Luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes have been criticised from time to time for ‘lowering’ their standards when making entry-level models. Is this one of them?
Admittedly, some earlier hatchback models did seem to miss the premium traits of badges they represent. Noisy engines, plasticky interiors and questionable build quality. But in recent years, these base model cars have since gotten better. Much better.
For the longest time, the Volkswagen Golf has been the benchmark for hatchbacks, and if our impressive drive in the new Golf Mk8 was anything to go by, I’d say it still holds the crown, for now.
You see, BMW has been trying to change that with the 1 Series, and with every generation they release, the car just goes from strength to strength.
Take this base 116i for example. From its handsome exterior to the well-appointed interior and most importantly, its smooth and big-car driving experience, the 116i is anything but basic.
Check out this spec sheet: For safety and convenience, you get Parking Assistant (Includes Reversing Assistant, Rearview camera), Park Distance Control (PDC) front and rear, BMW Connected Package Professional - Concierge Services, Intelligent emergency call, Real-Time Traffic Information, Remote Services, TeleServices, Intelligent Personal Assistant, Remote Software Upgrade, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto!
On the inside, you get two large 10.25-inch instrument and central displays with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, interior ambient lighting, BMW's digital key, electric seat adjustment electric with memory function and the list goes on.
Basic? Nope. Doesn’t sound basic to me at all.
Fire the 116i up and the 3-cylinder 1.5-litre TwinPower Turbocharged unit emits a low engine hum, but otherwise remains quiet even at regular road speeds. Did BMW improve the sound insulation? Or did their B38 get more refined? Either way, it’s starting to feel like the premium car is supposed to be.
With 107 bhp and 190 Nm of torque, the 116i performs rather admirably for regular transport duties. The turbocharged unit makes the drive punchy, although it will run out of zest quite quickly. So no, it’s no sports car and wasn’t meant to be one anyway.
But the power is always within reach, and that accessible juice does mean that you can exploit the balanced chassis even more. The 225/45R17 Hankook Ventus S1 evo3 tyres are pretty grippy and the steering feel on the 116i is creamy enough for you to know what the car is up to around the bends.
I took the 116i to a few of my favourite roads, after some time, I was really beginning to enjoy the car, a lot! The 7-speed DCT is a very quick shifter too and you never feel like it’s in the wrong gear. The overall package is just brilliant.
Having driven the Golf 8 pretty much back to back, I’d have to say that the two cars come pretty close. As a benchmark, the Volkswagen still holds its place. It’s really a lovely steer and anyone can appreciate the drive in one.
But as a package, the BMW oozes more street cred and has a bit more kit going for it, plus it has an interior that’s just easier to navigate (more on that in my Golf article soon). So yes, both are great cars, and no, don’t ask me which I’d choose, because I still haven’t made up my mind.