1991 BMW 318

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Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

By 

Orlando Sentinel

BMW made an abrupt U-turn in bringing the new 318is to the market.

For the past decade, BMWs have become bigger, better, faster - and more expensive. By adding a 16-valve, four-cylinder 1.8-liter to the 325 body, BMW has made an attempt to lure a new generation of entry-level buyers into the BMW fold.

Unlike other BMWs, you get a very basic car with the 318is. Leather seats are out. Instead you get cloth or what BMW calls ''leatherette.'' You can get a sunroof, but you have to use a chrome handle to open and close it manually. The stereo system - which has for a long time been a world-class affair in most BMWs - is just adequate.

ENGINE, TRANSMISSION, PERFORMANCE

BMW has become one of the most respected and successful automakers in the world because its engineers consistently have endowed each model with state-of-the-art performance and handling. Good enough isn't good enough for BMW; only excellent will do. You can feel that in the 318is' engine, in the transmission's shifter and in the way the car slices through a curve.

The 134-horsepower engine in the 318is is a joy to drive. You can wind your way through the gears revving it to your heart's delight. And when you hit fifth gear, it settles in and cruises so smoothly you barely feel it running.

Like its bigger brothers, the 318is is consistent in its operation. The temperature gauge never passes the halfway mark, and the air conditioning works flawlessly, regardless of whether it's idling at a stop light or cruising down the highway.

The test car sported a five-speed manual gearbox. The shifter worked precisely, allowing for sure and quick shifting. However, the clutch pedal in the test car had to be pushed to the floor to avoid grinding gears while shifting.

BMW says the 318is will do 0 to60 mph in 9.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 122 mph. That makes for a pretty formidable sport coupe, though there are lesser-priced cars that run faster. I averaged a respectable 25 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving. The EPA rates the 318is at 22 mpg city/27 highway.

STEERING, HANDLING, BRAKING

I was a little disappointed in the 318is' steering. All the BMWs I've driven have had steering systems that were tight and precise. But the 318is is a bit more loose. I had the feeling the tires were overinflated.

This is not to say the 318is is a slouch. Far from it. BMW made its mark by building performance sedans and coupes that could outhandle nearly anything. Though the 318is is in that class, it does not feel as good as the marque's more expensive models.

The brakes, however, are another story. No line of cars I have driven has even come close to duplicating BMW's fervor for building cars that stop as well as they go. It features four-wheel, power disc brakes with an anti-lock system standard. The front discs are ventilated to allow for quicker cooling. solidity.

FIT, FINISH, CONTROL S

The problem with driving more expensive BMWs and then driving the 318is is that you get used to the expensive accouterments of the big BMWs. After having driven an M5, I was disappointed in the manual sunroof in the 318is. It worked fine, but you would think that an electric motor could be included in a $21,500 car.

Generally, I felt the controls were up to usual BMW standards - except for the air temperature knob, which was endowed with a good deal of looseness.

If you have made up your mind that you must have a BMW, but you don't have megabucks, the 318is is a wonderful way to become familiar with the German company's philosophy. It will make you hunger for the more expensive models.


    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

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