The venerable BMW 3 Series sedan gets a more affordable and less powerful base version for Singapore, but the competition is hot in this segment
There’s no shortage of options in the small executive automotive segment these days. The badges on the cars may still be the same, but there are more niche segments to populate than ever. Besides sedans, SUVs, crossovers, four-door coupes and even upmarket hatchbacks are viable options for buyers, so much that ‘traditional’ cars like the BMW 3 Series sedans are in danger of being squeezed out of their tuft.
But there’s life and excitement left in the seventh-generation 3 Series yet. Joining the 320i and 330e in the BMW lineup here is the 318i. It uses the same 2.0-litre engine block from the 320i, but in a lower state of tune with 156 horsepower compared to the 320i’s 184 horsepower. What sets it apart from the other smaller BMWs like the 218i Gran Coupe though, is that it’s a traditional rear-wheel driven BMW sedan while the 1 and 2 Series cars use front-wheel drive chassis architecture.
The 3 Series, once BMW’s small sedan, has grown plenty over the last couple of generations and at 4,709mm in length, it has almost outgrown its original size category. In comparison, a medium sedan such as a Mazda 6 is just a tad longer at 4,865mm in length.
What this does give the driver though is a reasonably good feeling of space inside the car, though the driver-focused BMW cockpit feel is very much still present. It may be the ‘entry-level’ 3 Series, but it’s still packed with plenty of current-gen BMW tech like the Live Cockpit Professional with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch central display screen with integrated GPS navigation.
It’s got the very useful and accurate BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant too, which allows you to tell the car what you want done. It’s one of the better systems currently in use, and is activated by simply speaking, “Hey BMW” out loud. There’s the option of changing the activation key phrase to anything else you like too.
It understands most commands you give, such as “Turn on the radio”, and even “What’s the weather today?” from which it will proceed to read out the internet-linked weather forecast.
There’s some sonic wizardry going on in that the car knows when the driver is talking to it. Trying to say “Hey BMW” from the other seats in the car will elicit no response.
But the whole point of driving a 3 Series is about how it handles. It may have only 156 horsepower, but in use it’s actually more than adequate, as the turbo engine puts out a muscular 250Nm of torque from right off idling speed. The 0 to 100km/h dash is clicked off in 8.4 seconds, and there’s enough urgency from the whole package to make the car feel suitably engaging to drive.
The 318i won’t win in a straight sprint with more powerful cars but it’s very dynamically balanced and quite a joy to pilot on curves. There’s enough propulsion from the engine to feel the keen acceleration when you put the power down on corner exits, and the transmission shifts smoothly too. It’s a real sports sedan in the traditional BMW sense, in that the whole car drives and feels like a complete package tuned to work together, rather than a basic chassis that’s been given some tune ups here and there.
Back seat air vents help keep the passengers comfortable, and there’s plenty of legroom too. The 480 litres of luggage capacity can be expanded once the rear seats are dropped flat via handy release levers in the boot.
It’s a small detail, but this reduces the need to walk to the back door, opening it, folding the backrest, then walking back to the boot to continue the loading operation.
At first glance, the 318i appears to be a somewhat odd choice to buy in the face of another car in the BMW stable: the 218i Gran Coupe. Both feature four doors and a classic three-box silhouette, and the Gran Coupe looks sleeker too. Plus, the 218i Gran Coupe M Sport is nearly $30k cheaper.
That’s before you see the cars side by side though, or drive them. The front-wheel drive 218i has a much smaller cabin and boot, and handles very differently from the 318i when really driven with gusto. The 218i is still a great, dynamic car, but one that is pulled along by the front wheels rather than pushed from the rear.
More significantly, the base model Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C 160, both traditional rivals to the BMW 3 Series, are nearly $20k less than the 318i. They may have less powerful engines, but for the average Singaporean shopper looking for as much car real estate for the dollar possible the 318i comes off looking quite expensive.
But that’s only from the outside. The 318i is the keenest driving car of the three Germans, and worth considering if you don’t fancy paying an extra $18k for the more powerful 320i.
BMW 318i Sport
|Engine||1,998cc, turbocharged inline four|
|Power||156hp at 4500-6500rpm|
|Torque||250Nm at 1300-4300rpm|
|VES Band / CO2||C1 / 143g/km|
|Agent||Performance Motors Limited|
|Price||S$199,888 with COE|
|Verdict||A sweet-driving rear-wheel drive BMW sedan is always a treat, but large price tag and stiff competition blunts the entry-level 3 Series’ mass appeal|