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Car reviews - BMW - 3 Series - 318i sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Solid build quality, fun handling, super cabin ergonomics
Room for improvement
New 1.8 engine still no match for accomplished chassis quite basic inside parts and servicing can be expensive

25 Jul 2003

THE BMW 318i was introduced to the Australian market in May, 1983, and continued through with various internal and external changes, to the release of the E36 series in 1991. During the eight-year model run, continuous engineering improvements and upgrades kept the 318i very competitive with its rivals.

The 1983 318i was available as a two-door only with front disc, rear drum brakes, five-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission and Bosch mechanical fuel-injection. By the mid-1980s the 318i had four-wheel disc brakes, five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions and electronic fuel-injection.

During 1984 a four-door sedan and a cabriolet were added to the range.

The four-door was discontinued

In November, 1989, a major upgrade was introduced, including the return of a four-door model after a two-year break.

But the major change was a new engine, codenamed the M40, with more power and a lot more torque from the same capacity. The new engine provided the 318i with performance that was more than a match for its rivals.

Suspension is by MacPherson struts at the front and semi-trailing arms at the rear. The rack and pinion steering is power assisted.

Overall, the 318i is a nicely balanced and predictable car to drive on the road.

Both two and four-door versions are capable of carrying four people but rear seat legroom is limited.

The instrument layout and driver controls are logically placed and easy to use.

The instruments include BMW's unique service interval indicator that lights up when service is due, and is difficult to ignore.

BMW's philosophy of high build quality and continuous logical development has kept depreciation for the 318i much lower than average.

Prices for earlier models have a wider range due to variations in condition, odometer reading and optional equipment. Before the E30, equipment such as air-conditioning was a high cost option that can make a big difference in the second-hand price.

Always look for a documented service history from a dealer or a recognised BMW specialist. Have a thorough pre-purchase test before buying. The test should cover both mechanicals and bodywork, including evidence of previous collision damage.

Quite a few BMWs have been brought into Australia as private imports and may not have a compliance plate certifying the car meets Australian Design Rules.

Generally, prices for private imports are lower than an equivalent locally delivered car.

If the durability of early 318i models is any indicator, they will last for a long time.

There are no weak points or problems and it is not unknown for a 318i to clock up over a quarter of a million kilometres without any major repair work to the engine, transmission or suspension.

When service or repairs are required, the cost should be reasonable. A 318i is not a highly complex vehicle and there are enough specialist workshops and spare parts suppliers to keep the dealers competitive. But unless you have a favoured workshop, always go for a second opinion if repairs are needed.

If you are looking for a small, high-quality sporting car that is durable and reasonably cheap to run as well as being fun to drive, the BMW E30 318i must be on the short list.

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