Introspective Refresh: Driving the BMW 318i Sport LCI

Life’s not easy being the industry benchmark. You have competitors constantly churning out rivals to claw at your feet and eager beaver watchers on the sidelines just waiting for you to fail. Which makes it especially tough for BMW to create an updated version of what is already an excellent product. The BMW 3 Series.

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For the casual observer, trying to play spot the visual differences between the pre and post face-lifted cars is almost impossible. Only minor tweaks have come into play here with the slightly revised kidney grill, new headlights and taillights being the most noticeable (if you are looking hard enough) of changes.

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Unlike the 1-series we drove earlier, these external nip and tucks do not drastically alter the lines or attitude of the car. Not a bad thing considering what we think is already a rather good looking sedan from the onset.

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The Sport badge along the front flanks did get a little too large and a little too flash for our liking but that’s a simple fix with some quick wax and fishing wire. Our gripes with undersized wheels also remain but because this is somewhat of a “base model”, we won’t deduct any brownie points just yet.

Inside, much of it remains the same as before with well thought out ergonomics and a lovely driving position easily attainable with just a few simple electric adjustments. Interior materials remain upmarket in feel even though the seats are not covered with organic cows. BMW calls this new material Sensatec, but in essence, it is synthetic leather.

We would have also preferred it if they kept the single red stripe across the dash gloss black like the rest of the trim panels as the single stripe of color just feels slightly out of place. Those opting for 3’s slightly up the ladder will get a much more fitting aluminum piece.

iDrive is standard fare, but the screen on the 318i Sport is the smaller 6.5 inch version. At least there’s navigation!

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A change that is a little more noticeable is BMW’s continued revision of their naming conventions, with the 335i becoming the 340i, the 328i becoming the 330i and what we presume the 316i becoming the 318i. The only model to not get a name change is the 320i. Naming foibles aside, our 318i Sport is probably one of the smallest engines ever to go into a 3, a 1.5litre (get this) in-line 3. That’s right, 3 cylinders. Half of what put BMW on the map of the Worlds best engines. This little 3-potter puts out 136 horses and 220Nm of torque. Respectable figures but not entirely set-your-heart-on-fire territory. I’m guessing that for those looking to buy in this segment, 0-100 timings are not on the top of their agenda, but just in case, it takes 9.1 seconds. Not too shabby considering just one generation ago, you would have needed 0.5 litres and 1-cylinder more to do what this does without the fuel and weight saving benefits.

With less mass to move about up front, our 318i Sport has no problem showcasing what it does best, handle. On that front BMW has kept everything that counts in cementing this chassis as the best in its class. A livelier and bigger engine would of course make drives much more enjoyable but with our little grunty 3-potter mated to the already tried and excellently proven ZF 8-speed shifter, progress can be slightly rapid with speeds kept in the “enthusiastic” zone through most bends. The engine does seem to run out of breath slightly higher up in the rev-zone so shifting up earlier and keeping the engine spinning where most of the torque sits does help if you really wish to push it.

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Some parting thoughts about the 318i Sport, what do i like about it? I like how it drives, i like how little fuel it sips and though its aesthetic revisions are kept minimal, i do like what they have done. The biggest issue i have with this Life-Cycle-Impulse is not really to do with this car, but the one that preceded it and the LCI suffers because of it. This issue is that the original F30 3-series is already so accomplished that this revision feels a little, unnecessary. So it turns out, its biggest competition is now no longer with its rivals, but within itself.

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