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Used Car Review: 2013 BMW 116i 5-Door

A rear-wheel drive hatchback? Yes, please!

BMW’s 1-Series has grown up since its 2006 introduction. Now a more rounded hatchback, it appeals to a far wider audience than its forebear. Gone are the divisive styling cues, the somewhat iffy handling. The second-generation, the F20 series, is bigger, more comfortable, more spacious, safer and offers even more fuel-efficient powerplants with more performance sizzle. It is premium on the cheap – without compromising on quality, reliability and driver appeal nor brand sexiness.

And this particular one?

Slick. Sexy. And, super charming. This littlest model in BMW’s F20 range might be one of the two best picks of the whole lot. It just makes sense when you tick off the list of ‘wants’ for a hatchback: comfort; spaciousness; safety; performance and fuel-efficiency; quality; reliability; and, value for money. Without heading north of R200,000 for a five or six year old premium-badged car, the 116i represents all the hallmarks that make this second-generation model stand out from its hatchback counterparts for a bit less on the wallet. However, it doesn’t compromise on the quality of the driving experience.

The finish of the 116i is typically BMW. Fantastic quality paintwork; great suspension and shock absorber components; trick engine that’s relatively inexpensive to maintain; easy to fiddle with ‘consumable’ parts under the bonnet without needing to proffer your kidney to a mechanic for a light bulb swap; and, that lauded 50:50 weight distribution. The interior materials are top notch as you’d expect from the Bavarians, with a blend of high-quality black plastics and silver accents that lift the cabin’s ambience. It follows a minimalist approach, with just a two dials on the dashboard and a media interface propped on top. This unit is controlled by the iDrive system on centre tunnel, and it is an intuitive system to get to grips with. It has its quirks and foibles, but after playing with the menus, buttons and knobs during a drive, they all fell to hand easily and intuitively thereafter. The only fault would be that the volume control dial is located on the dashboard, far away from where your left hand is when you operate the iDrive…

With a multifunction steering wheel with audio controls and Speed Limiter function on the steering wheel, the wide-rimmed wheel has a weight that takes a little getting used to if you’re unfamiliar with BMWs. Meaty is best used to describe it; perfect weighting to feel the road beneath the tyres without vibrating every pebble to the driver’s palms.

Why buy a car with a manual gearbox? Because, BMW. However many automatic transmission versions there are out, this manual gearbox in the 116i makes the driving experience all the more engaging. Fun to drive? You bet. Of course, being stuck in traffic for 1-hour plus a day on your work commute might give you an unwanted massive left leg calf muscle, but the reward when the road clears more than makes up for it. The notchiness in this particular car’s gearbox is smooth, precise and very rewarding to swap cogs when under acceleration.

Accident-free and in excellent exterior condition, there’s not a Rand to be spent on the exterior. The tyres – Bridgestone Turanza 16-inch Run-Flat tyres – are nearly new and it has undergone a full major service less than 10,000km ago with a minor engine oil service due in some 13,000km (more on that a bit later).

A vehicle that drives as smoothly as this one, without any creaks or squeaks, is very much worth placing at the top of your shopping list.

What to look out for on BMW 116is’ and 1-Series’ in general?

The list of common problems is relatively short for such a complex drivetrain. This is called the Prince engine, a 1.6-litre turbocharged unit shared by Peugeot, Citroen and BMW. It is also found in Mercedes-Benz as a 180-badged model’s powerplant.

Obviously, a diagnostics scan at your respected workshop will flash up any major concerns. Apart from an AA/Dekra 101-point roadworthy inspection, things to look out for on the 116i model is the condition battery, its rear differential for any oil leaks, and it would be advisable to drive it for about 30 minutes on a highway and check the oil level thereafter. Asking about history on its oil consumption will also throw up any warning flags, but this can also be checked through its service history.

As grippy as the key fob is in your hand, it also holds the vehicle’s service history data. A BMW agent is able to check this information for you, and perhaps even print you a copy of it – if they’re so kind as to be helpful…

The timing chains on these models are usually replaced at 80,000 to 90,000km mark. These are high-wear items that you can’t ignore. The car’s onboard computer indicates service intervals. With about 12,000km to go until this car’s next service, and having already completed 13,000km, I’d take it for an oil change. To me, engine oil is vitally important to keep fluid and workable for the engine’s life. An oil change should cost no more than R1,000 and I’d suggest spending that money to ensure the engine runs at its best.

Make certain that the engine is smooth, no uneven blips in idling sound and most certainly no gruffness under acceleration at low RPM. If the engine oil level is below half, a simple 500ml top-up of 5W-40 will cure that. If uneven idling persists, a further inspection is required.

What should I be paying for this BMW 1-Series?

For a decent one, in this fantastic condition, prices start at R175,000 mark and can reach as high as R229,990. The price will increase with the different specifications and mileage. This particular one is available at R185,900 with less than 98,000km on the odometer. It is incredibly clean, neat and a blast to drive.

The most popular versions are the base model, as is the case with this one. Buyers can also keep their eyes out for the M Sport kit with its bigger wheels and flashy styling. There’s an Urban Line too, with Bluetooth streaming and USB connectivity. I’d opt for the 116i in standard trim with the 16inch wheels. It offers the most comfortable and composed driving habits. The M Sport package imbues the car with a much firmer rider that can make longer journeys and daily commuting tiresome.

Which other 1-Series models should I consider?

The only reason to look higher up the model line-up is for meatier powerplants. If you’re stuck in traffic for 90 percent of your driving, there’s no need for a more powerful engine that consumes far more fuel. The 120d diesel is very popular model, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one in a similar condition as a fantastic 116i at the same price point. Make no mistake, this isn’t an “entry-level” model: the 1-Series might be the starting point for BMW buyers, but it ofer premium quality, materials and equipment as standard.

What are the alternative choices?

The much-hyped Volkswagen Golf is a firm favourite with this preferred audience, the Mazda 3, a sibling rivalry exists between MINI with its Cooper variants, Ford’s likeable Focus, and the Audi A3. Which would be a real contender for your money? The Audi A3 Sportback 1.4 TSI can be found at he same price point, but expect ages to be older and mileages far higher. A Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI Comfortline would be a good buy too – with its resale value and quality, but the BMW still shines brighter thanks to its rear wheel-drive handling traits and premium finishes. For a slightly quirky take on the subject, consider the Peugeot 308 and the Renault Megane: both are equipped with strong engines and offer fun-to-drive dynamics.

Conclusion

There’s no other premium hatchback that delivers the same driving dynamics as the BMW at this price point. With a careful previous owner, this car is in fantastic condition and it drives exactly like you’d expect: classy, sporty and rewarding. This is the car to have for less than R200,000.

This vehicle is currently available for sale from A1 Auto-1 in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. You can contact me directly at 083 452 6892 (also on WhatsApp) or evanrothman@gmail.com to arrange to test drive and purchase this vehicle, or by contacting them directly at 041 368 8608. You may also contact their salesperson Rodney (who helped facilitate the test of this beautiful vehicle) at 082 400 0501 (also on WhatsApp) and rodney@a1auto1.co.za.

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