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?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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.

The BMW 3 Series has long been at the top of the pile in the compact executive sector, but recently it has seen its dominance questioned by new rivals from Jaguar and Mercedes.

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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.

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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.

BMW 320d M Sport review

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 335d xDrive Touring review

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.

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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. 

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