The 116d is a low-price BMW, relatively speaking, but that doesn’t mean it feels like a cheap one
SINGAPORE — Here’s something we haven’t seen for the longest time in Singapore: a BMW you can buy for less than 139 grand. To be precise, the 116d costs $138,800, and yes, that includes the COE and everything.
That makes it a good $22,000 cheaper than the next most affordable BMW, the 218i Active Tourer, a more practical car that’s less fun to drive.
At that pricing the 116d is obviously meant to give a hard time to the likes of Mercedes’ A 180 Style, the higher-spec version of Volkswagen’s Golf 1.4 TSI and the Volvo V40 D2. Who knows, there may be a would-be Honda or Kia driver out there willing to stretch a bit to snag the BMW, too.
The 116d pulls this pricing trick off because it’s the only BMW lacking enough horsepower to qualify for a cheaper Category A COE. Then there’s the fact that is its exhaust emissions are less foul than what the average cyclist emits after a prata outing, thereby clinching it a $15,000 CEVS rebate.
Both of those attributes are thanks to its engine, a little three-cylinder diesel burner. It’s a 1.5-litre that summons 116 horses when its muscles are flexed, and both those numbers put it below the 1.6-litre/130 horsepower threshold for a Category A COE.
The new engine arrives with a facelift for the 1 Series. In BMW-speak its model code is F20 LCI (for Life Cycle Impulse, which is what BMW calls the mid-life revamps it gives its cars), but everyone is going to call it the new 1 Series. That’s because it looks noticeably different from the last model.
The headlamps are new, for one thing, and resemble the slimmer items that adorn the 2 Series Coupe. They come with daytime running LEDs (a must-have in the Singapore market for some reason), and are set into a front end that is heavily restyled, too: the grille has sharper lines and the bumper has bigger air scoops for a bit of added sportiness.
The rear end has noticeably new lamps, too. They replace the slightly squarish items of the pre-facelift 1 Series with broader ones that really help to make the rear of the car look wider, and posher.
Alas, the 116d won’t come with the large wheels or dark lower bumper elements you see in the pics here (we didn’t have enough time with a local car for photographs). Instead it has 16-inch wheels (crucial for keeping its emissions low), a single tailpipe and a plain, body-coloured bumper like this one:
The modest rims provide a benefit though. The relatively narrow tyres mean the steering retains plenty of feedback, and the 116d is a nice, frisky car to chuck around corners. In spite of its agility, the BMW’s ride quality feels genuinely plush (particularly compared to the kart-like ride of the Mercedes A-Class), and it takes bumps like a bigger car.
While the handling is sweet, we have mixed feelings about the engine. The good news is that the turbodiesel doesn’t rattle or clatter off-puttingly. Some diesel cars sound like there’s a robot orgy going on under the bonnet, but from the cabin at least, the 116d isn’t one of them.
But it does have an uncultured voice when you work it hard, and you’ll never mistake it for a petrol engine.
The performance is pretty up to snuff, though. In fact, the 116d has a big slug of mid-range torque, and in the wet you can actually feel the rear tyres scrabble for traction under hard acceleration.
It feels quite a bit faster than the 0 to 100km/h time of 10.3 seconds suggests, anyway, and with a top speed of 200km/h it has to be one of the faster Category A offerings out there.
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The engine’s 270Nm torque peak lives in a narrow part of the rev range, though, so driving it takes some getting used to. The acceleration is gentle at first, then powerful, then the engine runs out of puff until the next gearchange, even though the redline is at 5,400rpm, which is astronomical for a diesel.
That said, there’s enough poke there — along with a nice chassis setup — to make the 116d a decently fun car to drive, which is what you want from a BMW.
Or maybe you think of BMWs as mostly luxury machines, in which case you’ll be mostly satisfied. After all, the 116d comes with exec features like keyless entry and engine starting, a multifunction steering wheel, electric front seats (with memory), and it has dual-zone automatic climate control.
You must learn to live without satellite navigation, but you do get BMW’s ConnectedDrive emergency call services. Overall, there’s enough here to ensure that while the 116d is a low-price BMW, relatively speaking, it hasn’t ended up feeling like a cheap one.
That bodes well for BMW, for the company’s sales have taken a dive ever since its cars were shoved into the Category B COE market. And it goes without saying that there are bigger cars for the money (especially in the back), but the 116d’s entry has made the Euro hatch market here a richer place.
The new diesel engine tells us something about life in general, too. A facelift can improve your looks, but it’s what’s inside that really counts.
NEED TO KNOW BMW 116d
Engine 1,496cc in-line 3 turbodiesel
Power 116hp at 4,000rpm
Torque 270Nm at 1,750 to 2,250rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 200km/h
0-100km/h 10.3 seconds
Fuel efficiency* 4.1L/100km
Price $138,800 with COE