Stepping down from a $240,000 car into a $40,000 one takes some discipline. Of course it's not going to be as good, not by any stretch of the imagination. But you know what? BMW's little 116i hatch ain't half bad either.
Launched in 2011 the 116i is priced from $37,300.
The only option fitted to our test vehicle was the 8-speed automatic which adds $2,693 to the list price.
Standard features include a 6.5-inch computer screen, hands-free Bluetooth functionality including USB interface, cruise control with brake function, auto Start/Stop function, Driving Experience Control with ECO PRO mode, keyless engine start, 6-speaker stereo system, iDrive controller and favourite buttons.
Two accessory packages are available for $1455, Urban or Sport Line -- both of which give the car a different appearance.
The 116i features an entirely new 1.6 litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, with the same power output as the previous 118i but it uses 24 per cent less fuel.
The twin scroll, turbocharged four cylinder engine is a variation of the one that powers the Mini (remember BMW owns Mini). It produces 100kW and 220Nm of torque, the latter from a low 1350 revs.
The forced-induction system uses the twin-scroll principle, with separate ducts both in the exhaust manifold and the turbocharger itself, each serving one pair of two cylinders.
The end result is a car that can sprint from 0-100km/h in 8.7 seconds and has a top speed of 210km/h. A more powerful version of the same engine is also available in the 118i but obviously at extra cost. The auto though rather expensive is the way to go and with eight cogs is a benchmark for the segment.
I can't get over how different the 1 Series hatch and high riding X1 SUV are, despite being one in the same under the skin. The hatch however has also moved a generation ahead, with keyless, push-button start even on this the entry model.
Though 85mm longer than the previous model, the hatch is still more difficult to get in and out of, with smaller door openings than the SUV. The B or centre door pillar sits forward of the front seats and squeezing between it and the steering wheel requires some manoeuvring if you have the seat and the wheel set back.
Scores five out five stars for crash safety, with six airbags and a full complement of safety systems.
The variable drive system includes sport, comfort and ECO PRO modes.
Engaging ECO PRO will get you some extra kilometres, but sticking it in sport mode really brings the car alive and is heartily recommended. It sharpens throttle response and makes the car generally more responsive.
The tallish, 16-inch run-flat tyres and softish suspension allow for some bounce and body roll, but there's no doubting the car's underlying dynamics. Push it hard and it doesn't bite back.
The big difference between this hatch and others is that it is rear wheel drive and that makes a discernible difference.
You can feel its urgency as the car pushes forward, instead of being dragged along, with steering that is lighter and more responsive, minus the burden of providing the motive force. In fact, the effect of the rear drive is more apparent than in any other car that we have driven lately.
With active braking cruise control can be relied upon to keep the car at the selected speed, even on downhill runs.
Fuel consumption is rated at 5.8 litres/100km and it takes premium unleaded. Auto start/stop is standard along with Brake Energy Regeneration, self-disconnecting air-conditioning compressor and tyres with reduced rolling resistance. We were getting 8.0 litres/100km after about 300km.
As long as you remember to stick it in Sport, it gets our vote. Too bad you can't make that the default position. It must be selected each time the car is started.
Price: from $37,300 ($39,993 tested)
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo 4-cylinder petrol, 100kW/220Nm
Trans: 8-speed sports automatic, rear-wheel drive
Thirst: 5.8/100km, 134g/km CO2