BMW 118d Sport Line - Amazing engineering, meh iDrive

Updated: February 19, 2024

My personal take on cars: outside of the hyper league, BMW has the finest driving vehicles out there. Strap yourself into one, and you will enjoy precision, finesse and fun like nothing else. Over the years, I've had a chance to sample many a BMW, and they were all pretty great. The 330d, superb. The M4, oh my. What about the X3 perhaps? Well, either xDrive20d or xDrive30d did the job with phenomenal results.

Now, I had a chance to revisit the experience with the smallest of the entire range, a 1-series hatchback, powered by a 2.0-liter diesel, rated at 150 HP, and mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Does the lil' one have all the right ingredients to live up to the BMW magic formula? 'Tis time for another tarmac adventure. Join for me, folks.

Teaser

Retro body color, retro vintage image filter.

Looks

I've never really liked the 1-series looks - until this last model. The original one had that Shooting Brake, Batmobile feel. There just wasn't enough visual balance between the front and the rear of the car. The second generation slightly fixed things, but the design only matured enough, in my view, with the F40 series. However, one might say that it now looks too much like the Mercedes A Class. But hey.

This time around, the car's a total looker. The rear end is sharp, sporty, with twin exhausts that promise tons of entertainment. The front-end grille is a bit gimmicky - the old kidneys ought to make a comeback - but the overall look & feel is still great. Aggressive, yet elegant. Or the other way around?

Rear end

Side view 1

Side view 2

Side view 3

That sweet orange looks equally magnificent in the sun, the rain, the fog, anything.

Then, every car model also has its signature color. For example, with Ferraris, it's the namesake red. You can't imagine a Mercedes S Class in green. In black? Sure. But then, SLS looks fantastic in green, go figure. What about Lambos, for instance? Alien green works like magic. And so on, and so forth. Every car has its spirit hue.

Every BMW has its own shade of Bavaria. M3 is quintessentially white, whereas M4 works best in egg-blue or gold. Black is the only sensible choice for the 5-series. With the 1-series, the optimal color is the sunset orange, the right combo between bronze, rust and fire. It also gives the car a somewhat retro feel, which contrasts and works great with its current, sleek lines. Nice alloys, and you're golden. I mean bronze.

Wheels

Mirror strakes

Aerodynamic strakes on the side mirrors add flair. Or something. They sure do look cool.

Engine bay

The engine hood is unlocked by double-pumping the hood lever. Underneath, you won't see much.

And here's a dramatic rain photo, just because:

Rain photo

Interior, ergonomics

Inside, the cockpit is predictably pleasant, cushty. The seats do their job well. The all-digital dashboard is okay, but I'm generally not fond of the trend. I prefer simply rotary dials, and less information, including the navigation pointers. While they are useful, they actually mean eyes off the road. One should follow the GPS instructions by voice not by eyes. Also, any extra info means more time to process it, more distractions, less focus on the primary function of the driving experience - watching the road and the cars and the people around you. Cor.

The steering wheel is also a bit big, more on that later. But everything else is as it should be. You also get proper human controls for the aircon. No touch nonsense. You get real buttons, and that's how it should be. I did mention in the X1 review that the new-gen has now moved the climate control into the touch interface, which in my mind automatically disqualifies the vehicle from purchase. Never will I buy a car that has touch commands for the basic, essential functions.

Interior

Dashboard, console

The interior design is lovely, though. Checkered black plastic pattern, chrome trim, blue hue color accents here and there. When you unlock the car, a set of LEDs shows the BMW logo on the ground next to you. Totally unneeded, but hey. The Sport Line trims gives you a fair deal of stuff, too much to mention in one short paragraph, so I'll just focus on the essentials. You get two-zone climate control, two USB ports in the rear console, cruise control with speed limiter, launch control, believe it or not. Then, there's navigation, BMW ConnectedDrive services, and a range of driving assists (which did not kick in or bother me during my time with the vehicle).

