As much as many viewers of MotorWeek like BMWs, there usually is one major complaint. They cost too much! Well, BMW must be listening. For the last few years, BMW has been working hard to produce more affordable cars that still retained the marque’s distinctive driving qualities. The best example to date of those efforts, is the 318ti. Now compared to other 3-Series models, it may look like part of it is missing, but trust us, it’s all there!
And it’s all BMW! Developed as the ultimate entry-level Bimmer, the 318ti 3-door Coupe is the one that even we can afford. That’s because, in an attempt to bring in new owners, BMW has built it to a price. A very reasonable $19,900. $22,300 for our well-equipped test car.
And in a sense, you do get less car … 8.8 inches less, to be exact. That’s how much shorter the 318ti is than the standard 3-Series sedan. The wheelbase though, remains 106.3 inches.
The length all comes off the tail, where a handy hatch replaces the standard 3-Series trunk. And a simpler semi-trailing arm suspension replaces the familiar multi-link setup.The front end, however, is all current 3-Series, including chassis, suspension, sheet metal, and engine.
And as the 318 designation tells you, that engine is the same 1.8-liter 4-cylinder unit that powers the 318i sedan. It drives the rear wheels with 138 horsepower, and 129 pound-feet of torque, which is good for 0 to 60 in 9.2 seconds. And quarter-mile runs of 17 seconds, ending at 83 miles per hour.
As with many German engines, there’s little real power below 3,000 rpm. But it then builds strongly to redline. And requires regular stirring of the light, positive 5-speed manual shifter to keep it spinning. A 4-speed auto is optional.
On our test track, the 3-door coupe displayed flawless handling, thanks to sharp power steering, minimal front plow, and grippy Michelin tires, mounted on optional 15-inch alloy wheels.
But performance on a flat, smooth race track is only half the story. Out in the real world of bumps and potholes, the suspension mix tells a different tale.
Driven briskly over bumpy roads, the front and rear seem at odds with each other. And while handling is not compromised, it gives the ti a somewhat vague feeling in corners. Slightly less than we’ve come to expect from BMW, but still better than many competitors. The price, one might say, of building to a price.
BMW didn’t skimp on the brakes, however. The 4-wheel discs with standard ABS, delivered average stops from 60 of 115 feet. Safe, solid, and strong.
Solid also describes the interior styling. A new dash, and more liberal use of plastic, gives the cockpit a more utilitarian look than other 3-Series cars. But room comfort, and ease of use, all live up to the standard set by its larger siblings.
Rear seat room is also respectable for a compact coupe. And a standard split-folding seatback provides easy access to the large 15.1 cubic foot cargo space. Some of that space comes from novel, but overly complicated spare tire storage. It’s located under the car.
So after driving the 318ti for a few weeks, we’ve come to the conclusion that BMW’s new compact is a real gem. Albeit, one with a few minor flaws. But for the performance and prestige of a BMW, on a working man’s, or woman’s, budget, ones that we’d gladly accept.
Engine: 1.8-Liter 4-Cylinder
Torque: 129 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 9.2 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 17 Seconds @ 83 MPH
60-0 MPH: 115 Feet