Rule of the Thirds : 2021 BMW 116i Luxury [review]

By jaytee, 05 July 2021

Singapore - This is the latest BMW 1 Series, and it is currently the smallest car BMW produces. For all intents and purposes, it is also the cheapest Bimmer on sale in Singapore.

The car boasts a wide stance, while the sloping roof gives the illusion the car has a lowered rake, although it is actually taller than the earlier F20-generation car.

The 116i’s wheelbase may be shorter than the previous 1er’s, but the cleverly packaged front-wheel-drive UKL2 platform gives way to an increased amount of legroom and headroom in the cabin. From the conjoined kidney grilles to the luxurious cabin, the 116i remains distinctly BMW.

Make no mistake, the 1 Series is very much a premium product with all the tech goodies and taut quality. The car comes with a 10.25-inch infotainment display running BMW’s iDrive 7.0 operating system and familiar digital instrument cluster like in most current BMWs. The cabin is a familiar one to those who have spent time in any of the brand’s latest offerings.

In all trims and variants of the F40-generation 1 Series, just two engine options are available (in varying stages of tune), both of which are derived from BMW’s modular engine family.

One is a B48 turbocharged 2.0-litre four-pot and the other, the B38 turbo’d 1.5-litre three-cylinder found in this car. In the 116i, the B38 is tuned for 109 horsepower and 190Nm, which makes it one of three BMWs in Singapore to nestle within the Category A COE limit.

Often, numbers and performance figures fail to provide an accurate reflection of a car’s ‘fun factor’. After all, we’ve seen sub-130hp hatchbacks that boast modest on-paper stats outshine more powerful variants.

Having said that, I feel BMW’s B38 engine has more potential than its modest 109hp. BMW's i8 hybrid petrol-electric sportscar is part-powered by the same engine, but was tuned to over 200hp in the i8’s application.

For a more impartial comparison, even the 118i (which is no longer available in Singapore at time of writing), produces 140hp and 220Nm. I had a quick go in it some months ago and it was a hoot.

With the 116i, the S$170k question is: How do you extract fun from a hatchback that has loads of potential, but detuned to comply with local COE limitations? That, ladies and gentlemen, depends on how well you wring the well-balanced chassis.

If you didn’t already know, the F40-generation 1 Series is the first of the 1ers to get a front-wheel-drive platform based on the same UKL platform shared with its 2 Series Active/Grand Tourer brethren, as well as the X1 SUV. Those other cars are made to carry passengers and fulfil more active lifestyle duties, but the 1 Series is made to be agile.

At its very core, the 116i is designed to be comfortable and economical, but put it in Sports mode and the car transforms into a spritely performer. Chuck it into a corner and the car will dart-in with satisfying precision. The multi-link rear axle allows the rear of the car to lean into corners, even as the front struts dig the driven wheels into the tarmac.

The end result: a compact hatchback that handles surprisingly well. As you’d expect for any Bimmer. The downside? You’ll have to carry a lot of speed into corners to really experience the full breadth of the chassis’ abilities.
 

Despite my initial cynicism about the lack of on-paper power, the 116i proved nimble and agile enough to be an engaging companion on the winding roads. I found myself putting my right foot down an inch more as I approached a corner, just so the turbocharger could spool up and slingshot me around the apex.

Now don’t get me wrong, the 116i isn’t as exciting as its M Performance M135i counterpart, nor is it intended to be. Once you remember the 116i is targeted at the masses, you’ll quickly appreciate what a competent and capable car it is for you to enjoy the simple (driving) pleasures in life. A bargain Bimmer delivering its own flavour of sheer driving pleasure. Who’da thought?

PHOTOS Jay Tee

BMW F40 116i Luxury
Engine 1499cc, inline3, turbo
Power/rpm 109hp/4300-6500rpm
Torque/rpm 190Nm/1380-3800rpm
Transmission 7spd steptronic dual-clutch
0-100km/h 10.6secs
Top Speed 200km/h
Fuel Consumption 5.5l/100km (combined)

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