Road Test: BMW 118i M Sport
The latest 1 Series is nothing short of perfect, but it comes at a cost, finds Jonathan Musk.
SECTOR C-segment PRICE £27,805 FUEL 46.3mpg CO2 140g/km
The new 1 Series has come of age and contrary to the die-hard rear-wheel drive fanatics who may be mourning the loss of the smallest rear-powered BMW, the new front-wheel drive car is as sharp to drive as ever.
With its front-wheel drive layout, the 1 Series also gets a load more space and feels like a much larger car than the previous generation. It is far more practical and comfortable as a result, and – as is the way with all cars from all makers – it has of course grown physically in dimensions too, which puts it in a place that was once upon a time occupied by the 3 Series.
The 1 Series is now the car to have in the line-up, for aspiring BMW owners, but while that used to mean compromises in terms of equipment or technology, the 1 Series is now a fully fledged luxury BMW complete with all the technology you can shake a stick at.
Our car was the 118i, which translates to a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine that produces 140hp. It’s an average unit in terms of fuel economy and CO2, but it drives far better than average thanks to BMW’s slick six-speed manual that has a particularly defined gate and the torque-heavy engine pulls it along without the utterance of fuss. 0-62mph takes just 8.5 seconds, for example.
It does, however, come at a price. Arguably, the fleet-friendliest 1 Series is the 1.6-litre diesel option – 116d – which offers +10mpg and -10g/km CO2. But that’s not to suggest the petrol unit should be ignored, because it is smoother and quieter than the diesel, while offering more dynamic BMW-like response, if that’s important to you. As is often the case too, official figures are easily improved upon if you use the manual gear shift correctly. The diesel options are more expensive too, so you will have to factor the cost difference into your overall calculations, with diesel costing a slight premium at the pump too. Therefore, the petrol engine certainly shouldn’t be ruled out and is also more likely to retain its value over time.
Prices start from £27,805 for the M Sport trim with the 118i, so it isn’t what you’d call cheap, especially when compared to the Mercedes-Benz A-Class line-up that starts at less than the latest Volkswagen Golf. Select the cheaper SE trim and the price takes a £2k tumble to a more reasonable £25,005 – plus losing the M Sport’s heavier features, such as the leather interior, also improves fuel economy and reduces CO2 and would be our choice. Sport trim sits in-between and is also worth a look. All that said, M Sport trim is by far the most popular choice, as it comes with a host of appearance upgrades and of course M Sport suspension, which improves handling at the expense of overall comfort.
Must-have options also don’t come cheap, but are better value than from other marques. Various “Packs” make adding to the equipment list simple and good value. Technology Pack 1 – which comes with Parking Assistant, Bluetooth and wireless charging, Wi-Fi Hotspot, Head-up Display, LED Headlamps and High-beam Assistant – is excellent value at £1,500, for example. Park Assist alone (available as a separate option costing £350) makes parking in tight spaces a doddle and was found to be intuitive to use and fast in operation, even with a manual gearbox. BMW’s clever and useful Reverse Assistant comes as part of the option too, and can literally reverse the car out of a tight jam for up to 50 metres.
The infotainment system is also top notch and can be worked using a combination of the touchscreen or dial. They work well and can be enhanced by yelling “Hey BMW” to activated the useful, fast and accurate voice control assistant. Fit and finish is as perfect as you’ll get too, while all the interior materials and buttons feel quality, while seats are supportive and comfortable for long journeys.
The 118i is a fine car then, offering all the technological treats typically found in more expensive BMWs. That it is now front-wheel drive fortunately doesn’t impact on its driving credentials either, with the car offering more precise handling than the previous generation thanks to faster steering.
Perhaps the most indicative report I can give of how the car drives is that during lockdown, I had five cars available to me to test and I kept returning to the 1 Series. The aforementioned dynamic handling is excellent, but the way it cruises along in blissful serenity is impressive and it feels every bit as quality as its bigger brother, the 3 Series. Naturally if you increase the power, the front wheels will struggle, but at the normal end of the spectrum there’s no reason not to love the front-wheel drive benefits over the old car’s rear-wheel drive layout.
Fundamentally, the little BMW is the car we’d choose from the vast array of excellent C-segment competitors. The Mercedes-Benz A-Class is undeniably superb, but it lacks what the BMW offers in terms of driver-focus – and for now at least, that’s still important.
There’s virtually nothing to dislike about the new 1 Series. It’s spacious, practical, comfortable, good to drive, and filled with sensible technology that just works. M Sport isn’t my personal cup of tea, but it certainly looks the business, while the 118i engine option is a sound choice.
Key Fleet Model: 118i SE or 116d SE
Strengths: Sharp to drive, spacious and practical
Weaknesses: A touch expensive compared to its nearest rival