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2020 BMW 118i Review - CarConversation
Overall
Ride, Handling & Performance
Economy
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
BMW, we need to talk. No matter how much you say you’re the same, we both know, you’ve changed.
 
Now before anyone has a go, of course, change is a necessary part of life and adapting to changing circumstances is important in the fickle modern economy. But, not all changes are for the better.
 
That’s not the most uplifting thought to turn the conversation to BMW’s new 1 Series. We’ve known for a while the new-generation hatch would abandon rear-wheel drive and switch to a front-wheel drive architecture, though it still doesn’t sound right.
 
It’s hard to escape the feeling the brand has sold out after decades of talking up the virtues of rear-wheel drive. No matter how BMW’s marketing department spun the change, the Bavarian brand's hardcore enthusiasts (like us) were always going to be hostile towards the move.
 
Strangely, by changing the driving wheels, BMW has given away the selling point that differentiated the 1 Series from its rivals.
 
Priced from $42,990 plus on-roads, the 118i isn't just the entry point to the new 1 Series, it’s the car that opens BMW’s local range.
 
Putting the notion of badge credibility to one side, the point of owning a BMW was the promise of a rewarding drive. So we’ll start with that.
 
After the first few kilometres, it’s obvious the drivetrain change has dramatically altered the driving experience which was expected.
 
Compared to the previous 1 Series, the new models lacks the composure and dynamic competence that’s synonymous with the badge.
 
The car feels ridged enough, but it’s heavier at the front with steering that is void of any feeling. It handles like plenty of other front-wheel drive hatchbacks, which makes us ponder, what’s the point?
 
Surprisingly, the three-cylinder engine adds some much-needed character to the package, there’s enough shove here to get you moving and it makes a satisfying noise.
 
Unfortunately, the engine is often let down by the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that exhibits an annoying level of judder at lower speeds. It works perfectly well at higher speeds but during city driving, it’s not as competent as a traditional torque converter. The range-topping M135i xDrive does get a regular eight-speed automatic which should have also been deployed in the base car.
 
It’s also worth mentioning the 1 Series now features the ARB technology from the i3 which is designed to improve traction when pulling away, cornering or driving in the wet. Due to the dry weather during our drive, we were unable to put it to the test.
 
Thankfully, the 118i offers a refined cabin, very little noise infiltrates the cabin which reminds us we are reviewing a car from the premium end of the market.
 
It’s very hard not to walk away from the driving experience disappointed. The 118i doesn’t deliver the dynamically engaging drive of older 1 Series models. Any reviewer claiming otherwise is talking bollocks.
 
Packaging is where the new 1 Series offers more. Although the car is 5mm shorter with 20mm cut from the wheelbase, there’s noticeably more interior space. BMW says rear passengers get an extra 33mm of legroom and 13mm more elbow room.
 
Behind the rear seats, buyers will find an extra 20 litres of boot space for a total of 380L which can be increased to 1200L with the rear seat folded down. So it does offer a significant increase in practicality.
 
The exterior doesn’t set any new benchmarks, however, the cabin gets all of the brand’s latest connectivity and infotainment tech including Live Cockpit Professional. The system brings two 10.25-inch screens running the latest OS7.0 platform and Intelligent Personal Assistant. Wireless Apple CarPlay is also part of the deal. It’s all very intuitive and simple to master.
 
Looking around the interior, it doesn’t feel like a base model, it looks very much like the rest of BMW’s newer cars. All the gadgets from far more expensive models are here which is great for an entry model. It’s not so great for those forking out big dollars on models higher up the BMW food chain.
 
The M Sport Package is included as standard which brings a leather-wrapped M Sport steering wheel, sport seats trimmed in a cloth and Sensatec mix, and a BMW Individual Anthracite headliner. These additions make the car feel more expensive than it is.
 
Safety is also well sorted with a comprehensive list of kit that includes front and rear autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane change warning, rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors, a rear-view camera and an excellent head-up display. Local crash testing firm ANCAP has awarded the 1 Series a five-star safety rating.
 
For a premium model, maintenance costs are competitive. Buyers can opt for a basic service plan for $1465 that covers the first five years or 80,000km of ownership. There’s also the option of a plus service plan that costs $3790 and extends the service coverage to include brake pad and brake disc replacement and wiper blade rubbers.
 
BMW continues to offer a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Rival brand Lexus gives buyers four-year coverage, while Mercedes-Benz recently moved to a five-year warranty.
 
While BMW’s change in philosophy will have its detractors in the enthusiast community, the wider market is unlikely to notice or care. This is a timely reminder enthusiasts are small in number.
 
While huge strides have been made in the area of packaging, the lack of driver engagement and a substandard transmission are not worth the compromise. Chances are if packaging is important, you're a sensible person and a BMW showroom probably isn't your natural habitat.  
 
Buyers wanting a BMW hatch that drives like a BMW are best advised to find a deal on a previous generation model like the 125i. It offers a significantly sportier drive with the ride and handling traits the brand is famous for.
 
Please note: Our tester was not a BMW press car.
 
2020 BMW 118i Specifications
 
Price from $42,990 plus on-road costs Engine 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power 103kW @ 4200-6500rpm Torque 220Nm 1480-4600rpm Transmission seven-speed dual-clutch automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 5.9L/100km Tank Capacity 42L Length 4319mm Width 1799mm Height 1434mm Wheelbase 2670mm Kerb Weight 1290kg Performance 0-100km/h 8.5 seconds Turning Circle 11.4m Service Intervals Condition Based Warranty three-year/unlimited kilometre