You really can't consider the 1-series to be a thorn in the side of BMW when it was launched in Thailand in first-generation form over seven years ago because it was never taken seriously by the Thai office despite it being meant as an entry-level Bimmer.
By starting out life with a hatchback _ a body variation that isn't liked too much by Thais in general _ the 2.8 million baht 120i was merely imported for the kicks and had a price perilously treading in the territory of the Thai-built 320i saloon.
As well, BMW was apparently too happy with the sizeable sales volumes of its successful Mini brand whose annual numbers grew to 500 units last year.
So what gives BMW Thailand a good reason in continuing imports of the second-generation 1-series, you might ask? Well, times have changed a little, so there might be some valid reasons for selling it again.
Okay, Thais still prefer saloons, but hatchbacks are slowly becoming more popular for people who are bored with convention _ hey, the first Mini was a hatch.
And "small" is not only the new thing in the mass-market but also in the premium sector, especially when it comes to luring the young into showrooms.
That's why Mercedes-Benz went flat out with its latest A-class by making it an utterly sporty-looking hatchback. And with pricing more aggressive than usual, the A180 and A250 have managed to pop up on the radar screens of potential luxury car buyers in Thailand.
Obviously, BMW had to counter with some noises in the Thai premium compact hatchback segment, which now has official representatives from Lexus and Volvo, as well.
But since the 1-series must still be imported, any prospective client looking to go for one must be prepared for some compromises by using their hearts more than their heads.
What BMW seemingly had in mind was to sell the least powerful version of the 1-series (to lower the price as much as possible) and spruce it up with the M Sport spec to make it like an expensive import when it actually costs just 1.999 million baht.
The result is the 116i M Sport, as tested here this week, which comes with a rather basic 136hp 1.6-litre petrol-turbo engine. Of course, there's the 102hp 114i in Europe but only with a manual gearbox and not the 116i's eight-speed auto option.
So, it's quite clear from the onset that the 116i will be for people needing to fake their sporty intentions in a compact car like this, which isn't a totally bad thing because many Thais still like to be seen rather than cherish themselves behind the wheel.
But whether the 1-series can be regarded as a good-looking car is still open to debate. Like before, it still has some quirky proportions and design cues. It must be said that the M Sport treatment is quite a good remedy to a certain extent.
The interior of the 1-series is quite a nice place to be in by feeling very much the same as in a 3-series, as such. It doesn't shout as loud as the A-class nor does it feel as cold as the Lexus CT.
The chunky M-labelled steering looks great, although its upper part doesn't allow for a full view of the instrument panel.
The choice of materials and plastics feels rightly upmarket and successfully distances the 1-series away from mass-market hatchbacks like the Ford Focus and Mazda 3 in terms of perceived quality. The suede leather upholstery matches the M Sport concept well and the seats are good to sit in.
But it's also here where costs were needed to be contained for that sub-2 million baht price. There are no electrically adjustable seats, automatic climate control or navigation system. And while some of its rivals are boasting driving assist systems, the 116i sticks to conventional safety features, which are aplenty, though.
The rear accommodation in the 1-series has improved over the outgoing model by having a bigger door opening (for easier entry and exit) and just sufficient head and legroom. Because the 1-series is still rear-drive, there's a shaft tunnel running in the centre that might give a claustrophobic feel to some people.
It certainly isn't as woeful as before but neither is it remarkable. But what makes the 1-series quite practical against its rivals, be it the Merc or Lexie, is decent boot space with rear seats that fold nearly flat.
While the overall packaging of the 1-series has been moved up a notch, the driving manners have also taken a similar path, especially with that downsized 1.6-litre petrol-turbo engine mated to the brand's latest eight-speed automatic transmission.
Although the power isn't as much as in the previous 120i sporting a 150hp 2.0-litre naturally aspirated motor and six-speed auto, the 136 ponies in the 116i still gives the car ample amounts of gallop in the real-world.
The turbo 1.6 is flexible at low to medium speeds. The sport mode can be useful for drivers who need a more responsive gearshift action. This is certainly a better drivetrain combination than in the 120i.
Even cooler is refinement and economy, not only when compared with its predecessor but also over its contemporary rivals _ bar the Volvo V40 which we have yet to drive.
Generally speaking, the 116i's engine is quiet and makes up for good driving refinement to nearly match that of the hybrid-powered CT200h. The A180, by contrast, sounds more vocal.
Our average rating nearly matched that of BMW's near-18kpl claim which is quite impressive for a car with such kind of power. We even managed 13kpl around town, although that could also be down to the automatic stop/start the 116i has.
BMW might be making some noises by suggesting that the 1-series is the last of all hatchbacks _ be it premium or mass-market _ to come with a rear-wheel-drive chassis.
Yes, you can feel this asset when driving in corners with enthusiasm, but whether the 116i can fully exploit this kind of chassis with just a modest amount of power is another thing. In fact, we'd really wonder whether potential buyers would care _ or even notice that the 1-series is rear-drive.
Since the 1-series has a relatively compact body and slightly firm suspension, the ride can be choppy over less smooth roads but never to the point of irritation. The front end feels stiff over sharp bumps; the A-class also feels rigid but more at the rear.
The decision by BMW Thailand to dress up the 116i with 17-inch wheels and low aspect-ratio tyres hasn't ruined the low-speed ride either, meaning that it's reasonably taut and quieter than before and against the A-class.
Overall, the chassis is set up quite well, given the size of the 1-series and sporty concept dictated by the brand. Our only rather small reservation about the way it drives is a numb steering. Otherwise, it's endowed with fine levels of driving agility and handling balance.
Actually, the 1-series isn't like what it was before: lacking in driving comfort and cabin usability. And in 116i form, this One doesn't compromise as much in the performance and economy equation as in the 120i.
The best part of the 116i is the 800,000 baht price difference, meaning that you get more positive product attributes for a substantial discount (if you don't mind the chopped out interior features) now.
Finally, the 1-series is worth looking at, especially if you're contemplating an A-class, and really shouldn't be forgotten like the one before.
It's not a belter, but the 1-series now makes some sense in the Thai premium compact hatchback class and the entry-level front.
And maybe that's all because of an aggressive competition, which was hardly the case when the first One appeared in 2005.
AT A GLANCE
Styling ............................... 7/10
Like before, the 1-series still has some quirky proportions. M Sport package lightly compensates.
Performance and economy.... 8/10
The 1.6-litre turbo engine yields ample _ not firecracking _ performance, but economy is good.
Handling and ride ................. 7/10
Distinctive rear-drive chassis makes for entertaining handling _ if buyers would really care. Ride is a little choppy.
Practicality ......................... 7/10
Rear accommodation has slightly improved, if not great yet. Boot is decent and rear seats fold down nearly flat.
Safety kit ............................ 8/10
Passive safety isn't lacking, although its rivals are now boasting new things in terms of driver-assist systems.
VERDICT ............................ 7/10
The 1-series now has more usable space, an effective downsized engine, better comfort and the trademark rear-drive dynamics.
And with a price more appropriate than ever, BMW's entry-level hatch now makes some sense.
Boot space is quite decent and rear seats fold easily and nearly flat.
Interior quality feels rightly premium and above that of mass-market ones.
It’s endowed with fine levels of driving agility and handling balance.
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