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BMW 3 Series 318i sedanThree to tango: The 318i will account for about 15 per cent of overall 3 Series sales, according to BMW Australia.

Three to tango: The 318i will account for about 15 per cent of overall 3 Series sales, according to BMW Australia.

BMW is cautious as to whether Aussies are ready for three-cylinder 3 Series

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BMW has released the first three-cylinder 3 Series in Australia this month with conservative sales expectations, as it assesses consumer reactions to a mid-sized sedan powered by a downsized turbo drivetrain.

Wearing the venerable but long-dormant 318i moniker to add some familiarity as well as performance expectation to the new engine technology, it replaces the previous 316i with four-cylinder turbo power in Australia as the entry level BMW four-door sedan.

Starting from $54,900 plus on-road costs, it is part of the 3 Series facelift introduced late last year, bringing new-look headlights, bumpers, and tail-lights, improved cabin materials, and a range of upgraded tech features.

According to BMW Australia head of product and market planning Shawn Ticehurst, the 318i should account for only about 15 per cent of overall 3 Series sales, with the majority of buyers spending more for the performance, technology, and luxury features that the 330i provides.

“The 318i has the potential to be a big conquest model for us, though the 330i will still be the volume seller just like the 328i was before the facelift,” he told GoAuto at the launch of the new three-cylinder variant in Victoria last week.

“The 318i is a nice way for people to step up into the 3 Series, but it won’t be (the 3 Series range) best-seller… the 318i has a badge that a lot of people are going to know and associate with, and with such a heritage is going to heighten people’s awareness of this car.”

Behind the familiar but restyled nose of the F30 318i is the smallest engine yet offered in the 3 Series’ 40-year history in Australia.

Part of the TwinPower modular powertrains that also encompass the new four- and six-cylinder units available in the range, this Euro 6 emissions-compliant 1.5-litre three-pot turbo-petrol engine is basically the same as found in the UKL transverse platform vehicles such as the 2 Series Active Tourer and Mini Hatch, 5-door and Clubman.

Here in its first rear-drive application, the 1.5-litre delivers 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque. Mated to a ZF-supplied eight-speed automatic transmission, it propels the sedan to 100km/h from standstill in 9.1 seconds, while averaging fuel use of 5.4 litres per 100km and 126g/km of carbon dioxide emissions.

The 318i includes a rearview camera with surround-view tech, head-up display, Lane Change Warning, LED headlights, satellite navigation, BMW’s ConnectedDrive emergency services and real-time connectivity system, vinyl upholstery and 18-inch alloy wheels on runflat tyres.

Mr Ticehurst expects the $69,900 330i to account for about 35 per cent of all 3 Series volume, followed by the $61,900 320i at 25 per cent, with the 318i and $63,800 base diesel 320d taking around 15 per cent apiece, and the non-M3 range-topping $90K 340i taking a surprisingly healthy 10 per cent chunk. The latter, Mr Ticehurst revealed, is running at about four times over the preceding 335i version.

The F30 3 Series is now the oldest car in its class by some margin, unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2011, with Australian models arriving in February 2012.

Now well behind the popular Mercedes-Benz C-Class (4146 versus 9373 units respectively in 2015), the BMW has a tough year ahead, and has to also fend off an all-new Audi A4 from next month, as well as the acclaimed Jaguar XE, and revised versions of the Lexus IS and Infiniti Q50.

2016 BMW 3 Series pricing*
318i (a) $54,900
320i (a) $61,900
320d (a) $63,800
320i Touring (a) $65,300
330i (a) $69,900
330i Touring (a) $73,300
340i (a) $89,900
*Excludes on-road costs

BMW 3 Series 318i sedanThree to tango: The 318i will account for about 15 per cent of overall 3 Series sales, according to BMW Australia.

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