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Driven: BMW 1-Series petrol

Driven January 2014

Driven: BMW 1-Series petrol

It would have been almost impossible to believe just a few years back that you’d be able to drive a luxury hatchback with a snazzy German badge on its hood right on our Indian roads. It’s time to unlearn what we’ve learnt in all these years that a car with a price tag of about Rs 30 lakh and has a star or blue and white roundel logo on its hood should be a conventional three-box car.

Welcome to the modern automotive world in India; where most luxury manufacturers have a small, fun-to-drive car in their stable, and the others who don’t, are getting one soon. After driving the diesel 1 series a couple of months back and pitting it against its staunch rival, the Merc A-Class, we now have the country’s only front-engined, rear-wheel drive hatchback in its petrol avatar, meet the BMW 116i.

The engine specifications on the 116i are rather average looking. It has a four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine. But to add some zest to that, BMW has paired a set of twin turbochargers. And with that combo, it puts out a good 136bhp and 220Nm of torque. If you think that’s not too much, then wait till we tell you that this one can hit 100kph from standstill in just 8.28 seconds. And that’s pretty quick.

The twin turbochargers make sure that you don’t have any lag when you demand for power from this little engine. Power is right there when you want it. No matter what the needle on the rev meter is pointing at. It’s a nice free revving engine that hits its redline only at 6500rpm.

This 1.6-litre petrol block is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Eight speeds for that engine sound a lot? Well, when it comes to ratios, more is always merrier. But is this gearbox quick and efficient? Yes it is. But it does tend to get little baffled sometimes with the number of ratios it needs to deal with. But overall, it’s pretty bang-on.

The higher number of ratios allows the engine to do lazy revs even at highway speeds. And that in turn translates into every drop of petrol being used optimally. The 116i goes 13.6km for every litre on the highway. And in the city, it’ll take in a litre of fossil fuel every 10.1km.

The ride quality of this, unlike other BMWs, is supple. It goes over potholes without being brash to your back. The 16-inch wheels compared to the 17-inch ones on the top-end diesel make the ride a tad bit better. But there’s a fair amount of body roll involved – much more than what you’d expect from a Beemer. It handles well. But if we had to compare the handling to the A-Class, we’d say the A, despite being front-wheel drive, feels much more confident and planted when you go in for high-speed corners.

The petrol 1 series is not available in multiple trim levels. There’s just one. So does that trim have all the bells and whistles that you’d need? Well, no is the answer. It doesn’t have electric or leather seats, it doesn’t have climate control (manual AC only), it doesn’t have the iDrive (only basic media system with single-line display), it doesn’t have a reverse camera, it doesn’t have auto dimming mirrors and it doesn’t have xenon headlamps. So yes, you might have figured out by now that it’s very basic when it comes to equipment. And that’s because the 116i is the cheapest 1 series you can buy. And by cheapest, we mean a full Rs 28 lakh (top-end diesel is a staggering Rs 41 lakh!). All prices are on-road, Mumbai.

The interior too isn’t very plush. It’s all black, which is a good thing, but the materials and fit and finish isn’t like the other Germans. And it looks very basic too.

So should you go in for the petrol 1 series? No. You’d be better off with the A-Class petrol that looks and drives better than this one and is much better equipped. But if you’re adamant that you want a rear-wheel drive car, head to the BeeM showroom.

The numbers

4 cyl, 1598cc, 136bhp, 220Nm, turbo petrol, 8A, RWD, 0-100kph: 8.28sec, 30-50kph: 1.86sec, 50-70kph: 2.28sec, 80-0kph: 24.85metres; 2.45sec, Rs 28 lakh (on-road, Mumbai)

The verdict
The 1 series is sorted car and does everything that you ask it do pretty well. The engine-gearbox combo in the petrol is pretty good too. But it’s not the most fun-to-drive car you expect it to be.

Agasti Kaulgi

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