With a willing engine, lively handling, and a good bit of kit, entry level doesn’t feel quite as such in the new BMW 318i.
Buying a car is a bit like portion sizing your lunch. Do you saunter up to the aunty at the counter and ask for the basic $3 bowl of fishball noodles? Or do you go all out and ask for the $6 bowl with more noodles, more fishballs, and her giao?
While it’s nice to have her giao, and six fishballs instead of four, the lunch budget sometimes doesn’t allow it. But, tuck into your lunch, and you realise that the noodles are cooked al dente and the fishballs perfectly bouncy – now the basic bowl seems a lot better than originally thought.
The 3 Series has long been a stalwart of the fiercely competitive compact executive sedan segment; with Singapore’s vehicle tax structure generating consistently healthy sales for its entry level models. Buyers are happy with a premium badge on the nose, for just a slight premium over alternative Asian makes.
In some ways, then, the new BMW 318i is a bit like that $3 bowl of fishball noodles. Sure, it’s the cheapest 3 Series on sale with a modestly-numbered badge, but you’re never really quite left wanting more.
Detuned but Delightful
On the spec sheet, the detuned 318i plays second fiddle to the 320i with 27 bhp and 50 Nm less. Unlike the previous generation (F30) entry level models which used a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder, BMW have this time opted to simply detune the 320i’s 2.0-litre 4-cylinder.
There’s a silver lining to that, though, as the lower emissions put it in the neutral VES band ‘B’ as compared to the 320i’s VES band ‘C1’. That’s $10,000 saved on the surcharge, which is soon increasing to $15,000 from 1st July 2021.
While 154 bhp and 250 Nm of torque doesn’t seem like much from the turbocharged 4-pot, the ratios of the ZF 8-speeder have been matched perfectly to the engine’s powerband. Going around town, the engine is sufficiently smooth and responsive, even when left in Comfort mode.
It’s efficient, too. There was an indicated 700 km of range with a full tank, which – if driven normally – would get you from Singapore to Penang without refueling. Despite being driven not at all gently, the 318i got us reasonably close to the estimated figure.
It might not have the stratospheric power output of the M cars, but the 318i comes standard with trademark handling characteristics that make a BMW, a BMW. Point it in whichever direction you’d like, and it’ll go that way confidently. Despite riding on chunky 50-profile tyres, the car stays balanced even if you take sweeping corners a bit ambitiously.
Though the car isn’t equipped with adjustable suspension, the fixed dampers offer a near-perfect balance of comfort and stiffness. Fly over uneven roads like Jalan Buroh and the bumps get soaked up with aplomb; show it the corners at South Buona Vista and it dances through the bends with surprising agility.
Superb, not Spartan
Sure, it’s a bit monochromatic with everything in black or silver, but do you really need a dual-colour interior? Touchpoint materials are similar to what you’d get on the higher trims, and is of typical BMW quality. My only gripe is the use of piano black on the door covering the cupholders, creating a huge fingerprint magnet.
In BMW-speak, the Sport trim opens the model line, with ‘Luxury’ and ‘M Sport’ for those feeling a bit spendy. Plop yourself into the sports seats, however, and you’d never guess that it’s the base trim.
Everything you can think of is offered as standard – wireless charging, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, a digital instrument display, navigation, live traffic information, and even a Siri-like Intelligent Personal Assistant. Heck, you even get electric memory seats at the front, and climate control for the rear passengers!
Step out of the car, and you’ll find that the 17-inch wheels do betray its base model status a bit. But it does come with LED headlights as standard, which have a subtle DRL integrated. It even comes with twin exhaust outlets, a feature previously only seen on the 340i and up.
Is it worth a punt?
As much as the 318i is the most affordable 3 Series on sale, the list price of $207,888 (as of March 2021) is the highest amongst its rivals. This means you’re paying $1,000 more than the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and a massive $15,000 over the Audi A4.
Though the price difference is hard to ignore, this is time to let the heart rule over the head. And if driver engagement is right at the top of your priority list, we’d say the 318i is worth that little extra.