Same Drive, Lower Price
A decade or two ago, if you came into some money or have been handed that big promotion and asked someone knowledgeable about cars what to get, chances are the recommendations would have been German.
Yes, there are many great options from the volume brands, and there are also non-German premium choices that had an L or a leaping cat on the front, but there really is something about having either a triple-pointed star, four rings, or the blue and white propeller.
That’s always been the case for the 3 Series, a car that is arguably the starting point for BMW ownership and even premium cars in general. Of course, the situation is different now as there are many more premium options out there for 3 Series money; think of the big SUVs from the Japanese automakers and even smaller crossovers and saloons from luxury automakers.
So what BMW Philippines set out to do was to explore ways to make the 3 Series the top-of-mind choice again. And that really starts with the sourcing of the model. As you know, BMW doesn’t make the 3 Series in the Philippines. They did so before, but that was in the ‘90s with the E36. Since the E46, BMW has imported the model from Germany.
The one you’re looking at is imported from Malaysia, and the price tag reflects it: this 318i Sport sedan retails for PHP 3.79 million. To put that in perspective, BMW offered the German-made 320d M Sport in 2018 for PHP 4.09 million because we don’t have a free trade agreement that applies to cars from Europe.
So yes, this is far less in price, but mind you it’s a 318i, not a 320d. We’ll get to that later, but even as I walk up to it for the first time, it’s not really so obvious that this is technically a more affordable BMW. It just doesn’t look any less. And yeah, in the premium sector, customers tend to be detail oriented with things like panel gaps and alignment, and that isn’t a problem. The quality of the build seems to be spot on. BMW sets high standards for manufacturing, and this one certainly looks to be well in line with those.
The version we’re looking at is the G20 LCI or life cycle impulse; that’s BMW speak for the facelifted model. That’s why there are changes in the G20 that have been around since 2018. Compared to the 320i Sport Line we reviewed in 2020, the changes are easy to see next to the 318i Sport with the new aero bumper, the silver on the grille, the skirts, the blacked-out side mirrors, and the rear bumper. They also added M badges on the fenders and put on M Sport wheels, but they aren’t calling this an M Sport in the official literature.
The changes inside are also quite significant. If anything, the dashboard has totally changed since 2020. If anything, it now reminds me of the dashboard of the iX electric SUV, but not as fancy. The curved screen is suspended from the dashtop like a panoramic cinema screen with a driver display that has no traditional tach and speedometer, and a touch panel on the right for controlling other vehicle features and functions.
The center console has changed significantly too as it loses the “traditional” automatic lever for a simpler and more minimalist toggle switch similar again to the iX. The flip panel covering the cupholders is still there, along with a wireless charger that’s a little too small for my Xiaomi 12 Pro with its 6.73” screen and case. They’ve also flattened the panel to control the center screen; it’s different, but not so much that it feels alien to anyone who’s familiar with BMW controls. If anything, BMW just reworked the interior controls to be as snag-free and minimalist as possible.
Despite the changes for the sake of modern minimalism, I’m glad to say that the many BMW cues that BMW enthusiasts and loyalists (and driving enthusiasts in general) love are still there. The steering wheel is fantastic to the touch even though it doesn’t have an M badge. The pedals are perfect. The seat is adjustable in many ways including the width of the side bolsters. and when you look out the windshield, you’ve got that long hood of a proper front engine, rear-wheel drive BMW.
Behind the dual nostrils is a 2.0-liter B48 turbo gasoline engine with an 8-speed auto. BMW fans are still getting adjusted to the use of 318 in a car that should be called 320, but when we look at the power figures it makes a bit more sense as this has 156 PS and 250 Nm. These are not the high numbers we usually expect from BMW, and that’s because they have to tune it down to be a 318i.
Whatever misgivings I have about the figures, I can’t complain about the fuel economy I was getting. I was getting upwards of 9.2 km/l in the city on my daily route, and that’s with some traffic factored in. On the highway, it goes up to the 14.9 km/l mark if I just cruise efficiently. Still, I think they should have tuned it to produce at least 180 PS because, well, there are 1.5L turbo petrol engines that make upwards of 177 PS. The last thing a BMW owner wants is to be out-dragged by a small and light crossover from PRC that makes more power from a smaller engine. Just saying.
Of course, when it comes to cornering, then many challengers won’t be able to keep up if the 318i driver has some training. Despite only having the stock suspension settings, this 318i Sport corners very well, so much so that one would be forgiven in assuming that there’s a sport suspension managing body roll and the like. This BMW corners like a sharpened machine; it points where you want it, and is forgiving if you get a little punchy with the throttle. You can even pull the paddles if you so wish, but the programming of BMW’s transmissions is such that you don’t really need to. Just use the sport mode and manage your throttle and all will be well.
As a city drive, it will feel firm. If you’re on C5, you would want to avoid the truck lane and maybe think twice about going onto EDSA. The car’s suspension does its best, but there’s only so much a BMW can do especially since this brand is known to tweak their cars towards the sporty side than the comfort side.
Yeah, I like the 318i Sport for the price that BMW is asking for it. I think they did a good job bringing the price down without taking off too much from the spec sheet. No, this one doesn’t have the adaptive cruise or other similar advanced safety features, but a driving enthusiast would turn off those features anyway. It doesn’t have the power levels a driving enthusiast would want, but that can be tuned into the vehicle if so wish (and at your own risk).
Still, the BMW 318i Sport fills a great spot in the class of its compact executive peers from Germany. While a similar C Class would be more for comfort while the A4 would be for those that don’t really have a need or desire for rear wheel drive, the 3 Series is for the person that enjoys driving.