It’s all about the numbers, reckons Damien O’carroll.
The BMW 3 Series range now starts with a new number, thanks to the re-introduction of an old name. The 3 is still there, of course, it’s just the price that starts with a significantly different number – more specifically a 5 as opposed to a 7. The 3 Series range used to kick off with the 320i for $72,000, but now the 318i is back in the BMW range, resurrecting a popular model from a few years back and it now kicks off the 3 Series range at just $59,900. The 318i’s big secret is the fact that it packs the same engine as the 2 Series Active Tourer and the Mini Cooper – a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol unit that produces 100kw of power and 220Nm of torque. It comes standard with 18-inch alloys, heated electric seats, rain sensing wipers and automatic headlights, lane departure waring, blind spot monitoring, parking sensors all round, a reversing camera, satellite navigation, dual zone climate control and BMW’S Connecteddrive service. This is pretty similar equipment to the 320i, but the 318i is only available in a smaller range of colours (just black and white, actually) and has less choice in standard alloy wheels and interior trim (just the one of both) and has artificial leather instead of the real thing. But what about that whole BMW “Ultimate Driving Machine” experience, does the 318i live up to that? Yes and no. The little 1.5-litre threecylinder engine is brilliantly flexible and more than capable of keeping up with traffic. In fact, it actually feels a bit unwilling to go as comparatively slow as we do in New Zealand, being far happier cruising at around 120. Off the line it has more than enough grunt and at open road speeds it is quite capable of keeping up with and passing far larger engined cars. It also has a brilliant threecylinder growl, albeit a little muted in more grown-up 3 Series guise. The one place the modest power output is most noticeable, however, is when you are getting a bit keen on a winding back road. Here the little triple struggles out of corners, particularly if they are uphill. But there is also a huge upside to this tiny engine equation and that comes in the form of handling – the 318i is utterly sublime to chuck around a corner, thanks to the lack of weight over its front axle. The steering is nicely communicative and wonderfully responsive, while the chassis is typically 3 Series good, but this time with a lot less weight over the nose. So in that regard the 318i could be said to be one of the most pure Ultimate Driving Machines in BMW’S range, with its sublime handling uncorrupted by big power and a lot of weight in the nose. On the inside the 3 Series is starting to look a bit dated and drab when compared to the opposition. Adding to this is the lack of any kind of mobile phone mirroring capabilities that have rapidly become commonplace and the artificial leather is, well, awful, but that handling is just so damn sublime that none of that really matters.