Three Pots
for the Number 3

Forget all of those silly jokes about BMWs being driven by an angry toner distribution manager, and let’s look at the bright side. We all love the brand. And they are just joyous. But can you get pass one with a three-cylinder engine at helm? Let alone fitted in an executive saloon that all of us adore the most; the 3-Series?

Words & Photography by KEEGAN DORAI

B

ack in the days where touring car racing was really fun to watch as grown up men ravaged their way through the checkered flag, everyone was making brilliant road-going cars. Volvo gave us the absolutely bonkers 850 T5 wagon that smacked the smithereens out of older Ferraris. Alfa Romeo equally making an impact so big that the 155 was one of the best-selling models for them in history. And BMW gifted the world the seductive E36 M3 that also drove damn well.

But fast-forwarding today, Volvo is now in the business to make plug-in electric cars. Alfa, well in essence, is surviving on selling an array of utterly disappointing hatchbacks. And BMW; on a mission to downsize its engines to a wee three-pot mill. That’s not the only bit. They’ve even fitted it into their most revered saloon to date — the wonderful 3-Series.

Almost certainly that will get all of those vegans and eco-conscious punters happier, and us enthusiasts a bit upset and into thinking its a little sacrilegious. This is all due to the fact that people are just going green, and by doing so, the government is going to reward you in many ways. Like a EEV grant. Or lower taxes. And dealers as well by throwing in discounts to shave off some figures off the list price. But is that all good and dandy?

I personally think so, coming from someone who loves cars with a strong trace of history and some sensibility banded altogether. Yes we all know that it should be powered by a meaty six-potter or a turbocharged four. But how about long-term sustainability? Will you look forward at making friends at the pump, or spare some of that visits by saving up and later make use of that accumulation by taking the missus out for a nice fancy dinner and still look good?

You see, you wouldn’t want to be seen driving a pedestal looking car that makes you feel like you’re pushing the same trolley with everyone else in Tesco, just for the sake of being eco or green. And being giggled by that bloke who drives a 318i that probably returns the same fuel economy in real life but with added poise and panache.

This brings me here to check out BMW’s all-time hero with a new heart that promises the best of both worlds; fuel economy and that all-familiar sheer driving pleasure. You might've heard of the 316i, in which it uses a proper four-cylinder engine. But as the facelift loomed in, it got canned and then replaced by this. So, what’s the hype about it?

Well first of all, it comes with a new 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine, which promises 17.2km/L. Secondly, BMW has given it a round of refresh by slotting in a pair of restyled headlamps with LED-powered lights, full-LED taillamps, a reworked i-Drive and some nicer trims. To be honest, I hate that new DRLs — which doesn’t look like those trademark eagle eyes anymore. Now it looks like its wearing glasses borrowed off from Francisco de Quevedo to aid its short-sightedness.

Lacking keyless entry is another unforgivable issue here, I mean its not hard to programme one in. And that cabin. It looks and feels as old as an Abba song, making its competition like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class feeling more crisp and contemporary, despite being prepped up as the ‘Luxury’ model of the board.

One more thing. It feels snug inside, and it won’t please the old folks at the back as seating accommodation is pretty average by class standards. But at the driver’s throne, its perfect. The driving position is still very BMW like. The steering wheel is one neatly-sculpted piece to hold with exquisite grip despite being electrically-powered and it feels a little phony while on the move.

However, the 318i still drives very well. Yes, it doesn't feel like a 328i nor a 335i with its 136bhp and 220Nm. But think of this; the Mini-sourced B-series modular engine is quite a gem. It has that nice character to it, where it exudes a unique exhaust burble and raspy engine note that gets you thinking that it's a 3 litre turbocharged straight six - only that this is half true - pun intended.

Revvy and simply free-spirited, I would say. It performs adequately in both town and highway driving. Yes you might lose out to some of its beefier siblings uphill, but when it comes to the back roads, this thing goes sweeping around corners absolutely well.

It steers with so much poise, blessed be due to its lighter front-end and smaller motor so the chances of you understeering into a cow is less likely, or oversteering into a tractor trailer in the opposite lane. And best of all, it musters that all-familiar BMW sublimeness when you’re doing the tango hard. Barely ceasing any engagement away from you while tearing pass down that curvy route.

But as the roads straightened up, the 318i feels like how a proper junior executive should. Ride quality is near peerless, surprising for a BMW. Firmness is mildly present but plaint it is, and refinement is top-notch with minimal wind noise and tyre roar penetrating into the cabin. Living up an alley ridden with potholes and uneven surfaces? Don’t worry, the 318i simply dampens all of those jolts, making driving around areas without first-world roads a doddle.

As I approach nearer to home with a couple of junctions in my way, here’s where the 318i starts to fumble a little once more again. Saving fuel and cutting excess emissions means there’s an engine start-stop in place, and god it feels so rough in operation that it might get you thinking whether the engine mounts are broken. Except it isn’t.

Nonetheless, the 318i is refined when you’re at the standstill without going into ‘Saving a polar bear today’ mode. Being a three-cylinder, you’d expect it to shudder and vibrate all the way inside, but it didn’t. And I am pleased with that outcome. Best of all, I’ve managed to average a fuel economy reading of 13.1km/L in overall combined driving. Reinforcing its status that its worthy enough for all despite possessing an engine that will drive a Bimmerboy into a state of frenzy.

So, you do the maths. Will you ever consider a three-cylinder 3-series? I honestly would. But if you’re still hardheaded about it, then BMW is willing to offer you a 320i after all. In which it’s more powerful, more better-equipped and more pricey. Nope, I am going to ignore all of that and rest my laurels on this; the 318i. Its exceptionally good enough and unique in its own right.