The Independent Road Test: Comfort and joy with BMW's new baby: Richard Meaden celebrates the rebirth of the BMW 316i

Ask any aspirational driver who builds the finest sports saloons in the world, and there is no doubt of the answer. And such is the pull of BMW that even its most basic models are held in high esteem.

For those who hanker after a prime piece of German engineering but lack the cash, there is good news. The BMW 316i has been revamped with a new 16-valve engine, and it costs less than 15 grand.

What is there about the baby BMW that is so much more rewarding than the equivalent Ford Mondeo or Audi 80? For starters, there is the finest chassis in the class. Having resisted the trend to front-wheel drive, BMW offers a car that handles and steers with a clarity and style that front-drive cannot offer. And with this latest generation 3-series, the firm has managed to banish the traditional 'tail-happiness' of rear-wheel drive cars (particularly on wet roads), and put in its place a predictability that will reassure the meek and entertain the enthusiast.

The suspension combines taut handling control with comfortable compliance, giving the driver the best of both worlds. This ability to cope with the high-speed hustle and bumpy, in-town bustle is what sets the 316i apart from the herd.

Obviously, with only 102bhp available, the 316i is never going to be a great ball of fire. But the new 1.6-litre engine is sweet, eager and free-revving. Though you are always aware that it is a small engine pulling you along, the car rarely feels lethargic. The five-speed gearbox has a light, snappy change, which helps a lot - it works with you to keep the engine on the boil. The impressive top speed of 120mph makes it one of the quickest 1.6 saloons you can buy, although its 0-60mph time of 11.4 seconds is well beaten by the 1.6 Xedos 6.

Performance is just a small part of the story: the 316i is not to be found wanting in such matters as driver comfort and interior quality. The driving position is perfect, and the seats are as comfortable as your favourite pair of old shoes - overall, there are few cars in which a driver would feel more at home. The steering wheel (equipped with an airbag) is comfortably positioned, which largely makes up for the absence of adjustment for height or reach, and the crystal-clear instruments, logical ventilation controls and crisp-acting, convenient switchgear all contribute to the efficiency of the dashboard design.

True, you couldn't get lost in the rear passenger space, and the interior is dominated by dour black and dark grey. But the look and feel of the materials BMW has used suggests that the interior will last well - comforting if you are a company rep looking forward to three high-mileage years with your car.

One area in which the 316i does fall short is standard equipment. Some important elements are included - such as power steering, ABS, driver's airbag, central locking and electric front windows - but you have to pay extra to get such refinements as alloy wheels, a stereo system, sunroof or an alarm.

At this end of the market, running costs are bound to be a major factor. With depreciation included in the running costs, the 316i looks a better bet than most of its rivals. Whereas a similarly priced Mondeo is expected to be worth less than half its original price after three years, the 316i should recoup at least two-thirds of the original outlay. Add to this the group 14 insurance rating (the Xedos and Audi are in 15), and its miserly 37.4 touring mpg figure, and the economic argument for the 316i begins to look strong.

The fact that it shares a showroom with exotic high-performance saloons may do wonders for the image of the 316i, but the thought of sharing a workshop with the same megabuck machines is bound to put some potential buyers off. It should not, for although the 316i may be slightly more expensive to service, that excess is nowhere near enough to outweigh the other cost advantages.

There are cheaper, faster and more lavishly equipped 1.6-litre cars, but none of them can offer the BMW's enviable combination of qualities. If you aspire to own a sturdy, handsome and well-engineered small saloon, the 316i is the obvious choice.

SPECIFICATIONS

BMW 316i pounds 14,795

Engine: 1,596cc, four-cylinder, 16v, 102bhp, 111lb ft torque. Five- speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive. Performance: top speed 120mph; 0-60 in 11.4 seconds. Fuel consumption: 37.4mpg

COMPARISONS

Audi 80 1.6 SE pounds 15,160

Stylish, well built, and with enough class to impress the company exec, Audi's junior 80 suffers from an engine that is behind the times, and a ride that is too firm. It also lacks the BMW's sparkle.

Mazda Xedos 6 1.6 pounds 15,995

Same avant-garde looks and composed chassis as the more expensive V6 Xedos. Polished but pricey, and the interior materials as not as good as those on its German rivals.

Rover 420 GSi pounds 14,495

Nicely made, and with a classy cabin, looks smart and goes well, but is essentially a fairly old Honda with titivations. Lacks the dynamic poise of the BMW, and much less special to drive.

Volkswagen Vento 2.0 GL pounds 14,785

Drab-looking Golf-with-a-boot, solid, reliable, holds few surprises - pleasant or otherwise. Engine a bit rough, cabin dark and gloomy.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
tech
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

    The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

    £30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

    The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

    £35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'