No matter how a person tries to break away from the norm, eventually we are all subject to the perception of the general public. Only a few manage to truly break free from being concerned by public opinion, while others simply toe the line.
For example, we are always going to be judged by the car we drive or the watch that we wear. I once knew of a man so rich, he had to build his own museum to store his car collection. And tours were by invitation only. Despite his wealth, he wore a fake Hublot.
“Who is going to believe that it is a fake watch,” he once told me. Despite his multi-millionaire status, he went around without bodyguards. “I won’t feel so bad if I were to get robbed, which has happened before,” was his justification.
Businessmen buy expensive cars because of the impression it creates. “Success begets success,” so the saying goes. Show up in an expensive car and you create a perception of success, that you know your business and are good at it. Like doctors, would you trust a doctor that dresses like a slouch and operates out of a century old clinic with fungi growing on the wooden walls? I wouldn’t.
There is one simple fact about modern everyday life – impression is everything and winning public opinion is to some extent, important, regardless of whether you’re a politician or not.
And that brings me to this car, the BMW 118i M Sport. At RM188,800, it is the second cheapest BMW in Malaysia. The first being the standard 118i Sport at RM176,800.
The differentiating factor between the two being the M Aerodynamic bodykit, M Sport suspension package, 18-inch M Sport alloy wheels, black painted kidney grilles as well as LED headlamps and fog lamps.
Many may be quick to dismiss this car as a basic BMW, but the car is surprisingly good. Sure, it is still a lot of money for a small car. But consider for a second that the Volkswagen Golf costs RM149,888, which is not that much different if you account for the difference in monthly installment. And lets face it; the BMW badge makes a larger statement than the VW does. And the 118i gives you a more fulfilling drive than the VW; the latter feels more like a car for the daily grind while the beemer feels like its built for the feel good factor.
The 118i is not the prettiest BMW around; in fact it takes some time before you come to terms with the way it looks. Maybe it is the way the wheels have been stretched out to the very corners of the car, giving it a very short front and rear overhang. Or maybe it is just the ghost of the first, not-so-pretty 1-Series that has left me somewhat skeptical of small BMWs. But after about four days of driving it, returning it was difficult.
Inside, it is typically BMW. Overall living space is not that great especially with my six foot lanky frame in the driver’s seat, immediately turning the seat behind into one only the vertically challenged or children can get comfortable in. But besides that, the interior is a pleasant place to be in.
Sure for RM180,000 you could buy one of those massive Japanese and Korean SUVs like a CX5 or a Santa Fe. But then no one would know you have an impressive bank account with those cars. Besides, this is about presence and feeling good about yourself, the Koreans and Japanese cars are functional, but don’t make you feel as special as a BMW can.
From behind the wheel, you will be hard done to figure out which BMW it is you are driving. Overall quality is generally good, comfort level is decent though the seats are not very generously padded and shoulder space is tight; it is generally a nice place to be in. The iDrive system is the star of this show, and that fluid chassis gives a pleasant driving experience.
The driving experience between rivaling companies is not that much different these days. Take for example the VW Golf and this BMW 118i. Both are nice cars to drive, and they insulate you from the outside world rather well, though admittedly the Golf offers a more generous interior space. So if both are so evenly matched in terms of the driving experience they offer, it then falls to the interior to “seal the deal”, and that is where the iDrive system trumps the VW.
The iDrive system is known to intelligently integrate your entertainment sources to the car. BMW was also the first to include Spotify, the free-music streaming application to its iDrive system. Giving owners unprecedented access to free music from anywhere in the world. But there is more to the iDrive system. It also integrates a number of driver assist functions that make life behind the wheel a lot pleasant and safer. It generally makes life behind the wheel a lot better, even if the car does not offer a lot of power.
But the 118i M Sport is more than just a car that offers good interior entertainment, in fact when it comes to having fun, this car has a trick up its sleeve.
Powered by a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine producing just 136hp and 220Nm of torque, this 118i is, technically speaking, not what we could normally call powerful. It is not that quick either, seeing off the 0-100km/h in just 8.7 seconds and maxing out at 210km/h. But it makes up for that with a fun chassis package that makes the car quite agile in corners. It is also rear-wheel-driven, which gives off a natural steering and chassis response, providing maximum grip in corners with little to no understeer in the tight twisties.
Remember those wheels that are placed at the very edges of the chassis? Well despite looking a little odd, those help play a role in the incredible handling of the car too. And though the engine doesn’t produce a lot of power, the gearbox goes through its seven gears quickly, giving you maximum power as soon as you put down your right foot. Pity there are no paddle shifters, but the gear stick has the usual BMW manual mode, which is good enough for this car.
So what was it like driving the BMW 118i for a few days in and around KL? Admittedly there was apprehensiveness about the car. At that price tag, expectations are naturally higher. Despite being small and skimping out on such regular every conveniences like a rear view camera, the car eventually grows on you. The ride quality is good though some ambient sounds like tyre and wind noise still protrudes back into the cabin.
But what the 118i lacks in performance, comfort and living space, it makes up for with a good driving experience and fuel economy. Be gentle with your demands on the engine and the car will give you a range in excess of 500 kilometers. The iDrive is superbly friendly to use and you can never be bored with Spotify onboard. The car is not perfect, but it is good enough, I probably would opt for a different colour to this Mineral Gray, perhaps Alpine White would make this car stand out.