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New Car Review

1998 BMW 318ti

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:            1.9-liter DOHC 16-valve inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 138 hp @ 6,000 rpm/133 lb-ft @ 4,300 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:      23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, 22.7 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         106.3 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    165.7 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    54.8 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     66.9 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       2,745 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     13.7 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  15.0 cu. ft.
TIRES:             205/60R15
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, cruise control, air conditioner, 
                   AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, 
                   anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $24,950 (est.)

"BMW" means that it's a well-built German sedan. "3" means that it's the smallest of BMW's four car lines. "18" means it's powered by a 1.8-liter (actually 1.9-liter) engine. "ti" means that it's fun.

Put it all together and you have a BMW 318ti. It's a very solid, very quick, very potent little pocket rocket. Add the air package and you have a unique vehicle.

The 318ti is powered by a 1.9-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine that drives the rear wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. Most European sports sedans are rear-wheel drive, while most Japanese sports sedans are front-wheel drive. The engine is rated at 138 horsepower, which is more than enough for the 2,745-pound coupe. For example, on my morning commute to my new job, driving the 318ti was a five-minute shorter ride. Granted, traffic may have been a factor, but in any case the drive was more fun. Of prime importance was that fact that the drive was shorter.

The 318ti is a coupe, basically a hatchback coupe, with a rear seat that is big enough for two passengers in comfort. There is decent leg room for all four passengers, decent head room and decent shoulder room in what is essentially a compact coupe.

What is unique about the air package is the canvas top. In normal configuration, the 318ti would be a steel-topped coupe. However, with the air package they cut a big hole in the roof that is like a double sunroof that goes all the way back to the rear. They cover this hole with a powered canvas top that makes the 318ti almost a convertible. You get the advantages of a convertible--fresh air, lots of sun, a feeling of one with your environment--without the problems of windblown hair.

The top slides all the way back to the rear providing a double sunroof. The one distracting feature about the air package is that the canvas top does flap as you're toodling down the highway and you do hear the rain more when there's inclement weather. Unlike most convertibles, the canvas top of the air package isn't insulated. But you don't have to buy the air package.

Being a hatchback, the 318ti has an enormous 15 cubic foot trunk, very large for such a small car. With fold-down rear seats, you can increase carrying capacity even more. In addtion, there are pockets in the doors, two different-sized cupholders between the front seats, and cubby holes all over the place.

The sound system is excellent. It's an AM-FM stereo with a cassette player. BMW's unique HVAC system controls are mounted below the sound system in the dash. It seems to offer fewer options than others, but in fact it's the same.

With the Getrag five-speed gearbox there's a lot of dancing around among the pedals. There is a dead pedal next to the clutch to rest your left foot when you're on long runs.

Styling is very "BMW" with grey and ivory leather dominating the inside, a purposeful dash and the sound system and HVAC pod canted toward the driver for better control. There are vanity mirrors behind the visors.

Our BMW was a bright red and was the hit of the parking lot at work. The color and the BMW rondel badge attracted fans. It was also the hit of the test driver as it was a hoot to drive. The test driver's daughter used it as her transportation to and from her wedding. So this car will always have a special place in our family's memory.