Buying a car based on the allure of its badge isn’t a new thing. After all, the adage “you are what you drive” rings true for many people, especially in these parts of the woods. Association is key; there’s really nothing wrong with being chuffed by your ride, but it helps that everyone thinks so, or thinks highly of you by your – clever – choice of wheels, yes?
This writer’s household hasn’t been immune to the workings of such a spell, as the other half will (happily, or unhappily, depends on how the subject is broached) attest to. Said lady has cycled through two BMW 3-Series, both entry-level models from two different generations, from new, the purchases being made under the premise of “emotional appeal.” She didn’t even test drive the second one before signing for it.
Nothing wrong with that, even if the cars themselves weren’t quite up to living up to the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ or ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’ tags proudly emblazoned on the licence plate holders. We’ll take just one of them as an example – the E46 318i, all 118 hp and 180 Nm of it bursting out from its effervescent M43B19 1.9 litre mill. Worked alright, but hardly anywhere near being the finest 3er of that era. I had an affectionate name for it. I called it “The Slug.”
Still, it got her to where she needed to be, and she reveled in the “emotional appeal,” so I couldn’t argue with it (or the other 3er), since the cars pressed all the right buttons for her. The same holds true for everyone who bought an entry-level 3er before the adoption of turbocharging attempted to offset snail-like behaviour – it’s what you believe in that matters.
Munich, of course, understands this, and that’s why something like the F30 316i exists – progress has meant that the previously base level 3er, the 320i, has also become more expensive, with prices creeping up each gen.
Thus do we have the new base model, to keep the door open to those clamouring for a piece of that badge association but without the means or want to fork out the price for it. Yes, there’s the 1-Series, but as we all know, it’s the Three that defines the prop and more importantly, the association.
Runts of the litter usually have it bad (anyone remember that rudimentary, icky ASC from years ago?), with being stripped down to the basics being the norm. Thankfully, the 316i is spared the blushes – while designated without a line (Sport, Modern), the kit count is more than decent.
Items on the list include a 6.5-inch central screen with iDrive in attendance, Driving Experience Control, auto bi-xenon headlamps, power adjustable driver and front passenger seats, parking sensors, auto stop-start, a Leather Dakota Black interior and a host of ConnectedDrive kit, with BMW Live and BMW TeleServices in that mix.
The car is also spared the ignominy of riding on bad looking wheels – the rather familiar 17-inch five-spoke alloys help the 316i retain some semblance of muscularity. Only one bone to pick, and that’s with the keyless entry bit – you’ll still have to push the buttons on the key to lock and unlock the doors.
Fine, but you’ll have to put the key back into the pocket once you get in, because the keyless ignition doesn’t have a housing slot, unless you don’t mind the cup-holder doing duty as such. If there’s something that needs to be ticked on the list, then full smart entry would be it.
The sixth locally-assembled model in the current BMW range is equipped with the lower output tune form of the N13B16 – there’s a higher output 168 hp form of the type, but the 1.6 litre TwinPower Turbo four-pot in this case offers 134 hp at 4,350 rpm and 220 Nm at 1,350 rpm. Paired to an eight-speed ZF auto transmission, performance figures include a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 9.2 seconds and a 210 km/h top speed.
If 134 hp doesn’t sound like much, it isn’t, but in day to day use in the city, you’re probably not going to miss much. If anything, the decent level of twist helps give the car some semblance of go from the line, once you’ve prepared yourself to expect only that much of a serving, that is.
I didn’t – the last time I was in an F30 it was a 328i in Barcelona two years ago, it of hissing brakes on the Circuit de Catalunya and bombing along B-roads. The result was that I spent pretty much of the whole first day arguing with the 316i, and not having a very good time of it. Not quite rapid enough, too soft, etc. And that BMW auto start-stop, its rough-ish behaviour never a fave, was starting to get my goat too.
By the second day, I’d tempered my expectations enough that the car was starting to get some purchase. Not fun, mind you, but eminently drivable – the approach was to stop charging around and attempt to wring out every inch of pony and pull out of it. Which, I suppose, is what everyone else does, drive it normally. Perspective also came from another quarter: “Hell, it’s a lot faster than the two I had, no?” was what the other half said. I guess.
Taken as such, a sedan with adequate pep, the 316i is very workable indeed. Like mentioned earlier, there’s not a lot of punch, and you can still catch it out at load on some terrain, but in town use what’s available is effective. More importantly, as a cruiser, it’s quite a gem – the ZF ‘box is wonderfully smooth, and the car glides along the ruts and dips without much bother.
Of note is how things are sprung – the F30 is unabashedly a softer riding proposition than its predecessor, and something like the 316i shows how this can be translated to mean comfort. Taking on corners, the softness can be less than inspiring, but a lot of this is how it’s perceived – the levels of traction are actually quite high, even if the rebound is telling you otherwise.
Turn-in is pleasantly taut and sharp, but it’s the compliance that is the ace, and for that, one has to be thankful that sport suspension and an uber-thick M steering wheel has been omitted from the list, and any sport-like pretensions dropped – the 316i made short shrift of the poor excuse of black top that passes for roads around Bandar Manjalara and Kepong. “Hell, it’s a lot more comfortable than the two I had too, no?” was the view proffered by the resident 3er expert.
In the end, I have to admit the package works for what it is – enthusiasts will undoubtedly snigger at the sight of one (removal of the rear model identifier, anyone?), but you can imagine the appeal the RM209,800 offering will have for those looking for an entry-level BMW sedan without the need for any real drive dynamics or a six-seconds-to-a-hundred time.
Slap it with enough poke, but frugal enough (over 288 km, a 13.1 km per litre or 7.6 litres per 100 km readout, as suggested by the car’s OBC) for town use, make it super comfy and let the badge take care of the rest – this then is a BMW you’d buy because you simply want a BMW or want to be seen in one, and don’t want or can’t spill it out for the 320i, with the 1er not even considerable as an starting option. If that’s the “emotional appeal,” then this is your new chariot.