BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus 2015It’s a big plus for the BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus, which proves that creating an 83mpg 1 Series by dropping in a MINI diesel engine really can work.

Richard Aucock | April 2015

When BMW invented EfficientDynamics, we didn’t quite know what we were in for. MPG and CO2 black magic, that’s what. Consistently, BMWs outpoint rivals for economy and emissions, despite also toppling them for power and performance. We know from testing they’re equally good out on the road. It’s wizardry, that’s what it is.

Belatedly, BMW’s rivals have caught up with the eco performance of its range green star, the 116d EfficientDynamics. 99g/km and 74.3mpg is no longer quite the wow it once was: Audi’s matched it with the A3 and, with the A 180 CDI, Mercedes-Benz has actually gone 1g/km CO2 better.

The wizards in Munich weren’t having that. So, as part of the big 1 Series facelift, they’ve overhauled the 116d ED, upping economy further and chopping CO2 by a similar amount. Welcome to the 116d EfficientDynamics Plus. That’s plus mpg but minus CO2. How does 89g/km and 83.1mpg sound to you?

Sound impossible? Not so – not that BMW’s found it straightforward, mind. Its existing 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel certainly wasn’t able to go so low. So, instead, it’s installed a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbodiesel instead – the same engine, no less, as found in a MINI Cooper D.

Yes, a three-cylinder BMW.

They’ll be making front-wheel drive BMWs next, you’re thinking (actually, they already are). But let’s not panic too much: the MINI-engine’d 1er still matches the old ED model with 116hp, and performance is passable with 0-62mph in 10.4 seconds.

Oh, and each cylinder is actually bigger than the old 1.6-litre, at a healthy 500c each. That’s because this is BMW’s new modular engine – so you can genuinely say it’s half a 3.0-litre straight six. Kudos is kudos.

Now the 1 Series is so much prettier, with its crisper nose, broader rear and higher quality cabin, it’s a considerably more appealing alternative to Audi A3s and Mercedes-Benz A-Class in showrooms. Can it carry this extra appeal out onto the road?

What’s the BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus like to drive?

BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus 2015

There’s something immediately very appealing about the new 1 Series ED plus: it ‘feels’ like a very efficient, friction-free, low-energy car. And the little engine is key to this. Don’t be worried by the startup shudder and trace of three-cylinder vibes at a cold idle, because that’s about as pulsating as this engine gets. Most of the time, it’s very smooth and well oiled indeed.

It doesn’t make anything like the noise of the old four-cylinder motor, and the support of turbo torque makes it a loyal partner so long as you’ve got more than 1,500rpm on the tacho. Despite 199lb ft of torque, you’d hardly call it fast, but it rarely feels ‘downsized’. It works rather well.

Only above 3,500rpm does it start to clatter, but even this is a higher-pitched castanet rattle rather than something more industrial. There’s not much point in revving it anyway, despite its impressive smoothness: snicking into a higher gear taps into the richness of torque and feels better.

For a supposed economy special, the rear-wheel drive 1 Series ED is pleasingly dynamic. There’s never the power to really exploit its rear-drive chassis, but a well set up chassis gives more pointy poise than its rivals but with a taut but very well damped and harshness-free ride in the background.

And because there’s much less weight on the nose, it actually feels a bit more pure and precise than higher-powered versions. It’s more of a fingertips BMW, with clean feedback and satisfying manners – efficient, friction-free and low-energy, in fact.

It’s the driver’s eco-special car, alright.

Can the BMW out-eco the Golf Bluemotion?

BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus 2015

Despite its improvements, the BMW can’t quite match Volkswagen’s remarkable Golf Bluemotion for fuel economy and CO2: the Golf does 88.3mpg and 85g/km, the BMW returns 83.1mpg and 89g/km. They’re closely matched on 0-62mph though, at around 10.5 seconds, and the BMW’s marginal power and torque advantage may prove useful.

They’re surprisingly closely matched on price: £21,500 for the Golf, £1,000 more for the BMW – which does have a few spec advantages and will also come with standard sat nav later this year.

Of course, in terms of space, you’ll still err towards the highly practical Golf. The BMW’s low-slung driving position feels great but it also feels more compact, and the rear is only just acceptable for adults – they’ll grumble far sooner in there than the Golf, which probably won’t rouse any mumbles at all.

You’ll never believe the BMW has a 360-litre boot, but the Golf’s 380-litre load bay is much more flexible and easy-access.

But when it comes to which eco special you’d rather drive every day, the BMW undoubtedly steers ahead. Partly through the way it steers, yes: it’s satisfying, pleasing and rewarding for drivers despite its planet-saving pretensions.

It’s also (now) that bit more special to sit in and, well, own. The big lift in interior quality of the facelifted car is tangible and it’s tactile in places where the old one was below par. All the controls have a nice, mechanical, well engineered feel that noses it ahead of the itself-immaculate Golf, and there’s still something nice about owning a BMW rather than a VW in this sector.

Factor in styling that you’ll finally no longer be slightly embarrassed by, and the fact nobody’ll guess this is a three-cylinder MINI-motor 83mpg free road tax BMW and, if you don’t need the space, we’d give it the nod over the still slightly hairshirt and eco-compromised Golf Bluemotion.

Verdict: BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus (2015)

BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus 2015

It’s an impressive car, the most fuel-efficient BMW ever. It’s rather stirring, the thought of it having a little three-cylinder engine from the world’s original city car, but it actually works.

OK, it’s not fast, and it can get caught out if you let revs drop too low – it won’t slug like a bigger engine. It’ll also clatter like marbles if you rev it hard, which itself is rather pointless given the relative lack of power.

But keep it sensible and real world, and it performs far better than you’d ever think a RWD BMW with a three-pot MINI engine would. And, an on-paper 83mpg seems not far removed from the real world, either: even during our very hard-driven road test (well, testing is testing…), the trip computer still showed 50mpg.

It’s the clean, pure, well balanced feel that really makes the latest 116d EfficientDynamics Plus, though. It ‘seems’ cleaner than the old one, with a lovely low-effort, high-feedback feel that’s very modern and suitably premium (and anything but paired-back and eco-spec). We were surprised by it; we also liked it.

Rivals: BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus (2015)

  • Audi A3 1.6 TDI
  • Mercedes-Benz C 180 CDI
  • Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion
  • SEAT Leon Ecomotive
  • Nissan Leaf

Specification: BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus (2015)

Engine 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder

Gearbox Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Price from £22,030 (116d EfficientDynamics Plus 3dr)

Power 116hp

Torque 199lb ft

0-62mph 10.4 seconds

Top speed 121mph

MPG 83.1mpg

CO2 89g/km