Driving experience

One word: fabulous. I like cars with big engines and tons of power and torque. Usually the more the merrier. But with the 118d, I feel this car hits the sweet spot of practical. Really. The way it handles, the way it feels, you don't need much more. And I'm saying this as someone who is pretty comfortable with 400-500 HP under my wheels.

The driving experience is truly sublime. So let me elaborate. Excellent grip, excellent steering response and sensation. You don't feel like there's a whole data center of electronics between you and the tarmac. The engine does not sound like a diesel. At all. Nor does it accelerate like one. The throttle response is quick. The cars gets away rapidly, smoothly. Before you can blink you're touching the 100 km/h range, and it carries on effortlessly, without losing steam. I would need to hit the German autobahns to be able to ascertain my hypothesis, but I'm sure it can do 200 km/h with total ease.

Driving 1

Driving 2

I already had similar high praise for the X1, but here, all of the positives are doubled. The grip, the chassis movement, the gas pedal, the overall feel through tight corners. And all this is true for the Comfort mode, to say nothing of the Sport mode. Man. Take everything I've just said, and then double it again. From standstill to 100 km/h, it takes 8.4 seconds. I sweat it feels half that. The engine has only 330 Nm, but it pulls like a rocket.

Driving 3

Night driving, basking in the light of dazzling bright LEDs; very Michael Mann-like colors.

With about 1,300 km to testdrive the vehicle, there were plenty of opportunities for varied driving conditions. Highway in rain, wind and sun - no worries there. Even at 130 km/h, strong side winds didn't do much to upset the car. Narrow urban roads and B-road serpentines up and down steep hill ranges and mountains. Total joy. The one disappointment is the traffic around you, which prevents you from enjoying the car. All within the allowed parameters, of course. No wild tomfoolery, just nice, sharp, precise driving.

Here, I also must bring up the vast improvement that went into the engine, compared to the previous generation. If you recall, I drove a BMW 218d Cabriolet M Sport several years ago, and I did complain that the engine had the quintessential tractor sound ('cause diesel), and sometimes, it lacked mid-range breath. Not so here. Not anymore. The old 150 horses ain't the new 150 horses. Without exaggeration, the perceptible improvement is staggering.

Fuel consumption is quite reasonable. My journey included about 65% highways, 35% twisty roads, nonstop use of the A/C, about 20-30% of the driving spent in the Sport mode, and liberal use of the throttle the way the deities of automotive engineering intended. The net penalty was about 7 liters/100 km. Very neat, and sort of predictable. If you're gentle with the throttle, and go a-cruisin' at 90-100 km/h, you can do 5 liters without any problems. A freshly filled tank (50 liters) gives you about 950-1,000 km estimated range.

Some problems + modern technology is overcomplicated

Alas, alas, there were some. And most of them are related to the smartphony technology used. Modern car infotainment systems are designed to resemble touch phones way too much. The consequence is the low IQ feel and interaction with said systems. How so, you may ask?

Well, during my four-day journey, the iDrive infotainment system popped multiple messages, some during the driving. All of these messages were unexpected, alarming, distracting, annoying, difficult to dismiss, and above all, totally unnecessary. So what were they?

AdBlue message

Driving assistance restricted

If a system cannot function on its own, don't install it. I don't care, nor do I need legalese while I'm driving. Also, notice the few extra pixels of text from a partially shown row peeking out from the bottom of the display view port? All it takes is one person with OCD doing QA. But then like all "touch" systems, this infotainment module suffers from mediocre design.

Upgrade message

More utter nonsense. App? App! I don't want any apps. I want to drive a premium car, not play idiotic games. And this thing lights up every single time you turn the engine off. Sure you can play with Settings and whatnot, but you can also be a system administrator and work for BMW and get paid for that. Of course, notice the finger smudges, because that's what touch is all about. And the cherry, the clock position moves left or right based on the name of the radio channel shown, which again indicates bad overall logic and design of this touch thingie, in total contrast to the finesse of the car's engineering.

