Refined, efficient driver’s car, marred only by run-flat tyres and a high price

What is it?

This is the BMW 318d SE auto. The launch of the facelifted BMW 3-series marks the first time that the 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is available with an automatic gearbox.

This SE edition does not have iDrive, so the facelift changes are restricted to the outside of the car, with minor modifications to the rear lights, bonnet and bootlid.

What’s it like?

This superb diesel engine works particularly well in the lower-tuned set-up found in the BMW 318d SE auto. It’s near silent at idle and has one of the smoothest torque curves of any car on the market.

Even with such a good motor, there’s a lot that can go wrong when you bolt on an automatic gearbox. All too often with diesel autos, the ’box will change down as you squeeze the right pedal and leave you at exactly the same speed, between gears, with the engine near the red line.

In the case of the 318d SE auto, however, there’s no need to worry. This pairing of six-speed torque converter gearbox and diesel engine is as good as it gets. In more than 150 miles of mixed urban and motorway driving, not once did the 318d feel as though the car was in the wrong gear – not on a high-speed bend, not when changing lanes or descending a steep hill.

Similarly, despite being at the bottom end of the 3-series engine range, at no time did the car feel underpowered. It’s not quick, obviously, but the natural 3-series chassis balance makes up for any power shortfall.

Should I buy one?

The BMW 318d is certainly a tempting choice, but the 318d SE auto isn’t quite a perfect motoring experience.

The base-spec sound system functions well, but has no bluetooth connectivity – it should be standard nowadays. The run-flats destroy the ride quality in town and the handling on poorly surfaced high-speed bends.

These issues aside, however, the 318d auto remains a fine, efficient sports saloon, uncompromised by the addition of the auto 'box.

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a6spd 12 February 2010

Re: BMW 318d SE auto

jer 5 January 2009

Re: BMW 318d SE auto

Really interesting, there is not much on the web to inform of auto transmission developments, but to me this is more important that re-mapping. I thought BMW were still using the same ZF family of transmissons since 2004. If this is the case is it purely software changes that provide better lockup and I wonder if I get an upgrade to my 04 530d that has abysmal economy in town?

blowerbentley 30 December 2008

Re: BMW 318d SE auto

For legislative purposes, cars are tested on a chassis dyno (rolling road) to a standard test cycle with either a human or robot driver. The chassis dyno is powered by electric motors which are computer controlled to simulate vehicle inertia, wind resistance and friction (tyre resistance, friction in wheel bearings etc). For R&D companies like BMW would use a dynamic engine test bed where the engine is run on a test bench controlled by a computer system that simulates the vehicle, driver and test track.