BMW 116d Sport 3dr Ambleside
BMW 116d Sport 3dr
Its looks still polarise opinion, but the 1-Series has been a massive success. Whether you appreciate its styling or not, there’s no denying its long bonnet, sculpted flanks and unusual angles are instantly recognisable. It also seems less like a conventional family hatch than the A3.
The sporty BMW is undoubtedly the more modern car, and its 17-inch alloys look great. Tight shutlines give the perception of excellent build, and this solid feel continues on the inside. Admittedly, the materials are not as tactile as those in the Audi, but there’s no faulting their quality.
A low-slung seating position, small three- spoke steering wheel and perfectly placed controls mean the cabin wraps around the driver, making you feel instantly at home. But there isn’t a great deal of interior storage – the £825 Comfort package includes a cup-holder behind the gearlever and front seat nets – and in this respect, the Audi is the more practical choice.
This is most obvious in the back, where there is 50mm less legroom, but it’s from the driver’s seat that the 116d really impresses. It was built to provide the famous BMW driving experience rather than space, and the base diesel doesn’t disappoint.
Even over a short distance, it’s immediately obvious that the 1-Series is crisper than the A3. Body control is tighter and the steering, while heavier, offers far more feedback. The rear-wheel-drive chassis delivers more than enough traction and the BMW grips without fuss in corners – even at speeds that would make the Audi’s front tyres squirm in protest before letting the nose push wide.
The 1-Series also has a firmer brake pedal, and its six-speed box boasts a more accurate shift action. Around town and on broken surfaces the ride is firm, though, and the suspension can thump over bumps. But this isn’t enough to stop the 116d from being the more refined of the pair.
The reason lies under the bonnet: the more modern BMW engine is noticeably smoother at start-up, and picks up eagerly through the rev range. Plus, despite long gearing, it’s reasonably flexible. The 116d did 0-60mph half a second faster than the TDIe and it responds well in third and fourth gears.
Crucially, with the benefit of an extra ratio, it accelerates better in fifth than its five-speed rival – and its engine needs only 1,900rpm to cruise at 70mph in top gear The BMW also goes further with its fuel-saving measures. In common with all four-cylinder 1-Series units, the 116d has a stop/start set-up, and it works really well.
Come to a halt, select neutral, raise the clutch and the engine stops. Press the clutch to engage a gear and the motor instantly fires up again. For now, at least, the Audi can’t match this technology – but is the more complicated 116d a better choice?