BMW 318i Sport | All about that Base

BY Joel Tam

BMW’s base model 3 Series is the choice for those who care about driving more than outright features.

Photos: Matthew Edward Loh

With Merc’s new C-Class, VW’s new Passat and Jaguar’s XE strutting their fancy stuff over the past few months (C-Class a bit longer than that), BMW has decided to refresh their popular 3 Series to keep it in the game. 

One of the few sedans that you can get with rear-wheel drive, the new 3 Series has its old four-cylinder motor replaced by the same 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine found in the latest MINI Cooper. With a decent 136 bhp and 220 Nm at 4300 rpm there is virtually no change in the performance figures compared to the model it replaces. With the new engine however, the entry-level 3 Series is now up to 12 percent more efficient.

The exterior and interior remain pretty much the same for this refresh. The 3 Series has always been a handsome car and we have been fans of it ever since we took the 335i out years ago. Our 318i Sport came with a Sport Line exterior trim, 17-inch wheels and high-gloss black interior trim with Coral Red matt highlights. While I’m still questioning the extensive use of hard plastics on the inside, I’m not about to say that it’s totally intolerable - the cabin remains as one of the most dashing looking ones around.

The only thing I find hard to justify when paying for a $180,000 luxury car is the fact that it has no cruise control. As an avid long distance driver (I’m on the North-South Highway at least 5 times a year), cruise control is a must for me. All other models above the 318i has it though, so why is it that the 318i doesn’t? I’m sure it can’t be all that expensive to include it in, especially when you have more advanced tech like BMW's proprietary ConnectedDrive as standard on the 318i.

On that note, I think I ought to mention that BMW’s ConnectedDrive Services come with all BMWs now (some models like the 116 diesel will have the partial suite). This includes an ’S.O.S’. intelligent emergency call, tele services, real time traffic information, concierge services and remote services. These features are integrated into the I-Drive system and is always within reach - it did however, take me awhile to get used to BMW’s infotainment (I-Drive) as I adapted to their test-cars over the years. Time for a touch screen BMW?

So how does the new engine feel? Pretty peppy and not as noisy as I thought it might be. From the outside, there is a slight clatter that might make you think you’ve bought a diesel. But get in the car and the noise is all gone. Rev the 3-cylinder engine hard and a surprisingly nice, creamy engine note can be heard through the panels - now it sounds like a V6!

Most people who are in the market for a medium-sized luxury sedan will appreciate the light steering feel and how easy it is to steer the 318i. For me, it is a bit too light. Even with BMW’s Servotronic tech that adds more weight as the speed increases, I did crave for more weight as I chucked the car fast and hard into a series of bends. But aside from that, the car handled admirably and the Pirelli Cinturato P7s seemed to keep it stuck to the ground rather well. It’s not razor-sharp like a sports car, but perhaps having a bit less weight from a lighter engine in the front helps the new car respond more directly too.

To get the most responsive behaviour from the car, put it into Sport via the Driver Experience Control switch on the centre console. The throttle response immediately sharpens and shifts are delayed to extract as much power from the rev range. The 8-speed gearbox is still a joy to use as it is fast and efficient. But the 318i does without the paddle shifters, which is a shame. 0-100 km/h is done in 9.1 seconds and the 318i will reach a top speed of 210 km/h. If you need more, I recommend the 320i with 184 bhp. That will shave almost two seconds off the century sprint and take you up to 235 km/h.

If you’re not into the over-styled curvy lines of the C-Class and you don’t mind having less tech that the well-specced new Passat, the BMW 318i is a really good choice. It is spacious enough for five adults, drives well and has a premium badge that will still garner some respect with your friends. Despite having a downsized 3-cylinder engine, it’s surprisingly quiet and capable as a smooth cruiser for long distance driving. Now if only it had cruise control...