BMW’s onesie

Road test: new BMW 114i engine option

We like looking at entry-level models here at Motor Writer.  There’s an honest, no-thrills element and it’s possible to enjoy the performance on the public highway without great risk to one’s licence or other people.  These low-to-mid specifications are also the bread-and-butter cars, those which will be sold in higher volumes and therefore most important for car makers to get right.  Thankfully, while downsizing and environmental awareness leads us to consider more humble engine displacements, manufacturers are becoming cleverer at squeezing increasing power and torque.

On test this week, we have BMW’s smallest car with the smallest engine option.  We know it isn’t going to set pulses racing but it does allow us to consider last year’s face-lift along with the new engine on offer.

Complex shape

One of the quickest ways to examine the exterior details of a car is to wash it – which I did prior to the photo shoot in the Peak District.  Apart from the cab-to-rear profile and obvious styling of the front grill, I was surprised to discover quite how complex the shape of the latest 1-Series actually is.  Not only has the sill line been changed to remove the upturned leading end, there are many other subtle details.  Note the lower sweep along the doors which flows up to allow the rear wheel-arch to swell; this also rises to meet the crisper swage line at the rear.  The front is particularly complex, with the lower section actually leaning forwards, broken by the angle across the grill.  83mm longer, 14mm wider and with an extra 30mm between the axles, the current 1-Series definitely has a more athletic stance than the first generation.

First impressions count for a great deal, so having to familiarise myself with the less-than-intuitive iDrive menu system (again) and the car flatly refusing to talk to any number of Apple devices didn’t make for the friendliest reception.  A few other design niggles didn’t help – from the off-set pedals to the poor all-round visibility (virtually non-existent through the rear screen with rear head restraints up). The forward view is a fairly plain dashboard with neat, clear dials and the information screen sitting atop like a freshly popped piece of toast.  With the grey headlining, the optional Coral Red Dakota leather trim on this car pleasingly lifts the otherwise dark interior.  While not actually sporty, this Sport specification has smart 17” wheels and various trim additions such as red facia inserts and red-stitched leather steering wheel which work well.

The drive itself is fine

In true BMW form, the drive itself is fine.  The performance of the 114i engine (actually 1,598cc) is exactly as one might expect – very smooth but lacking any punch; the turbocharging is very subtle.  On my way out to the Peak District, it took many revs and a rather long section of road to overtake a Honda Jazz… The mechanical operation of everything from the pedals to the gear lever is precise and good to the touch (although the pedals are a tad cramped for my size 10s).  Steering is somewhat heavy at low speeds but weights up rather nicely when on the move and through the bends.  It is easy to see how well the chassis is set-up even with limited power through the back wheels; the rearward-biased passenger cell helps keep the weight aft and there is a delicate, pleasing tendency toward over-steer.

Is this small-engined version enough to tempt someone up out of a non-premium brand or down from a thirstier model? I suspect not; anyone down-sizing would want a little more under their right foot to enjoy the car’s dynamics. Anyone coming the other way will wonder why a BMW carries the price premium given the limited interior space and poor performance. Choosing this small engine for environmental/tax reasons doesn’t stack-up either – it’s still band E (£125 per year).  The even-slower 114 diesel makes a little more sense from the road tax perspective; the 116d would seem to be the most sensible option for this car in terms of usability for anyone wishing to cover the miles.

BMW 114i Sport £19,760 (range starts at £18,160 for the 3-door ES).  Options on this car total £3,385, including £1,115 Coral Red Dakota leather seats, £515 metallic paint, £650 interior comfort pack.

Power: 102 hp, torque: 180 Nm, emissions: 132 g/km CO2 (band E), 0-62 mph: 11.2 secs.

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