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July 10, 2012

Review: BMW 118d Urban

Photos by Ulysses Ang
Normally, you'll be cursing to yourself when you've got a BMW stuck in midday EDSA traffic. Normally, you'll be wishing for a wide, open road with a billiard-smooth surface to sample the BMW's impeccable balance and spirited engine. Normally, you'd wish everyday was a Sunday. Sadly, Sunday happens just once a week and in the six other days, you have to be content crawling through traffic in your P 2-million hatchback. Yet, for all the traffic and unpredictable weather Manila offers, this is the sort of environment that tests the all-new BMW 118d. Rarely does a car prove itself while stuck in traffic, but that's exactly what this premium car did. For a minute, you can forget that BMW's were designed to tackle the autobahn, and relish a fuel economy that's close to 20 km/l (and that's not a typo).

Gazing upon the BMW 1 Series parked, you can't help but pinpoint the several corporate design cues present on this car. From the 7 Series-like arrow shaped headlamps to the large, upright kidney grille from the Z4, there's no mistaking that the 1 Series is a BMW through and through. Some may say that the sheet metal is polarizing to the eye, but whatever you think of it, it's certainly more beautiful in person than in photographs; you cannot appreciate the almost non-existent overhangs, the subtle play of curves, the razor-thin side mirror indicators (the first for BMW) and even the highly complex lamp clusters. Indeed, the BMW 1 Series is a detail-obsessed machine any which way you put it.

The 1 Series's interplay of curves and lines make it look more compact than it really is. In reality, it's actually a full 85 millimeters longer and 17 millimeters wider than the model it replaces. These may seem minuscule, but considering that a full 30 millimeters went to the wheelbase (21 millimeters to rear section alone), the all-new 1 Series answers the only criticism leveled at its predecessor: the lack of interior room. The 1 Series still isn't a 5 Series inside but at least there's more than ample room for everyone even for those long distance, though seating 3 abreast at the back still isn't recommended.

Sitting at the back, the most noticeable difference with the all-new 1 Series is how there's much more leg room than before. Even the rear seats are highly supportive and there are even aircon vents this time around. Next, you'll notice how well it rides compared to before. The jittery ride is gone and it's replaced by a more serene ride that's perfectly balanced.

Move up to the front passenger seat, and you'll get to sample the new iDrive interface. Having sampled the single-wheel, four-directional iDrive from before, it's clear how the new interface feels much more user-friendly. The free-standing screen is a joy to look at and even more joyful to use. You can channel your inner Captain Kirk easily with the new iDrive's array of shortcuts and favorite buttons. There's little need to fumble through the menus and controls as everything feels well designed and intuitive. And despite being an entry-level Bimmer, the audio system is nothing to sneeze at either. The BMW Professional system is a high-fidelity audio fan's dream plus it can now play your favorite tunes in a wide range of formats from compact discs to USB and even iPod.

Finally, settling into the most important seat of all--the driver's, you'll be enveloped in a wide range of adjustments for the perfect driving position. And despite the dizzying number of adjustment permutations, you can find the perfect driving position in less time than it takes for you to tie your shoes.

Despite the "d" suffix, the BMW 118d is no slouch. This next-generation diesel features BMW's new TwinPower turbo technology and magnetic-valve direct injection. All in all, it has 143 horsepower and 320 Nm of torque, making short work of the climb up Tagaytay. BMW quotes a 0-100 km/h time of 8.9 seconds, but it felt faster than that. Coupled with the segment's first and only 8-speed automatic, the 118d was able to maximize its wide power band and make overtaking easy. It also sounds quieter than previous BMW diesels with even less vibration to boot.

The new 1 Series's chassis is also one of the industry's best. The body itself is made from high-tensile steel for excellent rigidity and a lighter curb weight. And then wrapped around this body is a multitude of systems that push the handling envelope even further. First is the electromechanical power steering that provides precise and linear feedback of the road. And then, add to that a perfect 50/50 weight distribution as well as all-around independent suspension and you end up with a fun-to-drive car. Even with torrential rains, it is fairly easy to push the 118d because of the multitude of standard driving aids such as Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control and Corner Brake Assist.

Now, before you come to the conclusion that the 1 Series is a one-trick pocket rocket, it's as efficient as it's fun and fast. All 1 Series models are equipped with BMW's EfficientDynamics technology. This technology package includes brake energy regeneration, an automatic engine start/stop function (quite discomforting but a welcome feature in the 118d) and a switchable driving mode that facilitates an economical driving style. This mode, dubbed ECO PRO can reduce fuel consumption by up to 20 percent by optimizing everything from pedal response to gear shift pattern to even the air conditioning system. It even displays tips for you if the car feels you're not driving economically enough. And finally, bonus kilometers are even shown on the multiple-function display for posterity's sake. And after a week's worth of driving, the BMW 118d proved its chops by delivering the best fuel mileage out of any non-hybrid car tested in the past 14 years: 16.7 km/l and a driving range of close to 1,000 kilometers. Impressive.

After handing back the keys to the BMW 118d, you can't help but miss it immediately. It can be easily dismissed for being an expensive toy, but it's tremendously good showing proves it treads the balance between sporty and sophistication, fast and frugality, compact yet roomy. The BMW 118d remains a personal choice, but ultimately one of the best you'll make in a lifetime.

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