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The BMW 116i is the latest entry level premium luxury hatchback from BMW, and takes over from the 118i as their most affordable car.
OneShift Editorial Team
OneShift Editorial Team
11 May 2021
Although it is no slouch, potential buyers should understand that the 116i is more of a lifestyle tool, than it is a performance car.
What we like:
Excellent standard equipment list with features from higher end cars. Excellent build quality for its segment. Wonderful setup for Singapore’s driving environment.
What we dislike:
Driver storage space for daily essentials like wallets and keys to be lacking. It was difficult to find a good spot to put my wallet. Prominent load-lip especially when using the expanded boot floor. Low headroom for rear passengers.

The BMW 116i is BMW’s latest entry level premium luxury hatchback, and takes over from the 118i as BMW’s most affordable car. While not necessarily a prestigious title to hold, it is nonetheless a very important mantle to take on. You see, as BMW’s most accessible car, it will no doubt serve as the gateway to the BMW experience for many first time BMW customers. Whether these customers are young and affluent first time car owners, or upgraders who are moving up from a bread and butter Japanese or Korean cars, the 116i will be their litmus test of whether or not the BMW ownership experience is something they want to be a part of, or if they are better off with another brand. In a place like Singapore where car choices are abundant, brand loyalty is low, and competition is fierce, the BMW 116i will have its work cut out as BMW’s new junior brand ambassador.

At first glance, the 116i already looks the part. Alongside the latest BMWs of all shapes and sizes at the Performance Motors car park, the 116i doesn’t look a step out of place, and oozes class in a youthful and sassy kind of way. The car features more muscular lines and an enlarged kidney grill at the front, which are features that are in line with BMW’s latest styling language. While the new grille has caused some controversy among consumers with some believing that the enlarged kidneys look like flared up nostrils, there is no disputing that the 1 series features the nicest looking rear among its closest competitors. Personally, I like the enlarged grilles, and I think they work well on the car.

The 116i has an edge to it, much like that “atas” looking pretty girl you meet, who can’t seem to speak a word of her mother tongue to save her life, but you still think she’s wonderful.

Apart from looking more striking, the 116i also looks more proportionate than its predecessor. The previous 1 series has this slung back look which made it look more like a roadster than a hatchback. The new 1 Series looks bigger, more proportionate, and provides a little more road presence than the previous car. BMW’s hatchback does sacrifice some of the sportiness that was prevalent in the previous generation 1 Series’ design, but makes up for it in class and refinement. It concentrates on looking more like a premium luxury hatchback rather than a performance hot hatch, a move that I think is well taken. That said, if you still fancy a sportier aesthetic, a simple upgrade to 18 inch wheels from the stock 17 inch wheels on the luxury variant would not cost too much, and would go a long way in sprucing up the car. Alternatively, the 1 Series is also available in M-sport trim on the higher specified 118i.

Interior And Tech

Packaging a premium luxury hatchback for the best possible experience while working on a budget (of sorts) that allows the 116i to fit in as the most affordable car in BMW’s lineup is no easy task. It not only has to be good, it also has to provide good value. When you climb into the cabin, the 116i seems to get this right, and the car is packed with premium features and technology that you find on the 116i’s larger and more expensive stablemates. When approaching the car with the key in my pocket, I was pleasantly surprised when the car automatically unlocked as I walked within proximity of the car. This is part of BMW’s Comfort Access. Opening the driver’s door, I was greeted by a simple but pleasant BMW logo that was illuminated onto the floor - a cheap but effective thrill when showing off your car in the office car park.

Despite being BMW’s entry level car, standard equipment includes BMW’s latest iDrive 7 on a 10.25” control display with voice control as part of BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional. This comes equipped with Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Beside it, you get another 10.25” full digital driver’s instrument display with variable centre display which can allow you to port over navigation details from your control display to your instrument cluster. While Audi’s virtual cockpit seems like a more logically laid out system, allows for a tad bit more customisation, and has long been the benchmark for digital instrument clusters, it can look a little bit bland and boring. In contrast, BMW's interface is not difficult to use by any measure, feels more vibrant, is prettier to look at, and seems to deliver information in a very seamless manner. For example, the navigation minimap that appears in the instrument cluster between the speedometer and rev counter has no clear borders - it sort of fades into the speedometer and rev counter on the left and right of it.

I found that while driving along, this absence of a border allowed my eyes to receive more information at a glance than in other cars. Other useful and nice-to-have technologies included as standard include Park Assist, Reverse Assist, Cruise Control, Front & Rear Parking Sensors. Wireless Phone Charger, USB A and C Cable Ports, and Electronic Seats. Active safety equipment in the 116i includes Lane Departure Warning, Lane Change Warning, Front Collision Warning with Brake Intervention, Rear Crossing Traffic Warning, Rear Collision Prevention, and Speed Limit Information. Despite this very impressive list of standard equipment on the 116i, perhaps my favourite feature is a frivolous one, and would be the ‘Illuminated Berlin’ interior ambient lights, which feature a variety of colours to choose from. When set to Lilac, the purple glow against the dark colored Dakota leather interior made me feel like a million bucks.

