Say ‘hello’ to ‘Junior’, the smallest BMW available here. This F20 hatchback is probably the most special as it’s the last rear-wheel driven mini BMW; the next 1 Series (or could it be reclassified a 2 Series?), the F40, will use the UKL front-wheel drive platform which the BMW X1 is built on.
The unit reviewed is the base-level 118i Sport, which is the most affordable BMW you can find locally.
What About It?
The F20 is the 2nd generation 1 Series and didn’t start life with striking good looks. Then this facelift happened and the wide-eyed look gave way to slimmer headlights and a sportier, more angular front bumper as well as wider kidney grilles. The squarish rear lights have also been replaced with bigger LED clusters looking similar to the X1’s, and the rear bumper also gets a restyle.
The dashboard bears resemblance to the 3 Series, with only the placement of the glossy plastic above the BMW 118i’s glove compartment differing from the 3; even the steering wheel is similar. The front bucket leather seats are electrically adjustable, including lumbar support with memory settings only for the driver’s seat; thigh support however, is a manual affair. Overall, the front seats are supportive without being overly firm.
At the back, there’s enough rear legroom for all but the tallest of passengers; anyone under 1.8 m shouldn’t have much trouble here, except for the shortage in proper thigh support and headroom. You will still fit, you just won’t be as comfortable as sitting in e.g. a 3 Series. On the bright side, the lack of a rear armrest means the middle passenger gets a relatively flat backrest. This joy compensates for the high center tunnel running between his/her legs, but he/she gets to monopolize the air from the cooling vents. The relatively intimate nature of the cabin also limit rear visibility when the car is fully occupied. And although it’s a compact car, a reverse view camera would be most helpful in this event; the 118i however, makes do with proximity sensors.
In terms of storage, the 118i has 360 liters of boot space which is alright for a compact hatchback; fold the rear seats down and you’ll get 1,200 liters, just long enough to stick in some flat-packed furniture. Under the boot floor is where you’ll find the car’s battery; it’s placed there for weight distribution since the 118i uses run-flat tires and has no spare. Elsewhere in the cabin, you get sizeable door pockets that have bottle holders, a decent-sized glovebox, 2 cup holders ahead of the gear lever which have removable containers for storage flexibility as well as a center armrest that’s equipped with a phone charger, USB and auxilliary ports.
The 118i is also equipped with the BMW iDrive control knob which lets you access all the car’s functions, shown on the 6.5″ screen atop the dashboard, except for climate control which is on the center stack. Many of the functions are also accessible from the steering-mounted buttons.
Junior here gets a ‘tiny’ engine where BMWs are concerned. No inline-6, not even a 4; the 118i is powered by a 3-cylinder 1.5 liter BMW Twin Power Turbo. Nonetheless, it produces a healthy 136 hp and 220 Nm of torque and paired with an 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, lets the car accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 8.7 seconds, so it’s no slouch.
What’s It Like?
If you expect every BMW to give you a firm, sporty ride, you’re half right. While the 118i rides with a sporty inclination, road defects are well dampened. With an improved suspension that’s lighter, it looks like BMW has found that sweet spot between good handling and good cushioning even on run-flat tires. The steering wheel is a comfortable piece to hold and is precise in its turns with a nice weight to it. Then again, it’s a BMW and it’s a small one so that’s something to be expected.
The rear-wheel drive configuration means this is a car you can point its nose towards a corner’s exit and power out of it faster without the rear snapping out. And as mentioned earlier, it’s likely the last 1 Series to be able to do so with little aid from electronics. Having said that, the 118i isn’t an aggressive car mainly because of the easier-going 3-cylinder engine.
If you want a more excitable drive, the 120i is what you should be looking at (sadly, the M135i with 326 hp isn’t available). But the 118i has redeeming qualities in its comfort and noise insulation, which makes it great for road trips.
As with other BMWs, the 118i has the Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ drive modes that adjust the driving characteristics. Eco Pro is great in heavy traffic as a fuel-saver, or when you’re cruising on the highway and have no plans to overtake; a drive in this mode netted a fuel efficiency figure of 15.3 km per liter. Sport+, with limited driving aids, is great when you’re looking for a fun time, provided you know how to handle the car.
Any Interesting Features?
The 118i has a built-in SIM card to keep you connected without using your phone. In the BMW ConnectedDrive suite, you can use BMW Online to browse the web or check the weather and emails. Also available is Remote Services, accessed via the BMW iRemote app, to locate your car when you’ve forgotten where you parked it; it can also remotely lock and unlock the car via your phone.
In case of an accident, the 118i protects its occupants with 6 airbags. The car will automatically contact the BMW Call Center using the Intelligent Emergency Call function to request for emergency services. You can also trigger an emergency call with a dedicated SOS button on the roof.
Aside from these, the 118i also has push button start, auto idle stop-start, Dynamic Stability Control system (DSC), Automatic Stability Control (ASC), Cornering Brake Control (CBC) and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC).
Who Is It For?
The BMW 118i is a refined machine with some solid engineering underneath. But it’s neither a screamer or a pants-wetter. It is however, the only rear-wheel driven offering in the compact car class so there’s still some potential fun to be had. So if you’re looking for a good-handling compact that’s relatively frugal to drive in the city yet able to tackle country roads on the weekends, this could be the one. It’s also the most affordable new BMW you can buy.
The BMW 118i Sport sells for RM 176,800, inclusive of 5 years unlimited mileage warranty and free service, plus a 24-month BMW tire warranty. If you want a sportier ride, the 118i also comes with M Sport kit at RM 188,800.