REVIEW DATE: 20 Oct 2008
Put a four cylinder engine in your BMW and you had once missed the point. That's no longer the case, reports Andy Enright
Entry level BMW 3 Series models haven't always had a stellar image. They used to be the province of those obsessed with owning a BMW and little else. I had a neighbour who owned a 318i and he attempted to one-up me for years by putting 328i badges on his car as if I couldn't recognise the four-cylinder sound of his engine, the incorrect interior and alloy wheels and the lack of exhaust pipes. I never let on, chuckling to myself every time I saw him. Things are a lot different these days. The latest, facelifted 3 Series has a 318i to be proud of.
What has undoubtedly helped is that BMW are basing more of their 3 Series range around four-cylinder engines. Whereas the 318i (or the 316 if you're really pushing it) was once left rather stranded at the tail end of BMW's product line, the fact that the 320i engine is now a four-cylinder, plus the introduction of the 1-Series as the entry-level BMW, has rehabilitated the image of the four-cylinder 3 Series. Unlike the 170bhp 320i, the 318i has to make do with 143bhp, although this is still a reasonable amount of go.
The 190Nm of torque isn't much down on the 320i and on the road there won't be much to choose between the two models. Whereas the 320i will make 60mph from rest in 8.2 seconds and accelerate to a top speed of 142mph, the 318i isn't too far behind, notching a 9.1 second sprint and a terminal velocity of 130mph. The outstanding fuel economy figure of 47.9mpg is a little better than the more powerful car although it's doubtful if too many decisions are swung by this factor. A CO2 figure of 142g/km is also an impressive showing for a car with this sort of performance.
The 318d's outstanding economy and emissions figures come courtesy of BMW's EfficientDynamics technology programme. Features including Auto Start-Stop, Brake Energy Regeneration, high precision direct injection, active aero dynamics and optimum gear shift indicators go into EfficentDynamics and the results put BMW products near the top of the tree when it comes to environmental and running costs considerations.
"The 318i is the smartest pick in the 3 Series line up for private buyers"
Not content with introducing this very accomplished model to their range, BMW gave the 318i an instant headache by introducing a 318d diesel. A little slower (zero to 60 in 9.3 seconds and an identical top speed of 130mph), the 318d aces its petrol rivals with a 60mpg average fuel consumption and emissions rated at just 123g/km. This will make the diesel car the apple of company car buyer's eyes and comparing the two cars' torque figures shows that the diesel car is hugely more muscular - 300Nm of torque versus 190Nm.
Where the 318i claws back an advantage is in pricing. The 318d is saddled with a price premium not far short of £3,000 which means that for most private buyers, the 318i is by far the smartest pick.
The 3 Series is now starting to shift stock in big numbers after a tentative introduction. The 318i model, with its British built engine, is a key weapon in ensuring this 'E90' generation 3 Series once again does a number on its rivals from Audi and Mercedes, not to mention Jaguar, Lexus, Saab and Volvo. Developing an all-new 3-Series was never going to be easy and the latest car shows that the money men and the stylists have gone head to head in the battle between shifting big numbers and continuing the trend for challengingly styled BMWs. It looks like the stylists have blinked first, the 3-Series looking a good deal more conservatively penned than the rest of the BMW line up. Although those wearing the black polo necks may grumble, it's a wise choice. With the 3-Series accounting for fully 52 per cent of BMW's UK sales, alienating this bedrock of customers with a wilfully odd looking car was never going to make a sound business case. Although sales of the latest 5-Series have swelled as people became used to its sharky lines, for the first few months that styling was manna from heaven for Mercedes and Audi.
Unusually for a 3 Series, it could be that what's on the bonnet gains as much attention as what's under it where this revised model is concerned. The styling of today's car has been updated in a number of small ways but the raised lines that fall down the middle of the bonnet are most noticeable. Elsewhere, the BMW trademark ringed side lights are standard and the grille has been tweaked while the entire rear light clusters are now entirely ruby red in colour and the side skirts have a more pronounced crease line. The interior looks largely similar to the previous model but BMW has again updated its iDrive control interface with scrolling menu displays designed to enhance usability. There's 8 gigabytes of music storage capacity in the system too, enough for 100 albums, while the quality of the trim materials around the cabin has also been enhanced.
The 318i is never going to be the star of the 3 Series line up. Leave the limelight for the M3 and the super-powerful diesel cars. If I had to stake money on which version of the Three was going to contribute the biggest slug of revenue to BMW's bottom line, I'd certainly plump for the humble 318i every time. Customers won't be able to help themselves when the temptation of the options list slides across the dealer's desk. These days they're going to end up with a very special car indeed.
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|BMW 3 Series 320d SE 4dr Step Auto diesel saloon|
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|BMW 3 Series 330d M Sport 4dr Step Auto diesel saloon|
|BMW 3 Series 320d EfficientDynamics 4dr diesel saloon|
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|For 3 SERIES 318i|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||5|
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