Traditionally, the BMW 3 Series is offered with a range of six-pots at the core of its line-up propped by a miserly four-cylinder engine as the range’s bottom feeder. Times have changed however, and thanks to innovation and technology, owning a four-cylinder 3 Series these days is no longer owning a poor man’s 3 Series of days gone by.
The advent of turbocharging and direct injection in recent years have allowed manufacturers to downsize their engines in the name of fuel economy whilst maintaining respectable power outputs. As a result, the current generation F30 model is notable for being BMW’s first ever 3 Series to hit the market with an all-turbocharged line-up with four-cylinder engines making up the bulk of sales.
Introduced with the 5 Series in 2012, BMW’s 2.0-litre N20 twin-scroll turbo engine forms the spine of the current 3 Series engine line-up being offered in 184hp and 245hp states of tune. The 184hp version powers the 320i which, until recently, was the most affordable variant of the 3 Series at RM238,800. Entry into the realm of 3 Series ownership is now via the 316i, powered, remarkably, by a 1.6-litre engine.
Pricing and Specifications
With a stated price of RM208,800 without insurance, the 316i not only makes for a more affordable alternative to the 320i, it also poses serious questions to pseudo-luxury models coming from Volkswagen and Volvo. The 316i’s pricing undercuts the Golf GTI (RM213k for the 3-door Pure model) and Volkswagen CC (RM230k) from the former together with the S60 T4 (RM220k) from the latter. In installment terms, the 316i costs RM370 per month more than a Toyota Camry 2.5 if stretched over a nine-year tenure (we recommend five).
Compared to the 320i and 320d above it, the 316i makes do without the Sport/Modern/Luxury trim line options. It is on par with regards to functional equipment however, being equipped with powered driver and front passenger seats, automatic bi-xenon headlights, iDrive with 6.5″ central screen, all-round parking sensors, and Drive Experience Control. Like with the 320i and 320d however, and indeed even up to the 528i, the 316i regrettably omits smart keyless entry; BMW would do well to have this increasingly important security feature implemented across as much of its models as possible.
With questions regarding equipment levels answered, we now focus our attentions to the 316i’s engine room, where the new 1.6-litre N13 twin-scroll turbo engine resides. Based on the MINI’s Prince engine, the N13 sits longitudinally in the 316i’s engine room and pushes out a remarkably conservative 136hp and 220Nm. The former arrives unusually early for a petrol engine at 4,350rpm, suggesting a deliberate attempt by BMW to cap its outputs, possibly for the benefit of fuel economy. As with other members of the BMW range in Malaysia, the 316i is fitted with ZF’s 8-speed automatic transmission as standard.
|ZF 8-speed automatic transmission once again does sterling service in the 316i.|
All variants of the F30 3 Series we’ve tested thus far have delighted us with the way they drive, and the 316i is no different. To get the pertinent question out of the way, the modestly-tuned engine hardly felt like the package’s weak link. In fact, it performed with enough gusto that we suspect BMW’s official numbers might be grossly underquoted; some third party testers have interestingly reported stock BMW engines like the N54 twin turbo and N47 turbodiesel dynoed with higher outputs than the printed numbers. One thing’s for sure, the 316i accelerates a lot harder than you would expect for something that supposedly has about the same power and ‘only’ 15Nm more torque than a Proton Prevé.
Mid-range torque of the engine is strong and instances of it being caught off-boost are rare in the extreme, being only a problem when powering out of corners up really steep slopes, and even then lag is only fleeting before the wave of turbocharged torque catches up and sweeps you forward. Most instances in urban settings, or even highways for that matter, the 316i’s outputs are beyond adequate and respectable, even if delivery isn’t as effortless as the 320i.
As you would expect from a smaller engine, fuel economy is a strong suite of the 316i, our test car returning readings of 8.9 l/100km from mixed driving covering 400km of ground. It may not match BMW’s claimed 5.9 l/100km, but it’s the kind of numbers that even the most frugal naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre engines will be happy to settle for, much less a turbocharged one.
Overall dynamics are largely reminiscent of other members of the 3 Series family, offering a finely-judged balance between ride comfort and sharp handling; its lighter nose even offering the added advantage of a keener turn in. The F30 chassis is difficult to fault for composure, handling high speeds with dignity, corners with fluency, and undulations with impressive nonchalance. Enthusiasts will prefer the harder-edged E90 predecessor, but the F30’s balance is certainly more appealing as a day-to-day prospect.
The phrase ‘value for money’ is rarely mentioned in the same sentence as a BMW product, but it is difficult to think of a more succinct choice of words that better describe the 316i’s preposition. Compared to the 320i above it, the 316i retains all of the relevant equipment whilst dispensing with the excesses that you don’t. From a driving standpoint, the 316i embodies all of the dynamic qualities that make the 3 Series such an enjoyable steer and impose only a very minor performance penalty for its lower price tag. The 320i is still the more complete package, however.
The 316i is as sensible a product as you can get from BMW, it offers you the badge prestige of a luxury marque at the price of a high-end Volkswagen without sacrificing the driving pleasure for which the propeller brand is renowned for. In terms of both specifications, equipment, and performance, the 316i is most definitely not a lesser 3 Series, although we suspect some owners may appreciate the option of ‘badge deletion’ with this one.