BMW 116d Efficient Dynamics review

31 August 2012

BMW 116d Efficient Dynamics nose-on

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Good: Quality cabin, low CO2, agile and responsive
Hard-riding, very ugly and a bit cramped
Price: From £20,885
One of the most attractive aspects of sitting in the latest BMW 1-Series is that you can’t see the outside. I don’t think anyone makes paper bags big enough to go over the whole car, even if it is the smallest Beemer, so best wear one over your own head whenever you get out. Front on, those baggy-eyed headlamps suggest a pressing need for some beauty sleep.

The interior, by happy contrast, is as pleasant to the eyes as it is to the fingertips. It looks and feels like a 90% scale model of the new 3-Series cabin – the shapes and proportions are much the same even if the dimensions have been downsized and some of the details omitted.

BMW 116d Efficient Dynamics interior

The engine has also been shrunk in this Efficient Dynamics edition I’m driving. Whereas the standard 116d boasts a 2.0-litre lump under the bonnet, the ED version has a more slender 1.6 litres to call upon. The reduced displacement doesn’t actually make this 1,385kg hatchback any lighter, which presumably means we are dealing with much the same engine only with smaller holes carved in the block. And despite the downsizing, power and torque carry across from the standard 116d at 116bhp and 260Nm respectively, underscoring to what extent these figures are dictated by marketing rather than engineering concerns.

All new 1-Series cars come with a wide range of fuel-saving technologies, including stop-start and part-time ancillaries, which bestow a respectable 117g/km CO2 score on the standard 116d five-door hatch. The ED edition adds a 10mm suspension drop, eco tyres and slightly longer gearing to bring the CO2 score home at just 99g/km. That sub-100 score does of course earn a zero-cost tax disc and a free pardon from the dreaded London Congestion Charge.

BMW 116d Efficient Dynamics rear view

Like most modern BMWs, this 116d tries to combine its admirable level of emissions responsibility with the chance to have a little fun while nobody’s looking. The Dynamic Drive Control – a rocker switch down by the gearstick – lets you flip easily through three different driving modes – Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro – which affect the power, throttle response and steering weight.

While the differences between the three settings are noticeable, there’s not the same level of transformation you’ll find in the larger and more powerful 320d Efficient Dynamics I wrote about a while ago. While the 3-Series saloon really does seems to transmogrify from eco bunny to athletic greyhound under your fingertips, the best the 116d ED can manage is a sort of eager terrier at varying levels of yappiness. If it were my car, I think I’d wind up using Eco Pro around town and Sport everywhere else.

The ED’s whistle-stop zip to 62mph takes 10.5 seconds, a couple of tenths slower than the standard 116d. That’s due, presumably, to the longer gearing fitted to the rear differential, which does also confer a slightly lazy feel to the middle gears. All told there are six ratios to choose from, and as the short stick glides from slot to slot you do gain the impression that each cog must surely be swaddled in silk, such is the excellence of the throw.

BMW 116d Efficient Dynamics cockpit

Alas the clutch action doesn’t feel of quite the same quality – it’s more sackcloth than silk – but the steering, throttle action and brakes are better and more consistent. There’s no shortage of grip in fast corners even from the low-resistance tyres, and the lowered suspension keeps everything firmly upright around bends at the expense of a ribbed and bony ride over rough surfaces.

Wheels are 16-inch alloys, and the roster of standard equipment includes Bluetooth hands-free compatibility, a USB audio interface, front foglamps and a multifunction leather steering wheel.

A 6.5-inch central display is also included, jutting up from the top of the dashboard like a docked iPad, and it proves to be an excellent screen. It offers a bright, reflection-free image even on a sunny day like today, providing high contrast without needing to sit under an ugly sunshade.

BMW 116d Efficient Dynamics iDrive controller

The accompanying iDrive controller is also well built and easy to operate, while the on-screen menus seem reasonably intuitive. All in all, BMW’s multimedia setup is as good as such things currently get.

The base price of the five-door Efficient Dynamics edition is £20,885. My test vehicle has been kitted out with almost £7,000 worth of abandon, including £1,115 spent on some tactile leather upholstery, £1,995 on a multimedia upgrade that includes access to BMW’s remote assistance services, and £395 on sports seats – which offer an impressive combination of comfort and support.

Regular readers of this blog may recall I didn’t much like the 116d Efficient Dynamics on my first and brief acquaintance. Having climbed aboard for a second time, and spent a while as both driver and passenger, I think my initial reaction was hasty. This is a better car than I thought at first.

BMW 116d Efficient Dynamics front view

But it’s still not great. I don’t like the looks, the cabin feels tight and I’m forced to sit just a tad too high to feel properly at ease.

If you want a 99g/km premium hatch and like to drive around corners really quickly, the 116d ED may well be the right car for you. For everyone else, the Volvo V40 D2 is probably a better bet. And it’s a little bit cheaper too.

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