That's a fair deal of "problems" for one short journey, I must say, and a surprising amount for a posh car. But the bulk of the problems can be tied down to the pointless smartphonification of vehicles. This is a sad trend that must be purged without prejudice.

I've already pointed out that the next generation of the X1 has touch climate controls (and thus its purchase for me is out of the question), and so I wonder what will happen with the 1-series, come the refresh. Hopefully, everything will be fine. I hope BMW will reverse the pointless touch strategy, as there seems to be quite a bit of backlash against all-touch consoles (and car subscriptions, yup, yup). Some of the manufacturers are backpedaling on this useless fad (in addition to the heroes that never adopted it).

But all that said, regardless of how many buttons the console has (and many it should have), the idea that you use your car's infotainment as a phone is wrong. Mirroring your phone, wrong. Touch, mostly wrong. Constant reminders, hyperactive messages and nudges, overload of information. Miss me with that low-IQ stuff. Cars are meant to be driven. It's a big responsibility. You need to be focused, you need to make sure you and everyone else is safe. That means minimum distractions. And you get the opposite with the modern infotainment systems.

The paradoxical situation whereby you'd be fined and get points on your license if you were to do these yourself using a handheld device, but perfectly acceptable for some weird reason when you do that using a fixed system, with pretty much identical usage model and safety parameters. This is nothing BMW exclusive, but it is worrying, annoying and utterly unnecessary. What did aggravate me extra is the sharp contrast between the purity of the driving experience and the mehness of the iDrive infotainment. Also, so many things happened in such a short time. That, on its own, is not a good indicator for the usefulness of the infotainment module.

To double check, I went onto different regional BMW sites, to see how they offer and advertise the iDrive system. So many buzzwords. Natural dialogue between user and vehicle - that's called driving. Make every BMW your own - yes, it would be yours, if you pay for it, that qualifies. Updates over the air - not a system administrator, not interested.

The saddest part? The new "modern" infotainment system adds nothing to the overall functionality. NOTHING. Compare to my 330d and M4 reviews from 2015 and 2016, respectively (linked at the beginning of the article). Roughly ten years ago. Those systems had: navigation, real-time traffic updates, voice control, fingertip writing recognition, phone pairing, USB connectivity, digital radio, everything. The only thing they didn't have was a lot of finger grease smudges on their screens. Instead, they had clean, dignified interfaces.

Ah well, enough ranting.

Conclusion

From the engineering perspective, BMW 118d is a superb car. Really. It looks great, drives great. Phenomenal driving characteristics, the way you would expect from BMW. After all, they have always made excellent machines, top notch quality. But then you have the smartphony infotainment system, and it ruins the overall impression. Hyperactive Gen-WXYZ nonsense that has no place in a state-of-art vehicle. I don't want to use apps, don't want to update my infotainment, don't want to have to reduce my driving safety to dismiss pointless messages, or in general, in any way, shape or form interact with my car like I'm some teenager.

You can definitely tell two completely different worlds, mated together, not that successfully. Aggravates me. Perhaps the new generation of people expect nonstop interaction with their pointless phones, but news flash, people who buy BMWs are typically somewhat older, well off, and not in the mood to treat their 30-50K car like it's a 300-400-dollar piece of plastic rubbish. Apps? Apps? What the hell. I want to drive and enjoy the pinnacle of automotive engineering, not pretend to be a low-IQ idiot who keeps their eyes more time off the road than on the road.

There we are. As always, the pointless modern technology called touch-and-app ruins everything. The BMW 118d gets 8/10. Two whole points down due to infotainment messages. Otherwise, it would be near solid 10. I mean if I ignore the infotainment module, the experience was sublime. Fantastic speed, handling, total joy. I've never thought that a modest diesel could be the answer to everyone's driving requirements, on a philosophical level of course, but the BMW 118d seems to provide that. That would be the end of my review. You may make your own impressions, based on the different elements of my article. Peace now.

Cheers.