What is it?
Many of you might remember a fascinating 1990s documentary – From A to B: Tales of Modern Motoring (YouTube gold) – in which a range of middle managers dismissed lower trim levels and engine variants because their cars were the ultimate status symbols. Chances are they wouldn’t be too happy with a BMW 318d. But, in a car as capable as the 3 Series, surely there are no bad choices...
The 318d Sport we're driving here has a lot to live up to, if its ubiquitous 320d sibling is anything to go by. The most popular variant – a 320d in range-topping M Sport trim – of this latest, seventh-generation model was awarded a rare five stars in a recent Autocar road test.
What’s new on this latest 3 Series, then? Ultimately, it’s more of the same, just dialled up by 5%: wider tracks, a longer wheelbase for more space, reduced weight and drag, plus improved interior quality and revised equipment.
What's it like?
The short version: this is no 320d M Sport – partly due to the engine and partly due to the standard handling/chassis options. Sometimes, in this business of testing cars, there’s little tangibly different between two models so close in many ways, but the differences are immediately obvious here. Let's start with the engine.
The 318d uses a detuned version of the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine found in the 320d, delivering 40bhp less at 148bhp and 59lb ft less torque at 236lb ft, paired with an excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox.
On the road, that equates to perfectly satisfactory performance at everywhere other than the very top end, but it lacks the early, joyful punch of the 320d. Let’s say this: if you didn’t try the 320d, you’d be content with the 318d, but if you did, you’d feel short-changed.
The rear-wheel-drive 3 Series is well known for being the driver's car of choice in the compact saloon segment, and that’s no different here. The 318d in mid-range Sport trim has more flair on this front than the Mercedes C-Class, yet it does feel markedly different from M Sport models (a trim level available with all engines), which come with M Sport suspension and Variable Sport steering.
It was an M Sport version of the 320d that won our five-star accolade, and you can feel the subtle lack of weight and direction in this 'standard' steering set-up. As a result, it feels less engaging in corners, despite the car’s capable rear bias.