 116i is also equipped with BMW Live Cockpit Professional, consisting of a fully digital 10.25″ instrument display and a high-resolution 10.25″ infotainment display. It isn’t just for show either, this 10.25″ screen houses a host of technological features seen on larger BMWs. Navigation with real-time traffic information, BMW Connected Package Professional with BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant, Parking Assistant with BMW’s very intelligent reversing assistant, Intelligent emergency call, Real-Time Traffic Information, Remote Services, TeleServices, Remote Software Upgrade and lifetime Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with wireless charging available. The only thing missing here? Gesture control!

All 116i’s also come with Driving experience control but lack adaptive suspension. But perhaps that is just asking a little too much from a 116i. Interestingly though, only Luxury trim level cars get cruise control with braking.

Boot space after opening the powered tailgate has as previously mentioned grown, adding an extra 20 litres of storage (380 litres from 360 litres), equalling the VW Golf and pipping the Mercedes A-class by 10 litres. With the seats folded, cargo room expands to a sizeable 1,200 litres and a thoughtful storage area under the boot floor can be accessed to store the rear parcel shelf.

With 107bhp and 190nm of torque running through a 7 speed DCT, progress in the 116i is adequate. Competent though not entirely exciting with 100km/h coming up in an economical 10.6 seconds, surprisingly slower than the previous 116i (8.7 seconds). Granted the previous car did have an extra cylinder and an additional 100cc’s worth of engine.

Progress with the 3-cylinder power-plant though is smooth and at highway speeds, the 116i cruises very well with the RPMs hovering slightly above idling speeds and as mentioned previously, the ride quality is fantastic and much improved over the previous generation with the chassis and suspension working well together to deliver a comfortable ride that soaks up most imperfections on the road without losing composure when it comes to more challenging roads.

And it is in these roads where BMWs have always excelled and the latest 116i is no exception, steering while not being the most feelsome is sharp and direct though engaging sport mode to load extra weight in is an ideal setup for more enthusiastic drives. Once again, competent though not very exciting. Good, not great. I reckon a change of rubber from the supplied Hankooks might change things up a bit.

Overall though, the latest F40 116i is an amazingly well packaged machine, while it might be the lowest priced offering from the marque (locally), it represents a significant leap forward in terms of usability and practicalities, is filled with plenty of kit previously only seen on its more premium siblings and coming in at a price point slotting in just below its rival from Stuttgart (S$158,888 against the cheapest Mercedes-Benz A180’s S$166,888), represents pretty good value for money if you are in the market for such a class of vehicle.

If only it just felt a little more special, but perhaps that level of engagement is reserved for the 128ti which still sadly isn’t planned for our local shores. Pity.

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