1300 mile family road trip on the wrong side of the road

In the United States, when we think of taking the family on a long-distance road trip, we usually conjure up images of an SUV or a minivan — some huge three-row vehicle roughly the size of a local pub. But life is different in Europe. Roads are narrower, parking spaces are narrower, and fuel is more expensive than in America. Across the pond, efficiency is everything – space and energy efficiency and performance – all concepts I was about to understand on a much deeper level. When I first laid eyes on BMW 118i M Sport in London, its dimensions immediately struck me.

Feature guides

  • Hot slot like design
  • High quality interior materials
  • 60-40 split rear seat
  • Clear infotainment interface

  • Model: 118i M Sport
  • Engine / Engine: 1.5 liter turbo 3 cylinders
  • horse power: 136
  • torque: 162.2 lb/ft
  • payment system: front wheel drive system
  • Connecting: Automatic DTC

  • agile handling
  • confident braking
  • Surprisingly large storage space

  • a little weak
  • Rear view camera should be standard

At first glance

The phrase “hot hatch” came to mind. The design is sporty but tasteful. Dramatic intakes, upward creases that go into the rear fenders, and a steered rear spoiler that extends over the rear windshield. It sat on 18-inch wheels, big enough to complement a car this size. Visually, it’s similar to the rest of the BMW line, only…smaller. Misano Blue’s glossy paint added a bit of flair as the little bows over the Naman boot, I was excited—until I walked into the hatch, the trunk, or whatever they call the rear stowage area.

Cargo space that expands like a Tardis

I was traveling across the UK for three weeks with my wife and two children, and in a valiant attempt to model European efficiency we were limited to one cabin-sized bag and a small bag each. Opening the hatch, I took a deep breath and carried our luggage into the small area. Shockingly, it fits perfectly. This was like TARDIS. As if BMW purposely designed the boot to neatly hold four Rimowa cabin bags with room for more than a few jackets and a bottle of Scotch gin, we’d pick them up along the way and crammed them into a cubby close to the right wheel well. Who needs a Lincoln Navigator after all? After sliding everything inside, the hatch closed with a satisfying sneer, but it might also close with a thunderous applause.

If you’re familiar with BMWs, getting into the driver’s seat will feel familiar to you. If you don’t drive on the left, like me, you’ll feel even more terrified. The design, arrangement and materials are in keeping with the BMW aesthetic, but the quality of this entry-level model is much better than I expected. The M Sport has leather in the usual places – the steering wheel, doors and center console, but I really liked all the other surfaces. The panels and sills felt thick and solid, wrapped in a soft-touch material, and the door handles were made from actual “Al-loo-min-ee-um,” the supple, rubbery material that adorned the machine’s case. This felt well made. It felt purposeful. Felt like a proper BMW. The seats have the edging edges in the M cover and M seat belts – a nice touch that my kids picked up right away.

But all the lines in the world do not make up for what it lacks – a rear backup camera. Sure, it’s a small car, but with the rearview mirror on the other side of the windshield and the back seat full of kids, the rear camera in this example would be a welcome addition. The same goes for a few cylinders.

All style, half the engine

But all the lines in the world do not make up for what it lacks – a rear backup camera. Sure, it’s a small car, but with the rearview mirror on the other side of the windshield and the back seat full of kids, the rear camera in this example would be a welcome addition. The same goes for a few cylinders.

The 118i comes with a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder, which leaves a lot to be desired on first impression. I stopped at my first roundabout and mumbled, “Think left. Think left. Think left” to myself, the automatic shutdown was suddenly activated, causing the car to shiver and die. Releasing the brake caused the engine to almost start up so much that I thought it was diesel. This, combined with a slight start-up lag, added an extra layer of stress to the already foreign concept of a roundabout, and I quickly got used to turning off the auto-stop as soon as I turned it on.

Despite its appearance, a hot slot, this was definitely not. When pulling out on the highway in Comfort mode, the throttle response was delayed. In sports mode, the mode is better but it did not impress. I wanted The Clash. I got Bee Gees. The engine made an inquisitive high-pitched sound, the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox was adequate but as nice as soft peas, and instead of a tachometer, the instrument cluster displayed a “power ratio” (what measures that, I’m not quite sure). But then I remembered to think differently.

I prefer smaller cars, and cruising along the UK national speed limit of 70 mph, the ride is surprisingly smooth and sturdy for a car this size, and there is a fair amount of feedback through the steering wheel. The back seats were so comfortable that I didn’t hear any car-related complaints from the kids. Wind and road noise is very present, but the sound system is decent. The driver’s seat was supportive, comfortable and offered most of the adjustments you’d want. I particularly enjoyed the electrically adjustable struts that hugged me like sausage rolls. In fact, I often modified them for kicks only.

Related: This is what makes the 1 Series the best BMW hatchback

The long and winding road

But the magic of the 118i isn’t the engine or transmission; It’s in handling.

Unless you’re driving through a small village, roads that run through the UK countryside have a speed limit of 60mph. They have narrow fairways, tight turns, and lots of elevation changes. And thanks to the infrastructure, it is beautifully maintained. Once I learned that the small white circle with a black slashed line meant the speed limit was reversed at 60 mph, it was positively cheerful.

This was the modern impetus for leadership. The 136-horsepower three-cylinder that was appalling off the line felt just right on the back roads. The car lights up at 60 years; He starts to get smart and, dare I say, a bit sexy. He starts to dance a little. In a very unusual move, the BMW designed the 118i with front-wheel drive, and a little bit of torque and/or general weirdness was felt. But on the extended and winding roads, it handled very well. Yes, I was enjoying myself. The M Sport’s brakes seemed solid, smooth, and assured, especially when I quickly spotted a truck coming in my lane. And yes I swear it was my course.

As the days went by, I began to adjust my expectations and see the 118i through a different lens. The petrol stop was surprisingly fast, mainly because it has a smaller fuel tank than I’m used to. Each time I load and unpack the bags, I’ve been amazed that they not only fit everything we bring but also the corgi, fleece jacket, tweed fridge magnet, and the aforementioned Scottish gin we bought along the way.

As I became more comfortable on the left, I also became more comfortable with the car and the roads. I learned how to spot traffic cameras, understood more road signs, and even roundabouts were a breeze (although I still don’t know what the blue circle with the red X means). Perhaps except when I tried to cross a struggling mobile home on a particularly narrow rainy stretch of a two-lane road through the Highlands.

Related: 10 Weird UK Driving Laws You Didn’t KnowYes, this little car was winning me over. Not only that, he was earning my family. Several days later, we knew where to hide roadside snacks, how to do navigation, and I could get into the parking lot on the (mostly) first try. The kids made great use of the charging ports, and the music stream that I hoped was English (because I was afraid to hear anything remotely American that might send me down the right track of absolute auditory muscle memory).

Learn to love a car less

Somewhere along an eight-hour, 450-mile drive from Fort William, Scotland, to Solihull, England, I asked myself – if I lived here, would this £35,000 five-door ($41,390) be enough for me? The Audi RS6 Avant would surely be stunning on some B-roads but perhaps less fun trying to squeeze through a 17th-century alley in Stow-on-the-Wold. The Grand Wagoneer will be comfortable until you have to park it facing the opposite direction in central London traffic. I can’t help but wonder if we can all learn to live with a little less car; If only we could all enjoy some efficiency. The truth was staring right at me through the incredibly annoying rearview mirror mounted on the left. My entire family and all of our luggage were packed into a modestly sized but well-built hatchback, and we had a blast.

Yes, these Europeans might be on their way to something after all.

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