I remember this day very vividly. It was the mid-1990s. My father and I were coming home one night when he asked me if I wanted to check out a BMW. I said yes, of course. And just like that, we were pulling into this massive dealership located along EDSA near Balintawak. It was a showroom we always passed by in going to school, and I’ve always wondered what it was like inside.
We went in and the kind saleslady asked my father which car he was interested in. Daddy pointed to a dark green E36 3-Series sitting in the corner, which we duly walked toward. But instead of jumping inside, he motioned me toward the driver’s seat. And there I was, awestruck at the sheer number of buttons the car had and the large tachometer on the instrument binnacle. Our family vehicle back then was a XL-grade Toyota Corolla which was almost barren with features. Seeing the 316i teeming with switchgear was a real treat for me.
We never managed to own anything from the Munich-based brand. My father settled for more ubiquitous machinery from Honda, Toyota, and Mitsubishi. But still, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a BMW. Even a short (and spirited) joyride in a cousin’s E92 M3 convertible didn’t really satisfy that curiosity.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was given the opportunity to have a BMW with me for a few days. It was the 1-Series in the 118i Sport trim level. At P2.69 million, it wasn’t cheap. But the 118i Sport is practically the brand’s least expensive offering, much like the 316i’s positioning in the BMW hierarchy back then. Still, that didn’t detract from my excitement. I finally had a Bimmer for a few days.
The 118i’s cockpit was buttons aplenty. While it wasn’t miles ahead of tech-heavy mainstream cars, the fact that I had a lot of switchgear to play with still made me giddy. BMW sure does know how to make even the most affordable nugget in its product line feel premium. It takes a satisfying bit of effort to press down on each one, which I thought was a sign of quality workmanship. The iDrive interface takes some getting used to, but I was able to manage. Sadly, it didn’t have Android Auto which I firmly believe it should given the purchase price.
After pressing every switch I could reach, I now focused on the driving experience. Underneath the 118i Sport’s hood is a 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbo engine making 140hp and 220Nm. Again, these numbers didn’t light my pants on fire, but they were way more than what the E36 316i’s naturally aspirated heart could manage. What I enjoyed about the engine was its linear power delivery. I was expecting something peaky given the cylinder layout and the engine displacement. But no. Mash the go pedal and 1-Series gains momentum in a smooth fashion.
I took the 118i Sport out on the expressway and despite its size, the driving experience was basically devoid of drama. It was stable just like a heavier car would be, with trucks and buses not disturbing our forward momentum. The steering is weighted just right for high-speed driving. I could seriously go on long road trips with this ting.
So, did the 1-Series satisfy the curiosity I had been holding on to as a child? In simple terms, yes. It practically mirrored the things my father told me about BMWs, and I couldn’t be happier about finally finishing that quest I started over two decades ago, when I laid eyes on one of Munich’s ultimate driving machines for the first time.