The BMW 3 Series has always been the benchmark of the compact luxury car segment. For the past seven generations, more than 15 million units have already been sold worldwide, thanks to its perfect blend of sportiness and luxury. What we have here today is the new 2021 BMW 318i Sport, which is a new, entry-level variant of the iconic 3 Series here in the Philippines. The question now is, are you still getting the full BMW experience, or has it been watered down in order to meet a price point? Let’s find out.
From the outside, this G20 generation 3 Series is one of the finest generations of the nameplate yet. The proportions are spot on with those right-sized kidney grilles, L-shaped LED taillights, and the brand’s signature Hofmeister Kink at its rear window. To be honest, you wouldn’t know that this is the entry-level 3 Series. Even from BMW’s global catalog, the Sport Line variant isn’t even “entry-level” to begin with. Sure, that might be the case next to the Lexus IS F Sport or Mercedes-Benz C-Class AMG Line, but the 18-inch wheels, swiveling LED headlights, and gloss black exterior trims give this car a sporty and handsome look.
Inside the BMW 318i Sport, and you’ll see a dash design that’s typical of BMW. The layout is driver-focused, which means everything is angled towards who’s in command of the vehicle. The design itself won’t win any awards, but one thing that BMW got right is its build quality. Not only are the materials top-notch, but the overall interior feels robust and bulletproof. The door thud sound alone is even more satisfying than the C-Class or IS, and is on par with the Audi A4’s. My only gripe in this interior is the various piano black trims, which are definitely a fingerprint and dust magnet.
BMW’s electronics architecture is one of the best in the industry, and this 318i Sport is no exception. The gauges may look digital, but it’s actually analog. The way it blends analog and digital is seamless and aesthetically pleasing. In addition, the 8.8-inch infotainment screen running iDrive 6 is excellent. It’s not the latest and optional 10.3-inch iDrive 7 Professional, found on higher-end 3 Series models, but it gets the job done with slick controls via the touch screen or my personal favorite–the rotary controller knob. Like I always say in my reviews, rotary knobs are the way to go for me, and iDrive is a perfect example of this. Apple CarPlay, however, is also an optional extra, while Android Auto is not available at all.
Being a luxury sedan, the interior has a number of gimmicks, but they’re worthy gimmicks for me since they do enhance the luxury experience. The most noticeable of these is its wide range of LED exterior and interior lighting. Greeting you upon entering or exiting the vehicle is the BMW Light Carpet, which is basically a fancy term for puddle lamps that illuminate the entire length of the vehicle. The interior lights, meanwhile, are configurable in varying themes and colors, which truly elevates the driving experience at night.
There’s also a range of advanced driver-assist systems fitted to the 2021 BMW 318i Sport Line, and this includes the Reversing Assistant, which remembers the last 50 meters you drove, and then your steering inputs are replayed as you reverse out of let’s say a dead end. The other two are a Parking Assistant self-parking feature, and rear automatic emergency braking.
Just like all modern cars, the BMW 3 Series has grown over the years and enables rear-seat occupants to stretch out. Being a rear-wheel drive (RWD) car, there’s a driveshaft tunnel that eats into the middle passenger’s foot space, but it isn’t too obtrusive. There’s no rear armrest though, but this is made up by the fact that rear occupants have their own climate controls and two USB-C ports. On the other hand, trunk space is measured at 480 liters, which is on par with the rest of the competition. Unfortunately, the rear seats don’t fold down, which could be a deal-breaker for some.
Under the hood of the 2021 BMW 318i is not a 1.8-liter engine like what the last two digits used to denote. This is powered by a detuned 2.0-liter line-4 turbo gasoline engine from the 320i and 330i. In the 318i’s case, it produces 156 hp from 4,500 to 6,500 rpm and 250 Nm of torque from 1,300 to 4,300 rpm. In typical BMW fashion, power is sent to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic made by ZF.
It’s one thing to look at the numbers, but in reality, the 318i Sport’s performance is one that’s best suited to our market. BMW makes one of the best engines out there, and this car is no exception. The engine is smooth and despite being a turbo engine, power is delivered in a linear manner, with a strong mid-range that makes it feel like a torquey non-turbo engine. BMW also has a tradition of understating its numbers, so we also won’t be surprised if the 318i actually produces more power than what’s indicated in their spec sheet.
Combined with this punchy engine is the best transmission in the industry for me. The ZF 8-speed automatic is telepathic in terms of what gear it gives you. The transmission is always in its sweet spot, offering the right amount of power when you want it, and shifts aggressively to a high gear for better fuel economy. For an entire week’s use, I averaged at around 12.6 km/l, which under the same circumstances with similarly-powered mainstream sedans, I achieved around 10 to 11.5 km/l.
More importantly, because this is a BMW 3 Series, is it still a sporty luxury sedan? Absolutely. The steering is sublime in how responsive it is, especially in Sport mode, where it’s already borderline hyperactive. I do wish it had a bit more feedback, but other than that, the responsiveness in Sport mode and stability in Comfort mode is a welcome addition. Along with the highly rigid Cluster Architecture (CLAR) platform that’s shared with the 5 Series, and you’ve got a compact sporty luxury sedan that quells vibrations extremely well.
Toss it into a corner, and the suspension deals really well with body roll. The RWD layout also lets you adjust the way the 3 Series carves a corner with your throttle inputs, whether you want it to oversteer or enter into a safer understeer. Regardless, its grip limits are high, which means you can enter corners at speeds you wouldn’t feel secure doing in other cars.
On the downside, the sporty tuning of the suspension is on the firm side. It’s not matagtag by any measure, but it’s certainly not as cushy as what the C-Class or Lexus IS offers. At least when it comes to refinement, the highly rigid CLAR structure and probably tons of sound deadening make this car disconcertingly quiet even past triple-digit speeds. There’s probably no other car at this price point that’s as refined as the 3 Series.
As a whole, the 2021 BMW 318i Sport remains to be the benchmark in the compact luxury sedan class. Unlike the other brands, which are mostly defined by their flagship sedans like the S-Class, or their halo supercars like the Audi R8, BMW’s identity is showcased around the iconic 3 Series. That sole fact alone puts the 2021 BMW 318i Sport in a unique position. At P2,990,000 with current discounts in place, you’re getting the full, authentic BMW experience but at a more accessible price tag never before seen for a long time.
Pricing and Rating
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★★
Space and Practicality: ★★★★★
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★★
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Price: P3,190,000* (P2,190,000**)
Overall: 4.6 out of 5
*Pricing is correct and accurate as of this article’s time of writing.
**A P200,000 discount is being offered as of this article’s time of writing.