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1997 BMW 3 Series Review
  • Soft ride, great handling, interior comfort, technology ahead of its time
  • A major service by a BMW dealership will probably cost more than the purchase price of a second hand E36 318.

by Ben M

There are few things in the automotive world that make a bolder statement than a cosmos black BMW. There aren’t too many manufacturers that have ever come close to matching the aggressive yet stylistic lines that unmistakably characterise the German Manufacturer and set it apart from the rest. But beauty as we know is however only skin deep, and it’s what lies beneath that really makes a BMW driver fall in love with the ultimate driving machine.

The E36 was state-of-the-art back in 1997 and even by today’s standard it still stacks up pretty darn well. The 318i Limited could be had with dual-zone climate control air conditioning, fully electronic adjustable driver’s seat, automatic dimming rear-view mirror and of course a BMW isn’t a BMW without full leather interior. These are options that many Japanese and Aussie manufacturers are still coming to grips with, so on a car that’s now racked up 18 years of existence it’s clear that the Bimmer has always been ahead of its time.

I’m relatively new to being a fan of the euro scene, having always been into, Aussie and Yank muscle cars; and four wheel drives. There are plenty of perks to being an automotive journalist but unfortunately earning the big dollars isn’t one of them, so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that my first BMW is an old one. The beauty (and torment to new car owners) is that on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of resale value, the BMW scores about a minus 5. This is great news for anyone in the hunt for a second hand bargain and for the money you will certainly get a lot of car.

The thing that had me hooked on the first drive was the way the 318 handled the road. It has a supple ride and just seems to glide over every bump and imperfection in the road surface like they are non-existent. Upon approach to the first corner I expected a truck load of body roll that usually inevitably comes with such a soft ride, but to my absolute shock the black beauty rounded the bend with the grace of hardened performance car, sitting flat and firm as I pushed it through apex as hard as I could. Yes by at least 1997 and I am sure many years before, it’s safe to say that BMW had perfected the art of suspension.

Using a combination of Macpherson front struts and the independent “Z axle” rear multilink suspension as proven on the Z1 the, E36 had achieved one of the best rides that money could buy and the 318’s performance based sibling – the M3 took out the award for Car and Drivers best handling car over $30,000 in 1997.

The 318i’s 1.8L SOHC, inline, naturally aspirated 4 cylinder motor certainly isn’t the powerhouse of the 3-series stable – in fact it sits somewhere pretty close to the bottom of the ladder in that respect. However when you compare it to other 4-cylinder, 4-door medium sized sedans of the day (think daggy old Toyota Camrys and Mitsubishi Magnas) its performance is pretty impressive. Although running a smaller capacity motor and slightly less power than either at 85kW and 168Nm of torque, its 1205kg kerb weight gives it the edge on the Japanese competition and acceleration from 0-100km/h is almost a second quicker at 11.3. It’s enough power to stop you from getting completely bored, but for such a well composed car in terms of handling you do often long for a few extra ponies under the bonnet.

A bonus of running the budget motor option is the fuel economy returns and using the good stuff at the bowser will easily return a combined average of 7.9L/100km when driven with a steady right foot. That’s still comparable with a current model Camry’s economy figures!

Interior comfort is a given when you buy any BMW and the E36 318i is certainly no exception. Full leather, electric sunroof, power windows, power mirrors, power adjustable driver’s seat even an optional ski bag for the rear seats and luggage compartment. Now all you need is your soy chi latte and you’re set. So why my aspirations of owning possibly the best car on earth – an M5 BMW might one day come to fruition, for the time being I’m as happy as a pig in sh… err mud to plod around with the ol-girl as my daily driver.

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1997 BMW 3 Series Review Review
  • 8
  • 7
  • 8.5
  • 7.5
  • 7.5
  • 9
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