By Sandy Myhre
There is absolutely no doubt BMW have always done the most wonderful marketing job of positioning their cars in the upper echelons. A class act, a quality product and priced accordingly.
That’s not to say the product doesn’t deserve to be up there. For the most part, it does. The exception might be the entry-level BMW 3 Series which has (in the past) been fairly prosaic and with average performance figures that were outshone by many other competitor entry level sedan models in a much lower price bracket.
But it’s the badge, you see. It sells, and re-sells and sells again. Then there’s the kudos factor. To say you own a BMW generates a mark (and a marque) of respect. Along with the badge and that clever marketing placement is the price tag. You can either afford a BMW, or you can’t. It’s that simple.
Well, not quite. The sort-of new BMW 318i sedan has come back to New Zealand after an absence of 12 years. Perhaps that’s not surprising given its popularity in the past. What is totally new, is the price.
At a shade under $60,000 this BMW is affordable, given a burgeoning economy and the availability of low-interest loans. Here, finally, is a BMW within the reach of those who don’t class themselves as rich – and that would be most of us.
It is, then, the lowest-priced medium sedan in what’s called the premium bracket and you have to look at the opposition like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the Audi A4, or even a Jaguar XE, to make the comparison. Or look at the new Toyota Camry which, until BMW priced the 318i so carefully, was not considered a viable opponent.
So, what’s this price-friendly BMW like to drive? In three words, very nice indeed. For starters, the comparatively small 1.5l engine makes it economical, even turbocharged and, if assurance is needed, it’s the same engine as in other higher-priced and positioned BMWs.
It’s rear-wheel-drive coupled to BMW’s tried-and-tested Steptronic eight-speed automatic transmission so it by no means dawdles up Northland’s hills, which is where it was mostly driven. And she sits nice and flat around the many corners the Bay of Islands is blessed with.
It’s not going to peel the skin back on your face quicker than an appearance surgeon but, really, is that what you want? There’s plenty of torque for thoroughly enjoyable motoring whatever the road conditions, within reason.
This might be the entry model and price is a hook but BMW haven’t eliminated important features as a compromise. It has keyless entry (although most cars do in 2018) electric mirrors and an auto-dimming rear view mirror, auto lights and wipers, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors (which on my driveway pre-emptively warn about the killer flax), rear parking sensors, heated front seats, and so on.
And you can gauge performance these days just by the acronyms – in the BMW 318i think ABS, DSC, BA, DTC, LCA, all there to protect us from our own silly driving and that of other idiots on the road.
BMW have also kept in their Connected Drive technology in this model and which offer a concierge service, real-time traffic updates, emergency call facility and, if you can be bothered, a phone app for certain car features.
The seats are covered with a faux leather material (not that anyone would seriously question merely a leather-look) and they are far more comfortable than many mainstream, slightly lower-priced, mid-range family sedans on the market. In fact, they’re very nearly as comfortable as Peugeot seats which (IMHO) are the best in the world, so that’s saying something.
Now to the integrated instrument cluster. Two large (readable) dials and small fuel and temp gauges that illuminate softly in orange at night make this one of the best-looking and (bravo!) readable car message boards seen in ages.
Storage space is more than adequate and there are some nice touches like cubby holes either side in the boot (for the tool kit and first aid kit) and magnets on the floor mats that make them easier to fit back into place.
Clearly what BMW intended is to capture customers before they buy a late-model second-hand other European or a new Japanese mid-range family sedan. Equally clearly, they have the product to do so.
The BMW 318i ticks all the boxes, it’s the BMW you didn’t think you could own and, with this model, there is every good reason to do so. For the moment in New Zealand, however, you can choose only between black and white. It’s that simple.