The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

New Car Review

1998 BMW 318ti

by Matt/Bob Hagin


SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 21,390
Price As Tested                                    $ 24,360
Engine Type                   DOHC 16v 1.9 Liter I4 w/SPFI*
Engine Size                                 116 cid/1895 cc
Horsepower                                   138 @ 6000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               133 @ 4300 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.3"/66.9"/165.7"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     2894 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  14.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      185/65R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                      Five-passenger/three-door
Domestic Content                               Five-percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.35


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            22/31/25
0-60 MPH                                         10 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       18 seconds @ 81.5 mph
Top speed                                           115 mph
     * Sequential port fuel injection

(When the first "entry-level" BMW came to the U.S. in '65, Bob Hagin was a mechanic at a BMW dealership. He feels like he's just met that car's great grandson in the new BMW 318ti two-door hatchback. Son Matt says it's a good vehicle to get upward-mobile buyers into a BMW mode.)

BOB - I don't remember BMW ever producing a hatchback version of any of its vehicles, Matt, but it has one now. The 318ti is the lowest price car in the lineup and I like the idea that it doesn't have a trunk. It's the perfect sport coupe for young people to get started on the BMW mystique, and it makes no pretense of being the family wagon that can haul groceries home on Saturday afternoon. The engine is economical, and the front-engine, rear-drive, all independent suspension layout is classic BMW. Like all new BMWs, it has traction control, so its owners can make the ski scene without having to go for an all-wheel-drive. It also has anti-lock, four-wheel disc brakes, and they're standard on this bargain-basement BMW.

MATT - Your enthusiasm for this little car may include a bit of nostalgia, Dad. As I recall, you told me you were working for a BMW dealer when I was born, and you liked the new, relatively inexpensive 1600cc two-door sedan BMW had out that year. It seems as if that was the car that made BMW popular in this country. This 318ti certainly lives up to that legacy in providing good handling and typical Teutonic firmness in the seating. The 1.9 liter engine in the 318ti is the same unit that powers BMW's Z3 sports car, and since they weigh about the same, they both have pretty much equal performance. And if the driver drops down the 60/40 split rear seat, Dad, there's plenty of room in back for a Sunday flea market run using this little bob-tailed Bimmer.

BOB - Mechanically, there's lots of similarity between this new 318ti and its ancestor of 30 some-odd years ago. In 1968, a 2.0 liter engine supplemented the original 1600cc unit in the then-new BMW two-door sedan. The resulting model, called the 2002, was offered in Europe as the upgraded version with more horsepower and speed-tuned suspension. Although the 318ti we tested was a base model and carried an automatic four-speed transmission, the same car can be had with a five-speed manual and an optional Sports Package. The package includes fat 16-inch wheels and tires, "tighter" suspension settings and leather upholstery.

MATT - There's also an option that BMW labels the Active Package. This package uses slightly softer suspension and smaller wheels and tires than the Sports Package, but it also includes an on-board computer system that gives the driver all kinds of useful information. Things like the current miles per gallon and the how long until you run out of gas. Buyers can also order the car with what the company calls its California sunroof, a cloth sliding roof that exposes both the front and rear seat passengers to the open air. The car is definitely a four-seater because there is no middle rear seat belt. Not that climbing in the back seat is all that easy. Just ask my brother Brendan.

BOB - I beg to differ, Matt. I thought getting into the back seat was almost as easy as getting into the back of the 318i four-door version. The four-door is about nine inches longer overall, but wheelbase of the two cars is identical. So to make it easier for back-seat passengers to get in, the doors on the coupe model are slightly longer. Incidentally, this makes it a bit tough for the driver and front-seat passenger to twist around and grab the seat belts.

MATT - That's right, Dad. The long doors also swing open wider, which can create parking problems. With the prices of some of the really big Bimmers approaching six figures, this 318ti is a good way for up-and-comers to start with a new BMW, then eventually work up to the big leagues as they become more affluent.

BOB - It may work that way now, Matt, but I remember when I came home with a single-cylinder two-seat BMW Isetta "bubble-car" just after your mom and I were married in '59. Back then, BMW was hardly the car for status-conscious drivers. It was absolutely basic transportation.