BMW 118d REVIEW
It’s the second-cheapest model in BMW Australia’s line-up, but at $42,170 the diesel-powered 118d wears a hefty pricetag for what is, in essence, a compact hatchback.
But while it might be comparatively expensive, and a little spartan inside, it’s money well spent.
The quality of the smallest Beemer loses nothing to its bigger stablemates - it's superb. The chassis too is both competent and entertaining.
Not only that, boasting a raft of efficiency-boosting hardware, the 118d is a real fuel-sipper.
The 118d launched in Australia in December 2009 as a new addition to the 1 Series range. It was also one of the many models released last year as part of BMW’s push to expand its EfficientDynamics stable – vehicles that feature improved fuel economy without compromising performance.
As such the greatest differences are under the skin, with powertrain and drivetrain refinements the biggest contributors to the 118d’s claimed 4.5 l/100km fuel economy figure. The rest of the package is familiar 1 Series fare.
What’s the appeal?
A camel-like ability to go without fuel is the 118d’s raison d’etre, but rear-wheel drive dynamics and BMW’s reputation for solid build quality also makes the 118d an attractive choice.
What features does it have?
As the entry-level diesel in BMW’s smallest (and cheapest) model range, the 118d is, admittedly, relatively spartan on the inside.
That said, there are the usual mod-cons that you’d expect of a German manufacturer. Things like foglights, power windows, power mirrors, rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, a trip computer, push-button ignition and multi-function steering wheel controls are standard on the 118d.
Our loaner was equipped with the optional Executive Package, which brings a USB auxillary input for the audio system (allowing iPods and the like to be operated through the car’s headunit), Bluetooth connectivity for mobile phones, brushed alloy trim and Boston leather upholstery on the seats and door cards.
The tester also came fitted with a sunroof, however cruise control and electric seats are conspicuously absent from the standard equipment list. Two different satellite navigation systems are available as options.
What’s under the bonnet?
A turbocharged 2.0 litre four-cylinder diesel sits between the 118d’s front wheels, and is largely the same engine as that fitted to the 123d. Compared to the 123d’s engine, the 118d’s motor has a smaller turbocharger and a different ECU tune, favouring fuel efficiency over power output.
Features such as regenerative braking, electric power steering and switchable accessories reduce drag on the engine, allowing the 118d to maximize its engine output.
A start-stop system (only available on manual-equipped cars) cuts fuel consumption during urban driving.
However, with 105kW and 300Nm it’s no limp-wristed tree-hugger. Peak power arrives at 4000rpm, but it’s the torque figure that’s most impressive. Maximum torque is available from just 1750rpm, giving the 118d strong low-down grunt.
BMW claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 9.0 seconds, with top speed capped at 210km/h.
Two gearboxes are offered, a six-speed manual or a six-speed tiptronic automatic.
The manual also comes with a recommended gear position indicator, which displays what gear the driver should select for best efficiency. Our tester was equipped with the manual.
Uniquely for a small hatchback, the 118d is rear-wheel drive. MacPherson struts hold up the front of the car, with a multi-link suspension at the rear. Disc brakes are fitted to each corner.
How does it drive?
BMW bills the 1 Series five-door not as a hatchback, but a sports hatch. It may sound a bit pretentious, however don’t dismiss it as simple marketing guff: the 118d has a definite dynamic edge over other hatches.
Key to its driver-centric appeal is its RWD layout. It may compromise interior packaging (we’ll get to that later), but the advantage of rear-wheel drive is evident as soon as you tip the 118d into a corner.
The chassis balance is pretty close to neutral, but with a slight preference for understeer. But feed in some throttle, wait for boost to swell and the nose can quickly be tightened into the corner – a surprising feat for an entry-level, diesel-powered hatchback.
But such loutish behaviour isn’t becoming of a premium small car, no matter how entertaining. More important is the 118d’s impressive level of grip and its ability to deftly wend its way through corners at speeds that would have most front-drivers understeering wide.
Indeed, the engine’s substantial torque is more than capable of bringing the little 1 Series to speed quickly, and the engine is a willing revver. Like all diesels it quickly runs out of steam about 1000rpm short of redline, but the meaty lower end of the powerband is where the action is anyway.
The 118d’s steering is nicely weighted but a little short on feedback. That said, the wheel itself is a small-diametre unit that’s a pleasure to hold, and with adjustment for both tilt and reach it’s easy to place it in the ideal position.
As is typical of BMW’s manual transmissions the gearshift action of the 118d is tight, strongly-sprung and a bit notchy. The clutch pedal is light and pedal spacing is good, even though the large gearbox tunnel makes for a slightly cramped footwell.
As a sporty hatch, the 118d’s ride leans more towards ‘stiff’ than ‘luxurious’. The 16-inch run-flat tyres are a touch firmer than regular non-runflat rubber, and the suspension tune can be a little firm.
The suspension damping absorbs potholes easily enough, and there’s more than enough compliance to deal with the average Aussie road. Just be prepared to put up with the odd thump over tram tracks, speed humps and expansion gaps.
