No April fool: BMW 318i sedan returns to NZ as a 'game changer'
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For the first time since 2005, a BMW 318i sedan is on sale with a 'game changer' price
If you pass a BMW dealership this morning, don't mistake the price of a newly launched 3 Series as an April Fool's prank.
The 318i sedan badge returns to New Zealand after a 12-year absence and is being reintroduced for $59,900, making it the cheapest medium sedan in the premium segment.
Audi's A4 1.8-litre is $10,000 more, while Mercedes-Benz's C-Class starts at $71,900 and Jaguar's XE is 74,900. Even popular medium-sized sedans such as the Mazda6 and Toyota Camry are only a few thousand dollars cheaper than the 318i.
For BMW New Zealand, the return of the 318i sedan is a "game changer", says the company's head of corporate communications, Paul Sherley.
"I keep saying game changer but it genuinely is, it has an amazing level of equipment and it's an iconic nameplate in the brand."
In 2005, the 318i sedan was priced from $61,900 for a manual transmission, with Sherley saying that, if you adjust that price for inflation, it would be the equivalent of $78,000 in 2017.
"The five-speed automatic 318i in 2005 was $73,900, and that's $93,000 today ... that's a strong value equation for the new 318i, especially when you consider the standard safety features and technology in the 2017 model," he says.
The 2017 version of the 318i sedan has a 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder engine, producing 100kW from 4500rpm and 220Nm of torque from 1250rpm, as is matched to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission.
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While the 318i sedan in 2005 had a four-cylinder engine, the torque has increased in the three-cylinder 2017 version.
The 2017 model is also 30 per cent more fuel efficient than the 2005 version, at 5.4 litres/100km, though during Driven's exclusive test of the 318i, we hit 9.1 litres/100km through commuter traffic.
"The 318i will go really well for the dealer network, it will perform really well ... while lease and fleet companies will also be interested in it," says Sherley.
He also predicted that the "user-chooser" customer (who has a budget to buy a work car) will be "in the market" for the 318i, "especially as they can turn up to work in a BMW", said Sherley.
He not only expects conquest customers but also people looking at used European sedans who can step up into a new vehicle that comes with a five-year warranty and three-year scheduled servicing.
"The conquests for us will not only be used-car buyers but people who may not have been considering a BMW (but can now afford one)," says Sherley.
Initially there are 60 models of the Launch Edition 318i, in either black or white exterior paint colour, but Sherley said going forward, more 318i sedans will be distributed here with the same specification levels as the Launch Editions.
In 2016 there were 282 BMW 3 Series registered.
The 318i shares its 1.5-litre engine with the BMW 118i, 218i, 225i Active Tourer and the Mini Cooper.
Driven's sedan was a pre-production model that was 98 per cent ready, with mine on 17in alloys, instead of the standard 18in, plus no aluminium trim around the doors. It was also specced up with the optional head-up display.
Unlike the 2005 model, this 318i comes with air conditioning as standard, and benefits from the safety and technology improvements over the past 12 years.
There is LED lighting front and rear, while inside the 318i has the same equipment as other 3 Series sedans, including iDrive and 360 degree camera, plus infotainment screen and rear view camera.
In 2005, a limited version of ConnectedDrive was available only in Europe and the US, but now it is standard equipment in the 318i in New Zealand.
The functions include the great real-time traffic information, concierge services, and intelligent emergency call that enables contact with emergency services in the event of a serious accident.
The standard safety features are impressive, too, with lane change warning, city braking and park distance control front and rear.
The front seats are electrically adjustable and heated but the downside to the 318i has Sensatec leatherette upholstery that felt too vinyl-like to me and cloth would have been a better choice.
On the road, it takes 9.1 seconds to reach 100km/h, not exactly a contender for best time around Nurburgring, and with the combination of stop-start and the 1.5-litre engine, the 318i was slow off the mark at traffic lights.
Around town, the transmission works well with the low torque end of the 318i, giving a frugal drive. However, once on the open road, the car keeps well on track with the other cars, and I was impressed with the instant torque on hand when I needed to quickly move lanes.
This isn't the top end, powerful 3 Series, so don't expect to be hooning along the motorway, but it's a responsive car with an engine that the BMW Group has confidence in.
When you look at the package - the technology, the safety features and ConnectedDrive, plus the BMW badge - it's not a surprise that the company is expecting to do exceedingly well this year.
Engine: 1.5-LITRE, 3-CYLINDER PETROL ENGINE (100kW/220Nm)
Pro: Great price
Con: Leatherette seats