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TopGear reviews the BMW 118d

Driven September 2013

TopGear reviews the BMW 118d

It is cause for celebration. You see, the number of hatchbacks in the world that send power only to the rear wheels is, er, one. The BMW 1. And the thought does sound appealing to have a short, compact car powered by a sprightly engine sending power only to the rear. The engine in the 118d is sprightly. It makes 143bhp and displaces 2 litres of space in the engine bay. India will get the eight-speed automatic, but the car I got here is a six-speed manual.  Obviously, it’s more fun, and also shows up all the glitches in the engine. On level ground, this diesel seems to have zero turbo lag. But when climbing the hills that adorn the Austrian-German border, you realise the engine needs to be at 2,000rpm to get a proper go while climbing bends.

In India, however, the auto box will do all the work for you. Dynamically, the 118d leaves no room for complaint. On the Autobahn, the cabin is all quiet and refined at speeds of up to 160kph. And around corners, it will need a lot from you to reach this car’s tyre-screeching limits.

Is it better on the road than the front-wheel drive A-class? We will have to wait till it comes to India, for that. Where the A-class certainly trumps the 1 is in looks. The 1 isn't a great piece of external design, and the cabin is nowhere close to the Merc’s SLS-inspired one. Even the top-of-the-line Sport trim doesn’t do much to the interiors.

The rear seats are spacious and comfortable. But thanks to rear wheel drive and a high door sill, getting in and out of the back seats is a pain. However, the A loses some boot space due to that spare wheel. No such problems with the 1 thanks to run-flat tyres.

The 1, at least in this form, is not the ultimate driving machine like the previous gen 3-series, or even the current X1. The steering feel doesn’t match, but this hatch can still be quite a corner carver if it needs to  be. Ride quality is rather good and so are the brakes.

Will it measure up to the A? And the forthcoming Audi A3? The A definitely has a better feel-good factor about it. And the A3 will be a proper-booted sedan. What the 1 will offer is a significantly lower price than the fully-imported A-class. With BMW deciding to assemble the car in their plant in Chennai, we can expect a well-equipped 1 to be about Rs 25 lakh or so on the road.

Guess Merc’s excuse of not being able to meet global demand for the A is not going to cut for long. It has the early advantage, but the lower price of the 1 is going to make it a mighty factor in India.

The verdict
An agile, fun car for those who think smaller is better. Will be cheaper than Merc A, too.

Sriram Narayanan

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