BMW 318i 2015 review
We've already tried the facelifted 320d and 335d, but what's it like with a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder unit under the bonnet?
BMW has become the first premium car maker to jump on the three-cylinder bandwagon – offering one in its popular compact executive car. It seems life on the bottom rung isn’t that bad, as the tiny 1.5-litre turbo gives the ruthlessly capable and clinically efficient 3 Series a dose of much-needed character. For most, the 320d still offers the best package and if it were our money we’d plump for the diesel, too. But if you only want a petrol, the 318i makes a strong case for consideration.
While BMW promised its new, facelifted and fettled version would put the 3 back at the top earlier this year, our first taste of it in range-topping six-cylinder 340i trim didn’t exactly wow us. It seemed as though the 3 Series’ time as the king was over.
That changed earlier this month though as we got behind the wheel of the 320d M Sport – the 3 Series that has long been Britain’s favourite. This time around it seemed as though BMW’s statements of improved ride quality and driver fun had come good.
Car group tests
But while the 320d may be the sweet spot of the range, what’s life like for those who want the 3 Series badge but don’t have the wedge to spend big?
BMW has brought back the 318i badge for the entry-level petrol 3 Series, and as is the norm these days, the numbers don’t hint at what’s under the bonnet. BMW has slotted in the same small petrol engine it uses in the 2 Series Active Tourer and MINI Cooper – a tiny 1.5-litre turbo with just three cylinders.
That’s rather a strange concept, especially for a car that is known for its tax-friendly four-cylinder diesels and sonorous straight-six petrols. But BMW has made a real success of it – in fact, it’s actually a real treat.
Just like in the Active Tourer, there’s 134bhp and 220Nm of torque on tap – and with only thee cylinders working away, it’s remarkably smooth. Moreover it’s also surprisingly quiet, with the distinctive thrum so inherent of all three-pot petrols only really singing above 4,000rpm as peak power kicks in.
BMW quotes a 0-62mph time of 8.9 seconds and while we don’t doubt it, to get to that benchmark requires a lot of gear stirring.
Unsurprisingly, compared to the 320d, the 318i needs to be kept in a lower gear under acceleration, with plenty of revs to make similar progress. This will prove a bit of a surprise for current 3 Series owners, but not so much for those trading up from a small petrol hatchback.
The six-speed gearbox is as crisp as you’ll find in most other BMWs costing half as much again and with CO2 emissions of 129g/km, it slots into the 19 per cent benefit-in-kind bracket. However, you’ll struggle to match the combined fuel consumption (51.4mpg) that BMW quotes – as over 1,200 miles we rarely saw more than 39mpg.
Another bad point is the vibrations that kick through the gearbox and clutch pedal when the stop-start disengages, and, if you’re one for debadging your 3 Series the three-pot will give the game away as the exhaust emits a breathless clatter at idle.
Aside from the new engine, BMW has fettled the 3 Series for its mid-life update with tweaked the suspension and new steering. Our car came with the optional £85 Servotronic setup, which adds extra weight depending on road speed.
However, we found it blunts the great natural feel you get from a standard 3 Series – especially one with such a light engine over the front axle.