Nothing says class like a premium German automobile. Past awards for excellence in execution are what keep most Asians coming back for more. It doesn’t matter if we can’t afford the full Monty BMW M5, we’ll settle for much less. Four wheels and a badge, please.
When compared to its predecessor, the new BMW 118i is a winner. More rear boot space, far superior base engine offering; styling suited to a lawyer who hasn’t quite made partner yet, but still wants to feel important first thing in the morning. And lastly, more buttons and switches than a standard QWERTY keyboard.
|Name||BMW 118i Sport||BMW 120i M Sport|
|Engine||1,499cc; 3-cyl turbo, DOHC, direct injection||1,598cc; 4-cyl turbo, DOHC, direct injection|
|Max Power||136 hp @ 4,400 rpm||177 hp @ 4,800 rpm|
|Max Torque||220 Nm @ 1,250 rpm||250 Nm @ 1,500 rpm|
|0 – 100km/h; Top Speed||7.2 seconds; 222 km/h||8.7 seconds; 210 km/h|
|Price||RM173,800.00||RM219,800.00 (no longer on sale)|
So let’s start with “I’m not partner yet” styling. Were I not a brutish barbarian, in a suit and tie, I’d fit right in with the rat race pack. Nothing too sharp or outlandish, just understated lines. Exactly what you need to keep up with the herd and not embarrass your boss if he shows up in a previous generation 5 Series.
Walking around the car, I find everything is as it should be, until I drop my camouflaged laptop bag in the boot. I know the key in my hand unlocks the boot at a touch of a clearly labelled button. I press it and fumble for a handle to lift up the boot. There is none. Using the tips of my fingers I pry open the assisted boot with He-Man force.
Annoyed at the process, my barbarian instincts want me to head butt the boot door as punishment. I decide that I’d lose that fight and close the boot. Out of curiosity, I push the BMW badge on the back of the boot door. It turns into a handle. First impressions? I hate this car for making me look like an idiot to myself.
Grumbling, I enter the BMW 118i. It smells like a BMW. Feels like a BMW. Nice. The driver’s seat adjusts in many ways to accommodate my wide ate-too-much-roti-canai-as-a-child frame. I reach down for the control buttons and a few seconds later I am positioned. The steering is off, I pull the lever to make the necessary changes and discover that it is also telescopic. After another five minutes, I feel like no other barbarian before me. In perfect driving position that’s comfortable, too. The rest of the interior is excellent, with plenty of visibility and room behind the husky driver.
Time to use some of that extra data Maxis has so graciously decided to bestow on us. Menu after menu after menu, I find the right settings to link my device to the BMW. So much reading. I just want to connect to my Bluetooth. All other information is irrelevant. If my device was going to blow up, then tell me, otherwise I. Don’t. Care.
Finally, Spotify is on. I am a little excited, it’s a brand new BMW and I’m driving it! Then I remember the engine details: a 1.5-litre three-cylinder that’s turbocharged to produce just over 130 horsepower. My excitement wanes.
Open road, I pin the throttle to the mat, the eight-speed gearbox kicks down two cogs and away we go. The turbo is small so there’s plenty of low-end torque and hardly any lag. All 220 Nm is available very early on in the rev range. It brings a wry smile to my face. As the rpm climb to 6,000 – in second gear, the smile fizzles. There just isn’t enough puff up top, which is to be expected of a smaller displacement, small turbo setup. But for a few seconds, it felt like the BMWs of old. I guess it’ll do.
The engine and gearbox has four driving modes. Sport and Sport+ give the Bimmer sharper throttle response and keep the revs higher, longer. But they also made the ride jumpy. A light accelerator touch would send the car lurching forward. Comfort mode was by far the choice for me, while Eco mode was sluggish and throttle response felt like the tyres were rolling in quick sand.
For a 36-year-old barbarian that still thinks the late 90’s were the best years humanity has ever had, there’s just too many settings and buttons. It took me a minute to find the central locking button. I just want everything to be simple and easy to use. Give me one button for one action, clearly labelled and all in a row. Give me a dial and several other buttons everywhere else, and I become Mary’s lost lamb.
So far, I’ve been building up two arguments. The first, I’m obviously not meant for this sort of car. Class is the last thing I use at the dinner table and in polite conversation. With me it’s punch this, kick that, red light districts and easy everything. Like a true 80’s badass I rarely wear my emotions on my sleeves because I tore them off in a battle to the death with biker gang’s boss.
The second, the BMW 118i is, much to my displeasure, perfect for the modern age. And that’s where I find myself torn between decisions and caught in a vortex of time between two distinct eras of motoring.
I prefer my turbos big and laggy, full of top-end power. I prefer my handling to be knife-edge and scary, because I want to feel every bit of the road. I want to hear the roar of the engine, not a muffled wheeze.
I want to enjoy everything that’s BMW about the 118i, but can’t. Beneath the layers of modern automotive advancement, there’s only a sliver of BMW magic. No more straight sixers, just three-cylinders, a turbo and a super slick I-don’t-know-what-gear-I’m-in transmission.
I know it’s the base model. But then I’m reminded of the E46 318 and how much I loathed it. BMW 118i, even with its turbo, only further reminds me that I’m only getting part of the entire BMW performance package. It doesn’t aspire me aspire to own an M3, M4 or M5. And that’s what BMW cars used to do.
In short, the BMW 118i is like showing up to a dinner party claiming to be wearing Burberry. In reality, the only thing you’re wearing from Burberry is a belt.
Matthew’s take: The fight between BMW, Mercedes-Benz and to a certain degree, Volkswagen, has seen all three German carmakers duke it out to offer the most attractive entry-level model. In one corner you have the 1.6-litre A 180, in the other a Golf 1.4 TSI, and then comes this peppy Bavarian looker. Its 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine – the same unit you’ll find in an i8 – is much better refined than the older 1.6-litre Prince. Although less powerful, the three-potter lump has an aurally delightful note and performs much more sensibly than say, the A 250. If I had to pick, I’ll put my money down on the Bimmer any day. In fact, it may just be the last rear-wheel drive 1 Series, ever…
BMW 118i Sport
BMW 120i M Sport