HERE ARE SOME CARS that you can assess in a reasonably short amount of time while other take a little longer. The latter applies to the car tested here namely because diesel-powered cars never seem to run out of fuel. Typically, local motoring journalists only have a day with a test car in this period, the fuel gauge hardly moves by the time the car is returned and so it is not easy to get a first-hand sense of its real world fuel consumption. Sure, most cars have a trip computer, but the numbers alone don’t tell the story as much as how the number of days and weeks between fill-ups feel. This is how I suspect many drivers assess their cars anyway as I am often asked: “How many days can one tank last you?” Hardly scientific, but there you go.
In the case of the BMW 116d tested here, it remained in my charge for a whopping three-plus weeks during the year-end holiday period and so it provided me with an opportunity to thoroughly assess its fuel consumption and many other things as well.
For starters, the styling of the 1 Series still polarises opinion as its long bonnet and truncated rear end give it a slightly odd proportion. This writer for one, doesn’t mind it as it brings to mind the mad-cap but much loved BMW M Coupe plus the recent facelift has improved the car’s looks considerably. To those with less sympathetic eyes however, it proportionately still looks like a front end of a 2 Series coupe has been grafted on to a hatchback.
Space is one department that small BMWs normally don’t do well with and this F20 1 Series is no exception. If space and legroom in a BMW Is what you need, then you would be better off with a 2 Series Active Tourer. But unlike the latter however, the ler trades space for the classic rear wheel drive layout that is a classic BMW hallmark. For this, the rear occupants will have to put up with the intrusion of a high transmission tunnel that compromises the legroom for the rear passenger seated in the middle.
Another BMW trait that helps make the Bavarian manufacturer’s cars handle so sweetly is the 50-50 weight distribution. The achieve this, the engine of the 1 Series is pushed as far into the firewall as possible so cabin space is again compromised. Once the seat is adjusted for any driver approaching 1.8-metres tall, the rear occupants won’t have too much room to stretch out in.
However, this sacrifice is repaid with sweet handling that makes the most of the 116hp available from the 1,496cc three-cylinder turbo-diesel under this car’s bonnet. The moment the driver holds the finely stitched leather wrapped steering wheel, any misgivings about styling, space or where this car sits in the product line-up simply melt away under that brilliantly weighted steering feel that is unsullied as the rear wheels handle the power output.
As with most turbodiesels, the torque output is the headline act and 270Nm of pulling power available from just l,750rpm means that clean getaways are effortlessly executed and the 116d feels like it punches way above its weight not only in terms of straight-line performance but in its agility with a heal thy appetite for curves and corners.
Those who still have any misgivings about diesel engines being unrefined or noisy, especially for small displacements, really need to check out this 116d’s three-pot oil burner to believe how far the technology has come. Not only is this engine smooth and silent enough for this car to off er the refinement we have come to expect from BMW, it is even quieter than many direct injection four-cylinder petrol units found in the competing German brands. Even though it returned an average of 4.7-litres per 100km, it still fell short of the3.4-litres per 100km that its maker claims. Regardless, it easily managed a range of around 700 km of driving on a mixture of local expressways and congested roads before the reserve light came on.
In the 1980s, the BMW3 Series became synonymous with young professionals who got their first taste of premium motoring. Today, it is easily to see how the 116d can fill that role; its rear wheel drive layout and 50-50 weight distribution lets them appreciate the virtues of a great handling car while the turbodiesel powerplant ticks all the right boxes for punchy performance yet is ecologically sympathetic with a low CO2 output and fuel consumption.
Some might bemoan the idea of owning a base model when knowing further up the range with a brand like BMW lies all sorts of dishy offerings that promise varying levels of style, space and performance, any and all of which can be found in measurably greater numbers than this car can offer.
Unlike its German rivals, the BMW 116d doesn’t constantly remind its occupants that they are in an entry model. Niceties such as dual zone climate control, keyless operation, factory-fitted leather interior and one of the best sound systems in the business add to make this Bimmer a very satisfying car that won’t find its owner looking enviously at other models.