Big power in a small package: The BMW 118d Sport line drive review

In India, the size of your car defines your status. Or so most people think. Give an average Indian some spare cash to spend on a set of wheels, and they are most likely to opt for something big and flashy. A luxury sedan or an SUV maybe. In contrast, Europeans and Americans have a different take on choosing vehicles. They are evolved and practical souls who mostly buy vehicles for the purpose they need it for, and not to impress their neighbors. You could say, their cars define their personality.

Take the case of the premium compact hatchback segment for instance. It’s a tricky one. How do you persuade buyers to pay premium money for what is essentially a small car?  Undoubtedly, it is a tough job. But in Europe, premium compact hatchbacks are still a rage and cars like the BMW 1 Series have been best sellers. Now in a bid to replicate the same success in India (the land of small cars), BMW launched the 1 Series last year. But does it have what it takes to carve a niche in the Indian market? Or is the Indian customer likely to shell out big bucks for a small car? We took a hard look at the vehicle to find out.

We drove the BMW 118d for about 500 kms. over the last week and this compact luxury hatch packed quite a punch. It was agile, responsive and fun to drive, but more on that later.

In terms of design, the BMW 118d looks fuss-free at first glance. While its biggest competitor, the Mercedes A-Class turns heads with its aggressiveness, the 1 Series is relatively understated. It is almost as if it has nothing to prove. It has a longish but bulging bonnet, a slightly smaller grille, body wrapped double-round Xenon headlamps with daytime running LEDs and a three-section air intake that gives the front an instantly recognizable BMW character and a nice lurching stance. The side profile though slightly disproportionate, eventually grows on you. The sloping roofline and shoulder lines with the 16″ alloys give it a coupé-ish look and lend this Bimmer a distinct identity. Towards the back, the design has been kept simple and elegant, with extremely short overhangs, giving the car a taut and sporty stance. Overall, the design isn’t radical, but it impresses with its confidence. This is a car that is completely sure of itself, and in spite of its small size commands a second look.

The interior of the BMW 118d is a wonderful place to be in. Our test car was the Sport line, and had body hugging front seats upholstered in black Alacantara leather, with lumbar support, electronic adjustments and memory settings for the driver seat. Very chic and supremely comfortable.

There is a two zone automatic climate control with rear AC vents, an electric sunroof, a leather wrapped Sports multifunction steering wheel and a Start/Stop function. The steering controls include voice commands, media, phone functions and speed limit. The 118d Sport Line also has BMW’s on-board Driver Information System – the iDrive, which comes with a 16.5 cm display, bluetooth hands-free facility with USB interface, auxiliary input and rear Park Distance Control. The interface is intuitive, making it all very simple to operate for a hassle free experience. Another nice touch in the interiors is the illuminated vanity mirror for the front passengers. With a suspension and ride quality this good, you can easily put on your lipstick at high speeds, without the fear of smudging. The overall quality of material and finish on the inside is first rate, with fine brushed aluminum and wooden trims giving the interiors a sporty yet sophisticated look. With everything so refined, the only thing we could find a reason to complain about was the clunky opening mechanism of the central arm rest storage in the front.

The cabin in the 118d is airy and feels adequately roomy with ample storage space. The rear can seat two comfortably, and a third with a bit of a struggle, primarily due to the high transmission tunnel that leaves very little leg room for the occupant in the middle. But for a car this size, rear leg room is surprisingly good for two, and so is the boot space.

We drove the car around the Aravallis and that gave us a chance to experience the superb handling capabilities of the car. It felt planted, stable and the near perfect 50:50 weight distribution made this dynamic rear wheel drive hatch engaging and comfortable at the same time.

We also drove down to Hamoni Golf Camp in Gurgaon, which is India’s largest stand alone golf training facility. Although we did struggle to get a golf bag in the boot, but I reckon we were being a bit too ambitious. A 4.3 meter hatch is not a serious golfer’s car anyway.

Hamoni, by the way, happens to be one of the first golf facilities in India that truly democratizes the game by shedding its ‘elitist’ tag. Set up by the young enterprising duo of golf pro Manish Goyal and Ritwik Kejriwal, it makes the game accessible and puts it within everyone’s reach. Spread across 16-acres, Hamoni is home to eager beginners as well as exacting pros, with over 100 practice bays, 13 greens, 19 bunkers, a nice little cafe called ‘The Piano Man Cafe’ and a light gym area. So if you thought golf was not your thing, a visit to Hamoni may just change it all.

Back to the BMW 118d. The engine in this one is a 1995cc 4-cylinder diesel with BMW’s TwinPower Turbo technology, developing 143BHP and 320Nm of torque. The power is put to the ground via a first in class 8-speed automatic transmission. The manual transmission can be engaged with a flick of the wrist, for those times when you prefer full control while driving. The car hots 100 km/h in a brisk 8.6 seconds, and has a top speed of 212 km/h. It has four driving modes: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. Eco Pro gives you the most efficiency, by optimizing throttle responses and gearshifts for an environment friendly driving style. Comfort softens the suspension and makes the ride more comfortable. But the car is truly at home in the Sports modes. Switching to Sport from Comfort or Eco gives the car a noticeable thrust. The engine burbles, the suspension becomes taut and sharp, and the whole car pulsates with excitement; it can get highly addictive. Sports mode makes the throttle and transmission sharper, while Sports+ disengages traction control. The 118d has BMW’s traditional driving dynamics, which makes it one of the best handling hatches on the road. It has a superb transmission with super fast shifts, an engaging sport mode and an enjoyable manual mode. This is probably the most fun you can have in a hatchback.

All the fun doesn’t necessarily put too much pressure on the environment. The 1 Series has an automatic Start/Stop function, brake energy regeneration, and at 128 g/km, extremely low CO2 emissions as well. The 118d is extremely economical, with quoted figures of about 20 km/l. In terms of safety, the 1 Series comes with 8 airbags, ABS, Dynamic Traction Control and Stability Control, Cornering Brake Control and Run flat tires.

View the feature review of the BMW 118d Sport line here:

Prices for the 1 Series start at INR 20.9 lacs for the 116i petrol variant, whereas the diesel 118d ranges from INR 22.9 lacs to INR 29.9 lacs for the top of the line 118d Sports Plus. The car we tested was the 118d Sports line, which is priced at INR 25.9 lacs, and we feel it is really the variant to have. It strikes a balance between value, performance and economy.

Like all Bimmers, this one too feels solid and well built without any compromises whatsoever. The 118d is a car that you won’t get bored with in a hurry. But you have to be a kind of personality to suit this vehicle; and not the other way round. If you enjoy everyday driving in an urban environment and need a vehicle that gets you to work feeling happy, then this is it. If you like to push your set of wheels once in a while and have some fun spinning it around over the weekends, then this is it. If you are comfortable in your zone and not fretting over which cars your neighbors and peers are driving, then this is it.

The price may have kept a lot of Indian buyers away, as one can easily get a big flashy sedan or SUV for the same price. But then again, the 1 Series was never about size. It is about what it offers for its size. It is an out and out driver’s car, and everything that a premium compact hatchback should be. Don’t make up your mind about this one just yet, without getting behind the wheel. Go ahead and book a test drive in your city, and then decide.

Photography: Rohan Mahanta
Location: Hamoni Golf Camp, Gurgaon
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