Is the most affordable new BMW in Singapore worth the asking price or is it a watered-down experience?
This is your entry into BMW vehicle ownership. The BMW 116i five-door hatchback is the cheapest BMW you can buy new in Singapore, with a Category A COE-friendly three-cylinder turbo engine and a price tag of S$158,800 with COE for the Luxury variant driven here.
How practical and usable is the 116i though? Does it drop out a lot of options for a bare basic ownership experience?
The short answers are that it’s surprisingly roomy inside, and with customers demanding that their new cars behave like smartphones these days, the 116i retains the core BMW Live Cockpit Professional user experience and doesn’t in any way feel dumbed down from the larger cars.
With a stronger focus on practical usability than something like the 2 Series Gran Coupe, the cabin is very big for a car of this size. The front-wheel drive chassis architecture allows for a lower centre console so you don’t feel as boxed-in as some of the sportier BMWs, and the inside surfaces of the doors are strategically shaped to give the occupants plenty of space to move your arms about.
The rear seats get their own air-con vents and a pair of USB-C charging ports, but headroom is slightly compromised by the sloping roofline.
The boot has 380 litres of carrying capacity, which can be easily expanded to 1,200 litres with the rear bench folded down. It also has a split-level divider, typically used to make the boot floor level with the rear edge of the hatch for easier loading. Underneath that is more storage space.
There’s just 109 horsepower from the three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, and we’re getting this variant in Singapore specifically so that the car can be placed into the Category A COE bracket for cars with 129 horsepower or lower.
The Land Transport Authority has this thing of cars having in excess of 130 horsepower should be classed as ‘luxury’ cars and placed in the higher priced Category B COE bracket, but it’s been years now that car dealers have managed to find variants in their brand lineups that conveniently skirt around this, and the 116i is a good example.
The 116i Luxury driven here gets wide, comfortable front seats with everything upholstered in leather, but the S$5k cheaper 116i Sport gets more heavily bolstered sports seats covered in fabric and BMW’s Sensatec synthetic leather instead. The differences between the two variants are small, with the Luxury variant getting some additional convenience features like the motorised tailgate. On the whole, it’s really a matter of personal preference on which variant to buy.
Early entry-level 1 Series generations were usually low on options and really did feel like budget BMWs, but it’s no longer the case. The 116i gets lots of in-car tech including the Intelligent Personal Assistant which is possibly the best and most cleverly-implemented ‘talk to your car’ feature we’ve seen across the major luxury automakers. It also has Comfort Access, which means that simply walking towards the car with the key fob on you will unlock the doors.
Plus the interior has ambient lighting built into the panels, something which even the much pricier Lexus IS 300 does not have.
The 116i isn’t a very quick car, but does pack lots of dynamic ability. The standard suspension system isn’t as comfortable as what you would find on something like a Toyota Camry, but it’s detailed and delivers plenty of feedback to the driver as is befitting BMW’s ‘ultimate driving machine’ philosophy. If you’re looking for a plush, cosseting ride, best look elsewhere.
However it isn’t a bad drive by any means. It’s very well insulated and smooth on the highway, and while fuel economy is respectable, the smallish 42-litre fuel tank capacity does mean you will need to refill the car at least once a week if used as a daily driver.
It can stand up to being driven hard and even seems to work better the more corners you throw at it. It may not be very quick in a straight line, but it’s the kind of dynamically balanced car that with the right tyres can carry much more speed through corners than some other higher-spec vehicles.
What’s its competition? The newly launched Volkswagen Golf series comes close, but we know what brand conscious buyers tend to think when it comes to BMW versus VW. The Mercedes-Benz A 180 is a perennial contender but we think that the 116i is better packages on the whole. Audi’s just-launched A3 comes in Sportback (hatch) and Sedan variants and is looking very impressive at launch thanks to a VES A2 S$15k rebate, but we haven’t tested it just yet .
The 1 Series has always been a volume seller for BMW in Singapore. Though rising COE prices may see new car sales fall across the board, we think that the badge on the nose of this car already gives it a head start against other similarly priced cars.
BMW 116i Luxury
|Engine||1,499cc, inline 3, turbocharged|
|Power||109hp at 4300-6500rpm|
|Torque||190Nm at 1380-3800rpm|
|VES Band||B / Neutral|
|Price||S$158,800 with COE and VES|
|Verdict||A surprisingly spacious car with sound handling dynamics and a true BMW experience|