Tony Bosworth’s BMW 116i car review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

In a Nutshell: BMW’s 116i offers a way into the range without spending a fortune, but it’s still far from inexpensive and does lack some bells and whistles.

Practical Motoring Says: Yes, it has the BMW badge and it’s beautifully made but the 116i is still quite expensive and lacks a large number of items you might reasonably expect to find at this price level.

I MUST ADMIT THE IDEA IS ATTRACTIVE; a BMW with all that promises in build quality and performance and handling, yet at a budget price, well by BMW standards…

What we have here is a five-door hatchback in the same size range as a Holden Cruze or Hyundai i30, yet it carries the blue and white roundel badge, a symbol of German engineering pride and high quality. In fairness, price-wise the BMW is nominally up against the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A180, and certainly the BMW feels the part with thick body metal, BMW-looks, and that expensive-sounding thunk when you close the doors.

From the front it certainly looks all BMW, and the side view is not bad either thanks to a nice crease of metal at door handle level and some scalloping of the side lower down, but at the back it does look like a Hyundai. Now, personally, don’t get me wrong, I like Hyundais, but if I’m paying BMW money – this car comes to market at $35,600 (plus ORC) – then I expect something that leaves me in no doubt it’s a BMW, even if we’re only talking about its backside.

Power in this model is courtesy of a twin-scroll turbocharged 1.6-litre engine (hence the 116i moniker – the initial 1 referring to the series number) driving to the rear wheels (it’s the only car in this size bracket that doesn’t drive the front wheels) through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. There is no manual option.

The BMW 116i can feel a little knobbly across rougher roads

It is a lovely car to drive with very good power pick-up and some decent performance if you push it. Unlike most other small-engined cars, the 116i never sounds overly strained. I love the rear-wheel drive, the sensation of being pushed through corners, and the level of grip is good. Though this is not a big car it feels like it has a real presence on the road, not least, I suspect because of the badge and it’s overall resemblance to much faster and more expensive BMWs.

The eight-speed gearbox is really good – smooth and refined, and always seems to find the right gear at the right time, and you can choose Sport or Eco driving modes, and you can switch between them on the move, which is excellent.

The ride is a bit noisy over bad road surfaces but overall the ride and handling package is pretty good with very little body roll and very high levels of grip. Steering is not perfect; there’s a floatiness in the straightahead position which demands constant small corrections on the motorway, though it does turn in quickly and precisely.

The cloth seats (Sensatec, BMW calls them) support well enough sideways, but lack lumbar support, and there’s no way to adjust it, so on any journey of an hour or more you will start to move your back around and fidget and get uncomfortable. Front seat passenger arm space is a bit cramped because of the relatively tall and wide centre console, so you’ll find you either have to have your right hand elbow on the console, or tucked down tight at your side; it’s annoying.

For the price the BMW 116i is a little light on for features

Cost-cutting measures abound. The sun visors are small, quite the smallest I’ve seen for a long while, the seat belt cut into my neck because it can’t be adjusted up and down. There is no window tint as standard – or at least none that is effective – and in the back while the rear bench is comfy enough – though it’s typically Germanic in its hardness – there are no rear air vents, no rear cup holders and no rear seat pockets. The insides of the rear doors are scalloped out to give more elbow room. Really, it would not be sensible to put more than two adults in the back, or three relatively small children, and where the kids’ water bottles would go I have no idea.

Boot space is decent at 360 litres and very impressive at 1200litres with the rear seat folded flat (there’s a 60/40 split) but the battery is there in the boot, which is surprising. The boot parcel shelf is one of the worst I’ve ever seen on any car. It’s cheap and flimsy and the leading edge is sharp, so sharp I cut myself twice and drew blood. I had to remove it completely to put the belts in for a child seat as there is no space between the seat and the shelf, and that involves tugging it free.

The 116i’s equipment list is not too shabby with cruise control with braking function, parking sensors at the rear, heat/sun protection glass, (apparently), rear window wiper (what hatch does not have that though?), personalization of some controls, leather steering wheel, and Bluetooth. What this car does lack though is any form of navigation system which I think is really poor at this price. And the sound system is middling, that’s about all, with six speakers.

Yes, it’s a very safe car, with five-star Euro ENCAP safety rating, thanks to standard ABS anti-lock brakes as part of the Dynamic Stability Control system which also includes cornering brake control, stability control and brake assist. There are front and rear headrests and six airbags, and dynamic braking lights, which means they automatically flash on and off quickly if emergency braking is called for.

BMW quote fuel consumption of 5.7L/100km but I recorded 8.7, which is a pretty big difference but which, frankly, is much more realistic in normal driving conditions. My test drive covered 713km of varied driving on motorways, city streets and rural roads.

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BMW 116i



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