Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Test Drive - The BMW 116d Review

 
The 1 series is no news for me, I've tested it almost immediately after release and I've tested only diesel's to date (the problem of being Portuguese).
Now all the test's I've done so far indicated the there was something excellent and something odd to the 1series (ok, besides the horrible looks). However, most tests conducted were just too quick to actually figure everything out. The 116D and 118D always seemed strange somehow.
The chassis was evidently easy to figure out, and it's very good. But there was something else I didn't quite like and I've always classified it to have a bad driving position.

This time I've been testing a 116D with 81000km on the clock. And with this mileage, first impressions were very good. The car feels tight and firmly put together, but then again, it's a beemer...I wasn't expecting anything less. It's however an entry level beemer and the decorative plastics imitating aluminium feel cheap. They feel however as cheap now as they did back when the car was built...and that's good.
The engine feels torky enough to move without falling asleep, but clearly lacks punch, and although it does get to 220km/h, it takes forever to get there after the 180km/h mark. Still, what makes me hate the engine the most is the chassis brilliance.
You see, this little beemer is very agile and the chassis is very well balanced. It is incisive and light in moving the nose into the bends, requires very little lift-off to point the car into apex (even on the tightest bends), and though the engine has little grunt, it does allow enough torque to let of the rear in a poised and plenty feedback manner.... it's soooo easy to grab the sweet-spot and just stay there for the day while you cook tires and laugh your pants out. To do this, of course, you need to turn off the EXCESSIVELY intrusive and annoying Stability Control. I would just say that the stability control system should be directly connected to the wind-shield wipers sensor, and ONLY turn on under rainy weather. Honest! At least with these michelin "wannabe tires" rubber, it's clearly not a chassis to drive fast on bad weather without stability control.
This chassis is so dynamic, that you clearly understand why an M version. You can literally steer the car with slide and acceleration and minimal counter-steer. To do this however, you not only need to kill the stability control system, you also need an engine. And I'm not talking diesel, or petrol with turbo... I mean a real engine with instant response....like a 4 ou 6 cylinder in-line atmospheric engine with independent throttle bodies and more bore than stroke design. It's such a petty to feel that you go around the bends and you step and let-off the gas so fast as the chassis is asking for, but the lazy diesel unit doesn't even notice it. This car just made me hate diesels even more than I already had!
In a word, that chassis is brilliant, fun and very composed. Selling this car with diesel engines is criminal.

Now for the bad part. That driving position thing.
Sure the car has a bad driving position. The pedals are not aligned correctly, Looks like the car is built to cruise instead of going fast in a decent country road (making it inconsistent with the chassis). The left foot rest is too deep and make the reaching for the clutch complicated and the foot gets stuck behind the clutch pedal far too many times. The clutch pedal travel should also be cut to half of what it is. The brake pedal is too high and this makes the left-foot braking and heel-toe Oddly complicated. The steel wall on the right side of the gas pedal is just too close to the pedal and this makes the heel-toe really difficult. In conclusion, I HOPE the M is VERY different in than the standard one.
The entire pedal assembly is far into the car, and this would be nice, but the steering wheel and console is relatively close to the wind-shield glass and that forces you into a position where you either have a clear sight on the road ahead but you'd be hitting the roof of the car with your head, or a good foot to pedal position and wouldn't see the front of the car; However you can never have both.
One should say : why never both?! Cause there is another truth about that car that spoils everything else. The horrible looks. You see, that wind-shield glass and it's angle towards the roof and it's cut-in-half way of being, not only looks ugly, it also prevents you to have a racing like erect seat position without slamming your head against the roof. I can't imagine how BMW allowed something like this. It's just too bad. I've seen ugly cars built for function-over-design purpose...like the fiat multipla. I've seen cars with the design-over-function purpose like... well like almost the rest of italian cars. But this is the first time I've seen a bad design spoil function :S
This continues in the interior with the door handles being too beefy and spoiling access to storage immediately below it.
However, the interior lights are placed inside small tubes that are fit deep into the plastics, allowing for a very relaxing and comfortable lighting of the car's interior with enough power to actually see anything without tearing your eyes like most cars do.

Besides the very good and very bad features, the car feels fine. It's hard and stiff without being unpleasant, it's stereo and dials are well sorted out and with good overall quality.