A triple is a Marmite engine in terms of aural appeal; it sings a love-it or hate-it type tune. I’ve always liked the lumpy thrum of a three-pot; it’s like a 911 engine chopped in half. And now you can get that soundtrack in a 3 Series, the 318i forming a new sub-$60k entry point.
It’s a car that looks every bit as purposeful as the 320i, all for $12k less. While there’s an abbreviated engine, they haven’t stripped the 318i bare, coming with much the same specification as the four-cylinder car, save for its faux leather trim and the absence of a self-parking feature. There’s a lesser output – the 1.5-litre turbo triple makes 100kW and 220Nm – but the 318i still uses an eight-speed auto driving the rear wheels.
Is it enough though? There are occasions when you’d love to have the added zip of a 320i at your disposal but the 318i copes with the daily grind well. The torque is rustled up from 1250rpm and there’s an adequate amount to move the 318i without busting its nut, the eight-speed maximising what’s there. When in a rush though, the response from the auto can be too slow, which catches the engine out, although selecting the Sport driving mode shakes it up to sort this issue, and cancels the stop/start which is not the smoothest when re-firing. The quoted fuel use figure is 5.4L/100km but it will register in the nines for urban ramblings.
What we found endearing is that you can quite literally drive the 318i hard and not fall too far foul of the law in a speed sense. Set to Sport, the auto holds gears when needed, and the engine revs keenly. Mash the gas and enjoy. As 220Nm doesn’t really rip you out of bends, maintaining midcorner momentum helps, and that’s something at which the 318i excels. The engine is all but behind the front axle, and with plenty of good rubber on the road, you can fire into a bend with little risk of the front running wide. The fixed rate suspension has equal measures of compliance and roll control, with just the occasional bump at the rear. Otherwise you can’t fault the dynamics, for it’s well balanced, steers accurately with thoughtful interaction and the brakes are sound. And yet all this won’t be appreciated by most buyers who will sign up chiefly because they are getting a brand new 3 Series for not a whole lot more than a top-spec Mazda6.
The ‘Sensatec’ leather-like seat cladding is passable and while there are heaters and memory adjustment setting, there is no lumbar adjust. Some of the interior surfaces are hard but otherwise the cabin quality is what you’d expect of a well made 3 Series. Everything is bit smaller in the 318i with the entry-level 6.5-inch infotainment screen and iDrive controller but about the only spec item we missed is full comfort access, and maybe adaptive cruise but the active safety features are present with AEB, lane departure and blind spot warnings.
While this initial shipment of cars can’t be optioned up, the 318i is intended to join the range permanently with the ability to add options as you please. But go easy, as add ons will quickly erode the value of what is otherwise a most enjoyable driver’s package.
|Engine||1499cc, IL3, DI/T, 100kW/220Nm||Drivetrain||8-speed auto, rear-wheel-drive|
|Fuel Use||5,4L/100km||C02 Output||126g/km|