Why? Because BMW is making all of its cars more fuel efficient, without any of the downsides normally associated with green cars – there are no cheap and nasty-looking wheel trims stuck on to thin wheels, no sacrifices in performance, and no other signs to tell other road users that you’re in a special eco-mobile, one that is in some way less desirable than the other models in the range.
To prove the point that BMWs can be both efficient and enjoyable drivers’ cars, the company invited journalists to test the new 116d, BMW’s lowest emission model ever, followed by a test of the latest M3, also with efficient technologies, around Castle Combe race circuit. This included a lap around the track with triple touring car world champion Andy Priaulx in his 3 Series.
So let’s start with the 116d. With 64.2mpg and emissions of 118g/km CO2, it wins the title of BMW’s lowest emitting car ever. Although this is just 1g/km CO2 lower than the 118d (both have the same four cylinder 1995cc diesel engine), the 116d has significantly less power, with just 116hp compared to 143hp of the 118d. The 116d, at £17,605 for the three door model, is also £995 cheaper than the 118d, making it the most affordable BMW you can buy.
And at the moment Sport versions of the 116d are available for the same price as the ES model but with £1315 worth of extra equipment ranging from sporty steering wheel to sporty road wheels for free.
Does the reduced power mean the 116d is no longer an enjoyable driving experience? No; the 116d is perfectly capable on A and B roads, and has no problems keeping up with the pace on motorways. But of course, best of all, it’s rear wheel drive, meaning that it handles like a car should, and despite its relatively low levels of power, it’s still rewarding to push through a series of bends.
In this class, and with these low levels of emissions, the rear drive set up makes it unique. With drive and steering going to different ends of the car, there’s no torque steer or front wheels scrabbling out of junctions under acceleration.The entire driving experience of the 1 Series is a quality affair, feeling solid and well engineered. The interior is equally of high quality, although the 118d is relatively sparsely equipped compared to models higher up the BMW food chain. There are very few cars that can achieve 64mpg that are better to drive than the 116d, it’s just a shame that the styling isn’t to everyone’s tastes. If the big googley-headlights were made more sleek it would certainly improve things.
So in real-life driving what fuel economy can you expect from a 116d? To find out, a collection of motoring journalists were tasked with driving from BMW HQ in Bracknell to Castle Combe race circuit in Wiltshire, with the aim of finding out what mpg could be achieved.
During mixed driving, including a detour crawling through Reading to avoid a pile-up on the M4 motorway, at the end of the 100 mile run the in-car fuel economy read-out proclaimed 58.8mpg. But how would this compare with the more precise method of measuring the actual fuel used? Interestingly, this more accurate method resulted in 53mpg. This fits in with our experience of most other cars also providing a slightly more optimistic view of their own economy on their trip computers than in reality. However 53mpg is still a reasonable result for mixed cross-country driving, even if somewhat short of the official 64mpg combined figure.
The reward for driving sensibly in the 116d was the chance to take a sample of BMW’s more powerful offerings around Castle Combe race track. This obviously has nothing to do with green cars, right? Wrong. BMW’s whole point is that compared to most other manufacturers who offer ‘eco’ versions of their normal cars, all of BMWs models are efficient – even the M3s of the world.
Let’s remind ourselves of what makes a BMW efficient. The EfficientDynamics technologies that appear on BMWs, petrol and diesel, include Auto Start-Stop, Active Aerodynamics, Lighweight Engineering, Optimum Shift Indicator, Electric Power Steering, Brake Energy Regeneration and Reduced Rolling Resistance Tyres. Other fuel saving measures include the air-conditioning power supply and various ancillary devices that disconnect from the drivetrain when not in use. And the point is that as well as making BMWs more economical, the engineering tweaks also make them better to drive. So does it all work out on the track? The answer is yes. The key is that BMWs are first and foremost drivers’ cars. With their rear wheel drive and 50/50 front/rear weight distribution, there are few feelings as rewarding as guiding a BMW around a race track with cornering angles being delicately controlled by the application of power to the rear wheels.
This was demonstrated in vehicles ranging from M3s to a 320d coupe and a 535d saloon. Even the Castle Combe instructors were amazed that there were diesel engines under the bonnets of half of the fleet out on the track.
However no matter how much of a tail-sliding expert the BMW chassis made any of the journalists feel, it was all suddenly put into perspective by a trip around the track in the 3 Series touring car of three times world champion Andy Priaulx. Whatever speeds you think you can get a BMW around a corner, however late you think you can brake into a corner, and however precise you think your racing line is through the corners, all that will seem on a completely different level after a lap around Castle Combe with Andy.
Trying to emulate Andy’s skills generally shows up one key deficiency – and it’s nothing to do with the BMW that you’re driving, but rather the ability, or more accurately the lack of ability, to think as fast as you’re driving.
Which brings us back to EfficientDynamics. It really is a reflection of the forward thinking of BMW that the company has slashed its average fleet CO2 emissions so effectively over the last couple of years, yet its cars are still rewarding drivers’ cars. To prove the point, the fleet average CO2 emissions for the premium manufacturers makes interesting reading. Jaguar’s average CO2 figure is 198g/km, Lexus is 196, Mercedes is 191. In comparison BMW is 158g/km (and Mini is just 138).
This is an excellent demonstration of the quality of thinking that BMW has applied to its product development in relation to how the world has been changing. As an example of what not to do, contrast this approach with that of Chrysler. Despite overwhelming evidence for many years about the need for cars to be more fuel efficient, very little was done by Chrysler, and by the American auto industry in general. As if that wasn’t enough, Chrysler also received regular feedback about how poorly the cars drove around corners, along with complaints about their quality. The result? Bankruptcy.
Let’s hope that all other manufacturers are now applying their very best thought processes about how to avoid being a Chrysler, and how to catch up with BMW to give us the next phase of even more efficient drivers’ cars. But beware – BMW is already thinking well ahead. We know about the firm’s imminent hybrids, and their ongoing development of hydrogen engines, but watch this space for announcements about thermoelectric generator technology inspired by deep space exploration coming soon to a BMW dealership near you…