MSN Cars
08/07/2009 06:15 | By MSN Cars

BMW 318i review (2001-2005)

BMW 5 Series (© BMW)


Make and model: BMW 318i
Bodystyle: Saloon
Engine: 2.0 in-line 4-cyl
Fuel Type: Petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Date of Test: May 2002

What is it?

The object of dreams for business drivers all over Europe. BMW’s 3 Series is a phenomenally successful sports saloon car, which has a ‘must-have’ image most manufacturers would go to any lengths to possess. It’s been around since the early 1980s, but really took off with the launch of this car’s predecessor in 1991. When the current car came along in 1998, the demand was instant, boosted by subsequent Touring, coupe and cabriolet variants. There’s also a three-door hatchback, the Compact, and high-performance M3 versions.

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Where does it fit?

The 318i saloon is easily BMW’s best-selling 3 Series. For company car users especially, it cannot fail to make sense; 143bhp from the 2.0-litre engine (the badge is misleading) means it is the strongest-performing of all models in this sector. This is combined with good fuel economy too, averaging 39mpg on the combined cycle. Add in low emissions (crucial for tax purposes) and it’s no wonder the 318i is a frequent top-ten best-seller in Europe. There are more powerful petrol models - and two diesels, too - but currently, it’s this model which appeals most.

Is it for you?

If you’re after the ultimate in practicality, the 318i may not be the best choice; interior room is better than it once was, but other models such as the Audi A4 still beat it - important if you regularly carry people in the back. The boot is decent though and if you only really travel two-up, you won’t find much to fault. Above all, the 318i is fun to drive, feeling far greater than the sum of its parts.

What does it do well?

Despite its ‘entry-level’ tag, the 318i is a true driver’s car. The 2.0-litre engine is a gem, with ultra-smooth manners at all speeds, and a sporty personality at odds with its other strength - unnaturally-good fuel economy. Handling is also exceptional, with pin-sharp responses from the well-weighted steering, and fine balance from the rear-driven chassis. It feels more ‘special’ than rivals, reinforced by a high-quality interior, comfortable seats, good gearchange and equipment levels more generous than the maker’s reputation would suggest.

What doesn't it do well?

For a supposedly ‘exclusive’ model, the 318i appears in the top ten sales charts a little too often; for some, it’s too ‘common’, almost a default choice for those with no imagination but plenty of aspiration. This is a shame, for it’s a great car, but there’s no denying some people’s attitude towards it. And although all the essential basics are there, most feel compelled to ‘option up’ a BMW, which is often extortionately expensive. Then there’s its relative lack of space, while some people also find reverse difficult to engage on manual gearbox versions. Minor niggles.

What's it like to live with?

BMW dealers rank among the best for customer satisfaction, making servicing almost a joy. It can be a little pricey, but the customer care you receive is first-rate. Electronic service intervals stretch time between visits, too. As well as 40mpg potential, the 318i is also reasonable on the insurance front, and the level of build quality should ensure a new 318i will remain feeling as good as new for many years yet. All mechanicals are ultra-durable and reliability surveys also haven’t expressed anything less than satisfaction by owners. As you’d expect, depreciation is among the lowest in its class.

Would we buy it?

Absolutely. The way the 318i drives is so impressive, we’d struggle to resist on this front alone. Factor in its build quality, sense of occasion and stress-free owning experience and the case for it is compelling. Only the styling is disappointing; Audi’s A4 is newer, and externally is a more contemporary proposition. In this style-led sector, that could be significant, though in every other way we’d struggle to argue against the BMW.


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