A very dynamic and involving car to drive
1) Creaking sounds coming out from all 4 door windows. This can get quite irritating if you drive without the stereo turned up. When I was looking for a used 1998/99 E46 BMW 318i, I noticed that the same sound was found in all of the cars I inspected.
2) Minor rattling sounds coming from the centre portion of the dash. This sound is intermittent, but noticeable if the car is driven at higher speeds.
3) Some minor rear suspension squeaks.
I have driven most of the rival cars in this market segment, and I would have to say that the BMW does rank highly in my list of preferred vehicles to drive for many reasons, which will be discussed below.
1999 E46 318i Automatic.
Woodgrain, 16" Alloy wheels, armrest, sports steering wheel, CD stacker, sunroof.
Equipment & features:
The BMW 318i offers a reasonable amount of equipment. However if you were to compare this car to the other rivals, such as the Saab 9-3, the equipment levels appear to be a bit lacking. Standard features in the 318i include 8 airbags, Automatic Stability Control (ASC), 4 wheel disc brakes, ABS, climate control, rear headrests, AM/FM radio cassette, and remote central locking with remote boot release. As you would expect, the list of optional features is extensive. Some features in which you would expect it to be standard, such as the split fold rear seats and the arm rest, are options in the BMW 3 series.
The boot space in the Beemer is relatively narrow making it difficult to store large items. To make things worse the rear seats do not fold down adding to the impractical nature of the car. However this car is not an estate, but a sedan I can accept this fact.
Ride and Handling:
This is where the Beemer really stands out above its rivals. This car handles with such precision and communication that you will never get bored of it. It is certainly a dynamic driver's car where you will receive a lot of feedback and feel. As you steer around corners, the car grips and plants itself on the road so well that you can confidently steer the sharpest of corners without any fear of it going out of control.
The 3 series is actually a rear-wheel drive car. This means that the car has a really tight turning circle. At 10.5 metres, it is very easy to maneuver around small car parks.
The steering wheel is a bit on the heavy side, but because it steers so crisply, you can forgive it for its slight heaviness.
You are seated fairly low in the car adding that sporty touch to it. The other advantage to this is that there is hardly any body roll as you corner. In fact, the modicum of body roll is a significant stand-out from its rivals. You are always well planted in your seat and barely even slide from one side of the seat to the other. The disadvantage to its low seating position is that it may be hard for older people to get out of the car. However the Beemer does appeal mostly to the young so I don't think it is a major issue.
In terms of the Beemer's ride, it is another great strength. For a car that handles so well, you would expect the ride to be on the harsh side. However to my surprise the car rides really well. The car cruises well on the freeways like as if the car had more of a ride-bias. It takes the bumps and potholes on the roads well, and without much intrusiveness coming into the cabin. The only thing noticeable about the Beemer's when cruising on freeways is the slight tyre-roar noise (coming from the rear) on coarse chip bitumen, and the wind noise. However the noise levels is still far more quieter than the common cars in that regard, so perhaps I might be a bit fussy. It certainly ranks as one of the more quieter cars out of the rivals.
Overall, the Beemer does have excellent and superior ride/handling compromise.
The 3 series seats are typical of German cars. i. e firm. As you sit in the car more, especially over long distances, it can be more comfortable to sit in than a softer seated car such as the Volvo.
I would have to rank the BMW 3 series as the best in terms of interior space compared to its rivals. It has the most accommodating legroom, as well as decently cushioned seats. This can be attributed to its large wheelbase for a small-medium sized car (at 2725mm). The headroom can be a bit of a squeeze, especially if there are taller passengers in the car.
I didn't expect too much in terms of performance. The power is only a mere 87kw, but the throttle response is very good though. If you floor the gas pedal, you will feel the lack of "oomph" in it. It is a real pity because the 318i has a superior chassis. The only thing it needs now is a decent engine to take the most out of its chassis. Despite the low power, it has much better pickup than the Mercedes C180 W203 and W202 models.
Despite reports from others about the 3 series' teething problems, I have not experienced such issues. The only things I noticed that annoys me are the above problems I listed under 'What things have gone wrong with the car?'.
Compared to the Audi A4, and Saab 9-3, the BMW 318i excels in most areas (apart from equipment & performance).
In terms of the look, it is very sporty looking, and is well accepted by the community. The dash layout is conservative, but clean and easy to use (unlike the Saab).
If you are after a sporty and dynamic drive, with lots of street credibility. the BMW 3 series is for you. If you are after performance then go for a 320i or above, or go for the Saab 9-3. If you are after a car that is elegant, expensive looking, and stylish, then the Mercedes C Class is for you.
Overall I am very impressed by the BMW 318i. It is a very dynamic car to drive and I would highly recommend the car to anyone who is in for a thrilling driving experience.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 14th January, 2004