One of the more forgotten cars in BMW’s history, especially in America, is the E36-gen BMW 318ti. The brand’s first-ever hatchback 3 Series was a bit of a dud here in the ‘States and didn’t get favorable reviews from critics and customers. Looking back, however, the E36 318ti is starting to seem like a really fun and affordable enthusiast’s car.
For starters, it’s extremely cheap. You can find a nice example of a BMW 318ti for under $3,000 in the US. To be honest, it’s harder to find one that hasn’t been modded to within an inch of its life with cheap Advanced Auto Parts kit than it is to find an inexpensive one. Because they’re so cheap, so many young enthusiasts buy them and do unforgivable things to them. That’s the only downfall to its price.
However, for someone looking for their first fun car or a cheap car to mod (the right way), the BMW 318ti is actually quite a fun little thing. It’s rear-wheel drive, packs a buzzy little naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine and has a five-speed manual gearbox. Admittedly, it’s quite slow, with only around 138 horsepower from the factory. But having a proper manual and rear-wheel drive in a car with such a short wheelbase will make it fun enough to not need much power. The whole slow car fast, thing.
It’s also from an era when BMW’s steering was *chef’s kiss* and its chassis dynamics were almost unbeatable. So despite it not being the best-driving BMW of its era, it’s still pretty dang good. And as a budget-friendly car that you don’t have to pour a ton of money into and is cheap to insure and gets good fuel economy, it’s easy to live with.
Of course, there are some drawbacks. One is that it’s ugly. The E36 is one of my personal favorite 3 Series’ of all time but the 318ti is just not a good looking car. It’s also not the most reliable of cars. That M44 four-cylinder engine can be a bit finicky and all E36s had some common problems, such as rust in the rear wheel arches and window regulators never working properly. However, there’s one attribute of the 318ti that always overcomes flaws — it’s cheap.
So as an affordable, entry-level BMW for young enthusiasts that want something fun, German and rear-wheel drive, the E36 BMW 318ti could be the perfect starting point.