BMW's practical 1-series return to Category A in 1.5-litre turbodiesel model

The new 116d's cockpit feels retro with its basic driving aids.
The new 116d's cockpit feels retro with its basic driving aids.PHOTO: DAVID TING
The new 116d's cockpit feels retro with its basic driving aids.
The new 116d's cockpit feels retro with its basic driving aids.PHOTO: DAVID TING

Six months after the final units of the 116i were delivered, the facelifted model has made its debut here. The newcomer is a 116d, with 116bhp from a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder that also powers the Mini Cooper D.

That output is considerably smaller than the 136bhp produced by the previous 116i's petrol turbo 1.6-litre four-cylinder. The acceleration is consequently less energetic, with the 116d taking 1.2 seconds longer than the 116i to reach 100kmh from a standstill. In fact, it is the slowest new BMW right now.

But with a healthy 270Nm of diesel-driven torque, the 116d performs quickly enough within the 30 to 60kmh road speed range, which would meet city-driving requirements in Singapore.

The engine's performance sweet spot is between 2,000rpm and 4,000rpm. Too bad it does not sound particularly sweet when revved.

Both the engine and its eight- speed transmission can seem hesitant when prompted for full- throttle acceleration, but they are less so in Sport mode.

  • SPECS/BMW 116d 1.5

    Price: $138,800 with COE

    Engine: 1,496cc 12-valve inline-3 turbocharged

    Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual select

    Power: 116bhp at 4,000rpm

    Torque: 270Nm at 1,750-2,250rpm

    0-100kmh: 10.3 seconds

    Top speed: 200kmh

    Fuel consumption: 3.6 litres/100km

    Agent: Performance Motors Limited

There is no hesitation at all when the rear-drive car is tasked to take a corner. Its steering is smooth, accurate and consistently well- weighted, its suspension is firmly in control and it makes directional changes without complaint.

The flip side to the happy handling is a rather stiff ride, especially over broken or poorly paved/repaved tarmac. There is noticeable road noise too - not only from the front wheel-arch areas but also from the rear. Thankfully, the 116d's diesel engine is not too noisy or intrusive.

Add a few gentle creaks to the mix (in the test car), plus some vibration every time the auto start/stop restarts the engine (this mildly irritating feature can be switched off), and this machine is more plebeian than premium.

The same working-class vibes can be found elsewhere in the cabin. Most of the budget for the 1-series update, it seems, has been spent on the exterior, because the interior is more or less like the old one. There is newly added decoration, but the layout and controls are otherwise unchanged. If only BMW had made the plastics less hard, the leather seats more supple and the glovebox latch classier.

That said, the 1-series' unintentionally retro cockpit makes me feel nostalgic. Because the steering wheel is compact and not festooned with buttons; the driving aids are basic ones that do not try to drive the car for me; the infotainment is straightforward and offers far fewer than a hundred mind- boggling functions; and there is a good old handbrake operated by hand, instead of an electronic thingy activated by fingertip.

Even BMW's ConnectedDrive gadget has been simplified for the 1-series, because its older architecture does not support the complete suite of services.

The 1-series' cabin space is comfortably cosy for front occupants and reasonably roomy for those in the rear, but seating three adults at the back is not recommended.

The automatic air-conditioning (with a panel display that now uses clear white fonts instead of orange) feels markedly more effective than before. Another obvious improvement is to the hatchback's styling. The front end looks sharper now and comes with nice bright LED headlights, while the redesigned tail-lamps, also with LEDs, make the rear end more perky (or maybe less dumpy).

Facelifted or not, the 1-series will never be No. 1 on the list of stylish BMWs, but at least it is sleeker than the 2-series Active Tourer.

The 116d is also considerably cheaper than the 218i Active Tourer, thanks to the $15,000 CEVS rebate earned by its low CO2 emission of 96g per km.

It is fuel-efficient, of course, theoretically able to travel more than 27km on 1 litre of diesel. Assuming an annual mileage of 20,000km, the car needs to be refuelled only every three or four weeks.

Even though the new 116d is not an exciting entry point to BMW ownership, it is enjoyable enough - economical, practical and uncomplicated.

•The writer is the editor of Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'The practical 1'. Print Edition | Subscribe