BMW’s new 318i far exceeds expectations in terms of comfort, technology and performance
The term “entry level” can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it alerts buyers to the fact that this is the cheapest model in the range. But on the flipside it signifies a product that may be very basic. Still, it is a term the car industry has been using for some time, along with many other industries, and will probably go on using until it finds a better alternative.
When I was invited to test-drive BMW’s new entry-level 318i, I made sure I did not fall into the same trap by expecting a basic model that may be lacking somehow, in terms of comfort, technology and performance. The 318i is indeed entry level but for a German luxury car brand, which puts it in better perspective. There is always a minimum standard that must be met to be true to the BMW badge, regardless of whether it is entry-level or top-of-the-range.
This latest model is the seventh generation of the popular 3 Series, and joins the 320i and 330e in the BMW lineup. The 3 Series was once the home of BMW’s small sedans but they have grown in both size and stature over the years. Small is probably not the description that comes to mind when you first lay eyes on the 318i. It is large and long, but still retains a sleekness about it.
Like all big cars, the longer you spend in one the more it shrinks in size as you get used to it.
Entry level is a description soon forgotten about when you get inside. The cabin is packed with a wealth of technology like the Live Cockpit Professional which includes a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch central display screen. The screen has become an essential plaything in most new cars, controlling the navigation, media and connecting you to the outside world via your phone. This is all done effortlessly in the 318i, along with wireless charging.
The tech also spreads to the safety and assistance systems which include Intelligent Personal Assistant, Parking Assistant and BMW Connected Package Professional. There is also the BMW Digital Key and Comfort Access System, which lets you just walk up to the car with your key in your pocket and the car automatically unlocks. Walk away, and it will automatically lock. Simple and oh-so-convenient, too.
SEE:The future of BMW is digitalisation
The engine size might remind you this is an entry-level model, with a two-litre power plant that produces a modest 156 horsepower, which may sound a little bit on the low side. The 0 to 100kph sprint is achieved in an equally modest 8.4 seconds.
However, drive it and these numbers become largely irrelevant as it still packs plenty of punch thanks to a slick eightspeed gearbox and a turbocharged engine. For everyday driving around town, it did the job more than adequately. Also on the plus side is the healthy 250Nm of torque which comes straight away and the frugal fuel consumption of 5.8 litres per 100km.
The test drive
My test drive coincided with a day-long charity drop of food packages to Singapore’s needy, so the 318i was put through its paces driving across the island taking in expressways, side roads and few tight HDB car parks. It stood up to the everyday-driving test, plus the huge 480-litre boot was a real bonus when it came to packing in five big food hampers.
Interestingly, the new 318i does not come with any drive mode selection, taking the driver back to basics. Having passed by licence over 30 years ago, I do yearn for cars that keep it simple without too many driving modes. Some driving modes do make a real difference to the feel and performance of the car, particularly supercars, when you put them in a sportier or track mode. And some really do save fuel when you put them in eco-mode.
But there are an awful lot of cars that have multiple driving modes, and nothing materially changes when you move around their different modes. So, the lack of modes for BMW is not necessarily a bad thing as you can just relax and enjoy the default option.
To be honest — most motorists stick to the same default driving mode even when faced with a choice, anyhow.
Despite running the rule over the new BMW 318i’s performance, technology and its looks, for some the decision to buy all boils down to the badge on the front of the car. This may be an entry-level model, but it allows you to enter the prestigious club of BMW owners at a fraction of the price of other models.
A cheap BMW is still a BMW after all but with a price tag still above $200,000 — it is not cheap for everyone.
BMW 318i : $218,888 including COE
Engine: 1,998cc, inline-4, twin power turbo technology Power/torque: 156hp/250Nm
Fuel consumption: 5.8L/100km
0 to 100kph km/h: 8.4 seconds