Overall, the 116i’s cabin is well appointed and features pretty much the same materials you’ll find in most of the BMW range. There are premium soft touch materials on all components in your eyeline, and build quality will meet expectations of what you’d expect from a premium luxury vehicle. Buttons and dials in the 116i are all well cushioned and pleasant to use. Though not an issue that is inherent to the 1 Series platform per se, the interior does feel a little bit unoriginal, with other cars in the BMW range featuring identical, if not very similar interior cabin features. While this makes the interior feel slightly underwhelming, it does simultaneously back up the point that being BMW’s entry level car, the 116i still presents the same quality and features found on its more premium siblings.


As a premium luxury hatchback, the 116i isn’t class leading, but more than manages to find parity among its competitors. To really appreciate the practicality aspect of the car, one need only look to its predecessor. Since its move to a front wheel drive platform, the 1 Series has managed to make do with a smaller engine bay, smaller transmission tunnel, and less rear mechanical components. The result is a larger cabin that is longer and wider, allowing for greater rear passenger comfort. At 175m, I enjoyed a decent amount of legroom, but headroom was slightly limited and my hair was just about brushing the ceiling. That said, I’d imagine that most rear passengers should feel quite comfortable in the rear, unless you are David Hasselhoff. The boot is also now larger by 20 litres, and is on par with the Mk7 Volkswagen Golf at 380 litres, and is larger than the Mercedes-Benz A-Class Hatchback by 10 litres. An adjustable boot floor also means that you’ll be able to get a deeper boot for some additional storage, and you get a 12V socket, bag hooks, and some hold-down straps for added practicality. The seats fold down in a 60:40 configuration, and the boot lid comes equipped with an electric tailgate as standard.

The Drive

The 116i is rated for 107 BHP and 190 Nm of torque, but the lively 1.5L 3 Cylinder Turbocharged engine (same rating as the MINI One Clubman), paired to a 7-Speed Dual Clutch Transmission makes the car feel like it has more power than it actually has - which is a good thing. The setup delivers more than adequate power for day to day driving around town, and on the expressways, feels more effortless than some 4 cylinder engines from other makers. I found that the car delivers the best blend of comfort and performance when cruising at speeds between 80km/h to 110km/h. Around start stop traffic, the 116i’s engine does rev quite readily and quite easily pushes past 3,500 RPM when at 60% power, which equates to the type of acceleration you’ll need to get through a discretionary right turn across 3 lanes of oncoming traffic. Although this sounds like quite a hard push, the engine seldom sounds unwilling, and there is enough torque to actually push you back into your seat ever so slightly. I found myself always assured that if I had needed more power and to push the car harder, there was still more power on tap that I had not yet utilised. At no point I feel that the engine was protesting and unwilling. Even if there were any protests, it would have been drowned out by the very well insulated cabin which completely blocked out the clattering noises commonly associated with 3 cylinder engines.

Although it is no slouch, potential buyers should understand that the 116i is more of a lifestyle tool, than it is a performance car. As such, you should not expect it to behave like one. The car presents a comfortable and refined ride, and does its best work through short bursts of overtaking speeds around town, and when cruising along the highway; and doing so with the reassuring weight and “grounded” feel that you’d expect from a BMW.

Interestingly, though endowed with less power, I found the tuned down specifications of the 116i more pleasurable to drive than the higher specification 138 BHP engine found in the 118i , X1 xDrive18, and the 218i Gran Coupe. The power delivery feels more calibrated in the 116i, and is delivered much more smoothly as compared to the higher powered engine, which has a tendency to “stab” the power in. This really is a case where less is more, and although the 107 BHP power plant in the 116i is arguably less fun to drive, it also feels more refined, and by extension, more classy to drive around.

Our Thoughts

The BMW 116i is a very well thought out product and manages to pull the right moves in exactly the right places. It was always going to be difficult to build a truly premium experience on a “budget”, but BMW have somehow handpicked the right combination of features and specifications that allow the 116i to be premium enough exactly where it matters. In its current setup, I believe the 116i will unsurprisingly, appeal to a younger audience - but not just any young audience. It will likely appeal to the junior elite - young, successful, and affluent (the kind that doesn’t have to worry about the price of their daily oatmilk upgrades at their favourite specialty coffee shop). These potential buyers may not be petrolheads or watch F1 on the weekends, but they will likely appreciate the 116i for the luxury and refinement that it brings, rather than how fast they can take it down the PIE. For these reasons, it seems destined that the 116i will help usher in the new generation of non-traditional BMW owners for the future, a future that may see BMW better represented as the Ultimate Luxury Machine instead of the Ultimate Driving Machine.

Credits: Words by David Foo. Photos by Clifford Chow

Cars in this article
BMW M Series 1 Series 116i Luxury (A) 2021

BMW M Series 1 Series 116i Luxury (A) 2021

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5 Door Hatch
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