BMW 118i Review

Martin Schwoerer
by Martin Schwoerer
bmw 118i review

In Europe, BMW’s expanding model line-up has transformed the German automaker’s brand perception from the pistonhead’s prerogative to the arriviste’s wheels of choice. While the mighty M3 continues to rival Porsche’s 911 for street cred, and the previous gen M5 is still considered the Mack Daddy of sports sedans, BMW’s move into SUV’s and mass market motors has wounded its perceived pedigree. Is the hatchback-style, entry-level 1-Series another case of brand defilement, or is it a look back to classic small BMW’s like the 2002?

Judging by its looks, the 1-Series is to the 2002 what Gangsta Rap is to Rhythm and Blues. Whether you’re grimacing at the three or five-door, the BMW 1-Series is one seriously ugly ultimate driving machine. From its goofy proportions, to its misjudged details, to convex flame surfacing (that makes the car look like a pot belly pig from the side), this Bimmer is a bummer. While some people consider small, ugly vehicles “cute,” they’re wrong. Perhaps that’s why Bimmers’ bureaucrats have decided that the States might get the next, easier-on-the-eyes version in 2008, with three-box, two-door styling.

Fortunately, the 1-Series’ interior design is modern, sculpted, strong and coherent. The plastics are not up to Munich’s usual standards, but price considerations have otherwise inflicted a welcome, dare I say nostalgic minimalism.

The iDrive nav/menu screen is a perfect example. The foldaway screen lives on the top of the 1-Series’ dash; it’s a far safer and more elegant solution than the Teletubbies-style hutch sheltering Bimmer’s upmarket iDrive carriers. It should also be said that it’s well past time that BMW dropped its ergonomic arrogance and adopted standard icons and HMI procedures.

Euro-hacks have criticized the 1-Series’ interior for being cramped. Not so: there’s ample room in the front. Seriously volks, while the 3-Series mini-me’s rear headroom won’t find favor with anyone over 6", legroom is carpool-compatible. Put another way, the 1-Series is less space efficient than a similarly-sized Golf, but more spacious than a MINI. Considering the fact that the diminutive Bimmer is Europe's smallest rear-wheel drive (RWD) car, the rear space is a mitzvah.

The same cannot be said about the 1-Series’ visibility. It’s yet another high-beltlined car that shows the world your armpit if you should ever, Gott behüte, do the urban cruise.

My tester came equipped with the second least powerful engine in the European 1-Series range: a 143hp 2.0-liter four. (The 116i mostly sees rental and fleet service.) The 118i's miniature powerplant proved tractable and linear, with a useful power band from 1200 to 6200 rpm. So motivated, the 1-Series may not be particularly fast (0 to 60mph in 8.4 seconds), but it is fun.

The basic recipe is sound enough: RWD, short-wheelbase, reasonably low weight and BMW’s traditional 50/50 weight distribution. To this formula BMW adds a dollop of ingredient X: aluminum.

Munich’s mechanical maestros fabricate much of the 1-Series’ front suspension and subframe from aluminum, as well as the axle, suspension struts and pivot bearings. Out back, they’ve blessed the 1-Series with BMW’s justifiably famous five-link rear suspension; the same greasy bits that give the 1-Series’ big brothers their remarkable poise and ride quality. Better yet, Bimmer boffins have tuned the 1-Series’ multi-link’s toe-in, toe-out and camber angles to increase cornering agility.

The overall result is a fantastically chuckable and agile package that feels more solid than any other hatchback I’ve ever driven. BMW’s much maligned electric steering works perfectly in this application. Around town, it’s strictly point and squirt. At speed, the 1-Series’ helm feels as meaty as its perfectly sized steering wheel.

The 1-Series' suspension set-up is comfortable enough for older drivers who still kick out the jams from time to time. Above 95 mph, the car gets a bit bouncy, reminding you of its short wheel base. At autobahn speeds, the 1-Series is sensitive to crosswinds (perhaps the only real disadvantage of the RWD concept). Certainly, there are better long-distance executive cruisers.

As you’d hope, you can fling the 1-Series around with genuine confidence. Imagine blasting out of a traffic circle in a small car with fantastic feedback, without any torque-steer corruption. Nothing else in this category comes close; you'd need a Porsche or Lotus to better it. This Bimmer’s combination of agility, strength and compactness (and a small turning radius) make it a surprisingly useful urban runabout. Piloting the 1-Series, U-turns are a joy and rural roads paradise.

Upon returning the BMW, I felt a genuine pang of loss. Either I'm getting old or BMW has gotten better. It's probably both, but the latter is the stronger reason for giving this car a [close your eyes until you’re behind the wheel] thumbs-up. BMW may be destroying its exclusivity by making something for everyone, but what a way to go.

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  • Beautymd Beautymd on Jun 09, 2008

    I have been driving this car in the Philippines since May 2005. All I can say is I LOVE THIS CAR! It fits my city lifestyle and it is fuel-efficient. Everyone who sees it say it's handsome. That's my only problem...hahaha. Because it's not a handsome man who is behind the wheel but a beautiful woman.

  • on Mar 22, 2011

    [...] BMW 118i Review | The Truth About CarsMay 28, 2007 … In Europe, BMW's expanding model line-up has transformed the German automaker's brand perception from the pistonhead's prerogative to the … [...]

  • SPPPP The little boosters work way better than you would expect. I am a little nervous about carrying one more lithium battery around in the car (because of fire risk). But I have used the booster more than once on trips, and it has done the job. Also, it seems to hold charge for a very long time - months at least - when you don't use it. (I guess I could start packing it for trips, but leaving it out of the car on normal days, to minimize the fire risk.)
  • Bader Hi I want the driver side lights including the bazl and signal
  • Theflyersfan One positive: doesn't appear to have a sunroof. So you won't need to keep paper towels in the car.But there's a serious question to ask this seller - he has less than 40,000 miles on some major engine work, and the transmission and clutch work and mods are less than 2 months old...why are you selling? That's some serious money in upgrades and repairs, knowing that the odds of getting it back at the time of sale is going to be close to nil. This applies to most cars and it needs to be broadcasted - these kinds of upgrades and mods are really just for the current owner. At the time of sale, a lot of buyers will hit pause or just won't pay for the work you've done. Something just doesn't sit well with me and this car. It could be a snowbelt beast and help save the manuals and all that, but a six year old VW with over 100,000 miles normally equals gremlins and electrical issues too numerous to list. Plus rust in New England. I like it, but I'd have to look for a crack pipe somewhere if the seller thinks he's selling at that price.
  • 2ACL I can't help feeling that baby is a gross misnomer for a vehicle which the owner's use necessitated a (manual!) transmission rebuild at 80,000 miles. An expensive lesson in diminishing returns I wouldn't recommend to anyone I know.
  • El scotto Rumbling through my pantry and looking for the box of sheets of aluminum foil. More alt right comments than actual comments on international trade policy. Also a great deal of ignorance about the global oil industry. I'm a geophysicist and I pay attention such things. Best of all we got to watch Tassos go FULL BOT on us.