Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.
Laden with extras, the BMW 116i Innovation Edition presents a particularly good deal at the German range’s entry level, writes Jack Yan
photographed by the author
The heritage of the BMW Einser, the 1-series, isn’t nearly as romantic as some of the other models in the range. The 4-series traces its roots to the Neue Klasse 02 models, the two-door versions of the powerful saloons that kicked off the modern era of BMW. The 6-series is part of a lineage that includes the “Batmobile” racers of the 1970s. And the 7-series is almost heroic, the car that didn’t quite manage the challenge against the Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse in the 1970s, but, with its second generation, knocked its Swabian rival for six by including a V12 under the bonnet.
The 1’s heritage, instead, comes from a truncated version of the E36 BMW 3-series. BMW, seeing the potential of tackling the Volkswagen Golf but using rear-wheel drive, took the protruding boot off the traditional two-door shape. As a design, it wasn’t terribly convincing.
We do, however, have to thank the Einser for other great cars. The previous shape’s coupé was one of our favourites, whether in 123d or 135i guise. As cars get bigger with each generation, the 1-series is closer in size and spirit to some of our favourite BMWs of old. And it still has that party trick under the body: rear-wheel drive.
That’s true across the range, and the 116i Innovation Edition, equipped with BMW’s 1·6-litre four with a turbocharger, which bumps the power up from the 114i’s 102 PS (not available in New Zealand) to 136 PS, makes a very convincing case.
While Ford has done very well with making the Focus one of the best handling C-segment cars out there, there’s a certain sweetness to how the F20 BMW 1-series drives. By being rear-wheel drive, it’s predictable and a very comfortable ride, as we discovered on our extended road test out to the Manawatu. The 50–50 weight distribution that the Einser has makes it particularly sweet to drive and place on the road; the power steering is perfectly weighted. That balance is something that neither Mercedes-Benz nor Audi can claim with their front-wheel-drive efforts in this segment. The engine emits 125 g/km of carbon dioxide, and is a quiet, refined unit, with the turbochargers kicking in when you have those tricky overtaking manœuvres. Stop–start and an eight-speed auto help get us a combined fuel economy figure of 37·5 mpg (Imperial) or 7·53 l/100 km. While it lacks the oomph we experienced in the top-of-the-line sixes, and you do need to plan those moves very carefully, it is what you’d expect in an efficient, mid-decade family hatch.
As a driver’s car, it remains one of the best in its class, and with the familiarity of the interior layout, you could easily think you were in a bigger model.
But the Innovation Edition makes an even more convincing case. Coming in at NZ$51,900, it might seem a tad on the high side, but BMW has thrown in the M Sport pack (which lowers the car and includes the M Sport steering wheel), park distance control, a lights’ package and Bi-Xenon headlights with washer system, Business sat-nav, rear-view camera, sun protection glazing, and, particularly welcome next winter, front-seat heating. It’s handy having a USB port to charge the phone, and BMW’s Idrive system makes Bluetooth connectivity a breeze: it’s still one of the best systems we’ve experienced, with no bugs or problems transferring between the car’s phone and handset.
There are the bigger wheels and sport suspension, which gives the car presence—yet we didn’t find that this compromised ride at all.
The extras, if bought separately on top of a standard 116i hatchback, would normally cost NZ$11,650, but BMW is charging NZ$2,100 more. Regardless of where your income lies, everyone likes a good deal.
Certainly the 116i Innovation Edition looks smarter than the regular model. The blacked-out grille might not be to everyone’s liking, but with the car itself in white, it contrasted beautifully. Black, after all, is in these days to convey sporting character, a trend that started toward the end of the last decade, and continues today. The Einser hatchbacks still have challenging looks that you either love or hate, but the Innovation pack helps make it more tasteful.
That blacked-out kidney grille means that the alloys look sharper; the window tinting adds to a monochromatic appearance. It’s not Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse-fussy, or Audi A3-dull. The most challenging part about the Einser’s appearance, its headlight shape, is more acceptable with the M Sport spoiler up front: finally you realize that BMW probably designed this grille expecting people to go for the package. There are plenty of surfaces on that front end, and those lights might hark back to the 2000 CS coupé of the 1960s, but this time, the effect is more cohesive. On this test, we happened to park next to the first Einser, the E87, and it’s apparent how much better the design is on the F20.
While some limited-edition packs make a car look worse with all their addenda, this is an exercise in restraint and subtlety, something which actually works on the 116i.
And while the truncated looks of those old 3 Compacts weren’t to everyone’s tastes, it’s worth noting that other manufacturers are aiming for the sort of proportions with their hatchbacks that BMW pioneered. The Volkswagen Golf is now more cab-backward than its predecessor, with the expressed intent of trying to look more premium. The new Mazda Axela has a long snout and a short cabin, to convey sportiness and expense. We may have laughed at the Compact in the 1990s, but no one’s laughing at cab-backward hatchbacks now.
So BMW is, effectively, sitting pretty with what is now a three-year-old shape, making improvements where it can, and offering up those extras to keep interest up. In our opinion, it’s worked, and as a near-entry-level model, it’s a great introduction to the marque. •
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