The inherent challenges that come with mounting a three-cylinder motor transversely at a car’s nose make themselves felt from the moment you hit the 118i’s starter button. The 1.5-litre engine sneezes into life with a really vociferous lateral shudder running down the length of the car, before settling into a reasonable idle that’s a little coarse from cold but less so afterwards. As a picture of outright refinement, this isn’t a particularly convincing one – at least initially.
Get moving and things improve. Acceleration through the lower and middle sections of the rev range is far smoother, although the rough-edged thrum from the engine isn’t one all will warm to. It’s not that its soundtrack is offensive, it just lacks some of the warm-hearted audible charm that pervades the most endearing three-pots.
Still, outright performance is fairly impressive. Traction off the line is strong, with the car’s governing electronics allowing just enough in the way of slip to keep the engine from bogging down under full power. The 118i managed an average 0-60mph time of 8.2sec: in keeping with BMW’s claimed 8.5sec 0-62mph time, then, and bettering the 8.8sec time set by the more powerful Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo R-Line we road tested back in 2017.
In fact, the BMW bettered the VW in every test we use to measure accelerative potency and engine flexibility. The sprint from 30-70mph – which indicates a car’s real-world performance – took the BMW 7.9sec to complete versus the VW’s 8.1sec. Locked in fourth gear, the 1 Series dispatched the same run in 11.5sec, next to the Golf’s time of 12.0sec.
Some of this will be down to the fact that the VW had a six-speed manual, whereas the BMW relied on a seven-speed dual-clutch. It wasn’t the slickest transmission of its kind at all times, and displayed a tendency to be caught out by sudden throttle inputs both great and small, but worked better under lighter throttle loads.