These days, BMW enthusiasts barely get out of bed for anything less than six cylinders and 300 horsepower. Cars like the four-cylinder BMW 330i don’t really excite the fanbase much anymore, as they’re often the lease-special models for yuppie suburbanites. However, back in the day, smaller, less powerful four-cylinder Bimmers were actually appreciated by enthusiasts as good fun-for-dollar value. In this retro-review from Car and Driver, we get to see what the E30 BMW 318 is like, and how it was received by enthusiasts, when it was new.
I love these retro reviews from Car and Driver and get excited every time I see one. I wasn’t even a year old when this September 1990 issue of C&D was released, so I obviously wasn’t able to appreciate what the E30 was like when new. I’ve only appreciated them within the context of newer 3 Series’. So it’s fascinating to see how cars like the beloved E30 were received when they were still fresh.
The BMW 318 is built in a time when Bavarian nomenclature meant something. So the 318is had a 1.8-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine with 134 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque. It was paired with a five-speed manual transmission and could reach 60 mph in 8.7 seconds. That sounds glacial today, when four-cylinder Corollas would eat that for lunch, but I’m honestly pretty impressed by that 0-60 time, considering it only made 134 horsepower. Credit a 2,607 lb curb weight for that impressive acceleration, as the E30 was built back when BMWs weren’t carved from granite.
Back in 1990, C&D’s as-tested BMW 318is wore a sticker price of $21,985 (50,006 in today’s money). For that, being an “is” model, it also get thicker anti-roll bars, sportier suspension, and cooler looks. While it wasn’t exactly light-your-hair-on-fire fun, with only 134 horsepower that only came on at the top of the rev range, it was still a very good car to drive. According to C&D, the 318i’s handling was “pure BMW, which is to say more fun than Labrador puppies.”
Reading the notes from other editors at the time is also a joy. “You can find plenty of better-performing cars for less money, but few share this Bimmer’s steadfast character,” said Arther St. Antoine. Jeff Dworin said the 318is “proves BMW can build a satisfying sports sedan and offer it at a reasonable price.” And Csaba Csere said that “this newest 3-series model, with its smaller powerplant and less burdensome load of creature comforts, has a delightfully light and agile feel, giving it a decidedly sporting flavor.”
What’s funny to me about this retro review is that it reminds me of the current BMW 330i. Relative to other modern Bimmers, the 330i is underpowered, slower, less thrilling, and—in my personal opinion—still one of the best driving Roundel-badged cars on sale. BMW needs to read these reviews and remember what made its cars so beloved to begin with because the majority of current BMWs aren’t that.
[Source: Car and Driver]