With BMW’s recent LCI face lift of the current F30 3 Series came a few new engines. The big news was the 340i, which now comes with an entirely new 3.0 liter turbocharged inline-six engine. It’s the most powerful non-M 3 Series and so it’s the most sought after 3er. However, BMW has also introduced a couple of other engines as well, and some of them are rather good. Even one that only has three cylinders.
If the thought of a three-cylinder engine under the hood of a BMW 3 Series makes your head spin with a mixture of curiosity and rage, well then you’re not alone. The majority of BMW’s fan base, at least in America, hates the idea. However, the folks over at Auto Express have done their part, in the spirit of subjective journalism, at gave the new 318i a whirl. Afterward, they found out that they liked it quite a bit.
The BMW 318i sports BMW’s latest 1.5 liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine. It’s the very same engine that powers the very exotic BMW i8, though it isn’t as powerful and doesn’t have the electric motors to aid it as in the i8. However, it’s surprisingly potent for such a little engine and actually has a lot of character, making the 318i one of the more fun standard 3 Series’. The little three-banger packs 134 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, which isn’t too bad. It’s enough to motivate the 318i to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds. That may sound slow, and it is by 3 Series standards, but you must remember that plenty of BMW, Audi and Mercedes diesel-powered cars do the 0-60 sprint in similar times. This engine is more about having fun and being efficient, not being a stoplight-to-stoplight hero.
What the tiny three-pot’s real party trick is, is fun. Because the engine is so small and light, it makes turn-in that much crisper. For those of you who would think that that small weight savings over the front axle won’t make that much of a difference, I can tell you first hand that it does. I once changed the front sway bars on my 328i to lighter aluminum ones and the difference was noticeable. As was my switch to lighter wheels. Less weight over the front end makes the steering that much sharper.
This is important, as the BMW 318i is a momentum car, a car that you want to get up to speed and then downshift and use engine braking to get you through turns without using the brakes. This is a car that you can use 10/10ths of its performance and still be withing the safe and legal limits of both yours and the car’s abilities.
Would the BMW 318i ever work in America? No. Americans don’t like small engines, right or wrong. It’s just something that doesn’t fly well here in the ‘States. Should we embrace cars like the 318i? Yes, of course. The 318i is a plucky little fun BMW that could be had for a lot less money than its other variants. It’s also very fuel efficient (BMW quotes it at 51.4mpg on the Euro cycle), so you can have your twisty mountain fun over and over again before having to fill up. The engine is also silky smooth and quiet, until you rev it out and then it sounds angry, so it can be luxurious as well. I know we won’t be getting it here in the ‘States, and it wouldn’t sell even if we did, but it would be fun to row the gears on this little three-cylinder with the typical BMW 3 Series dynamics to back it up.