In urban driving the most noticeable part of the drive experience is the sound… or rather the lack of it. The start-stop system shuts down the engine when the 118d is at a standstill (or coasting to a stop), as long as the clutch pedal is out and the gearbox in neutral.
It doesn’t interrupt the operation of the lights, stereo or ventilation system, but having the (rather clattery) diesel abruptly stop and envelop the cabin in silence is an eerie feeling. You do get used to it though, and the tradeoff is a marked reduction in urban fuel consumption.
What did our passengers think?
Interior space isn’t exactly plentiful in the 1 Series, largely because of the packaging compromises necessitated by its RWD platform.
While its FWD competitors have their engine, gearbox and driveline neatly confined to the enginebay, the 1 Series must find room for a gearbox, tailshaft, rear differential and rear driveshafts beneath the cabin floor.
Given the car’s compact dimensions, passenger space suffers as a result.
The front seats are fine (the window controls are a bit too close to the elbow, though), but rear seat legroom and headroom is at a premium.
The centre seat is near-on useless too – a high and wide transmission tunnel severely limits legroom, and there’s no way three adults – of any size – will fit across the rear bench. The rear of the centre console also makes it hard to clamber over the transmission tunnel.
The seats themselves are fairly comfortable on long drives, but flat cushions and a lack of side bolstering means they won’t hold you in place in tight corners.
It is worth noting, however, that the standard fabric-clad seats feature deeper side bolstering, as do the optional sports leather seats.
Interior quality and feel
It’s overwhelmingly dark inside the 118d’s cabin, with black predominating. The optional Boston leather upholstery fitted to our test car was also black, but thankfully three other leather hues and five different fabric colours are available.
In certain trim combinations, the black lower dash plastics and door cards can be specified in beige tones, while eight different trim materials – including two types of wood – can be optioned.
The materials feel premium to the touch, and it’s hard to fault the build quality of the 118d. It may be the entry-level BMW, but that doesn’t mean it feels cheap.
There are some minor annoyances, like how the row of identically-sized stereo buttons is hard to navigate by feel and how the dash-top cubby hole is just a bit too far out of reach, but on the whole the 118d’s cabin is both well-engineered and nicely-presented.
Boot space in the hatch measures a respectable 330 litres with the rear seats up, with no suspension tower intrusion and a boot floor that’s appreciably deep – but not entirely flat.
The rear seatbacks fold flush with the boot floor, making up to 1150 litres of storage space available.
There’s also a netted pocket in the boot area for small or loose items, and door pockets on both front and rear doors.
There’s a small tray in the fold-down armrest between the front seats and a dash-top storage bin, but there are no cupholders provided for the rear seats.
How safe is it?
As part of its standard equipment, the 118d is equipped with stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist and BMW’s cornering brake control system.
Front seat occupants are protected by front and side airbags, while full-length airbags cover both rows. All seats are fitted with three-point seatbelts, and ISOFIX child seat points are standard.
The BMW 1 Series has earned a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating.
Fuel consumption and green rating
BMW says the 118d will consume just 4.5 l/100km on the combined cycle, but during our time with the car we saw an average of 6.4 l/100km. The discrepancy is sizable, but may be explained by the mostly urban driving that our tester was subjected to.
Our highway fuel consumption figures averaged just under 4.0 l/100km, and more time spent out of the suburbs and city would have seen our average fall.
The government’s Green Vehicle Guide scores the 118d 8.8 stars out of 10 for greenhouse emissions (it emits 119g/km of CO2), while its air pollution rating comes in at 6 out of 10.
How does it compare?
The 118d’s competitors are many and varied, and include the Audi A3 1.9 TDI e, Alfa 147 1.9 JTD and the Volkswagen 103 TDI, but also the MINI Cooper D – the only other diesel small car to feature start-stop technology.
The Cooper D bests the 118d’s fuel economy figure and the Audi equals it, but neither can come close to challenging the BMW’s handling prowess.
BMW’s fuel-sipping hatchback may be the most expensive of the lot, but it’s the one with the most lasting appeal.
The 118d comes with a three-year unlimited kilometre vehicle warranty, with a three-year paint warranty and 12-year bodywork warranty.
A complimentary three-year roadside assistance subscriptions is also offered.
A total of three solid and seven metallic exterior colours are offered, and include the following colours:
Alpine White, Black, Crimson Red, Black Sapphire, Bluewater (light blue), Deep Sea Blue (dark blue), Le Mans Blue, Montego Blue, Space Grey and Titanium Silver.
The 2010 BMW 118d manual retails for $42,170 before on-road costs, or $44,370 if equipped with the six-speed automatic.
It’s not the fastest diesel hatch around, nor is it the most spacious or the thriftiest – but there is enough dynamic excellence to make it a case of 'love at first drive'.
With its old-school RWD layout and superb suspension the 118d is a proper driver’s car, which makes it something of an anomaly in the diesel hatch landscape. No front-drive econobox can touch it around a twisting road.
We like it because it’s different, we like it because it handles well and we like it because of its excellent build quality. But most of all we like the 118d because it proves that it’s entirely possible to have fun while driving a fuel-efficient car.