Okay, so it’s a bit niche, but combining the lower-powered 3-series diesel with the ES trim pack and auto transmission makes for a brisk yet restful saloon. Could it be the perfect choice for motorway-bound user-choosers?
Lower-powered diesel. Auto-box. Hmm…
No, this is certainly no 335i on the cheap. But look at what you do get under the bonnet. With 141bhp and an impressive 221lb ft, the baby Three is hardly lacking in oomph.
And it mostly feels that way too. Just like its 175bhp big brother 320d, this engine is a bit thrummy under acceleration but it delivers its power in an even flow, only gradually tailing off from that initial low-rev turbo punch. Yes, the 320d is noticeably quicker, but the 318d never feels underpowered.
And does this engine/transmission combo work?
The six-speed auto compliments the turbodiesel surprisingly well. Leave it to its own devices and it’ll maintain progress with decorum, changing up smoothly before you’ve had chance to register much racket from under the bonnet. Flick it across to 'Sport' and it will hold onto revs and kickdown exactly when you want it to. It’s just as responsive if you bat the stick for manual changes. Just don’t go searching for paddleshifters.
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It handles, doesn’t it?
As good as ever, in this department. The Three is poised and alert yet combines its sharpness and surefooted feel with a pliant ride and excellent refinement. In fact, the auto-box actually adds to the experience, taking away the hefty clutch and shift of the manual version that count as pretty much the only dynamic black marks any Three suffers from.
Apart from slightly numb steering, that is. It’s quick to respond though, and very accurate.
And the rest of it?
Par for the 3-series course. You could argue that its shape is getting too familiar by now, but last year’s facelift gave it more presence. Less classy than an A4 maybe, but more interesting certainly.
Same goes for the interior, which is tactile, classy and intuitive in use with a fabulous driving position. Space is no more than adequate for two adults and two kids (two adults will squeeze in the back if you’re all sub-six foot), but there’s decent equipment on this base-spec car, with manual air-con, four electric windows, alloys and a CD player.
You want more space and toys? Buy a Mondeo. No, didn’t think you would.
Rather than stumping up £1460 for the automatic transmission, most buyers would probably be happier stretching to the manual 320d at £25,385 – actually £310 less than this car.
But the auto-box adds an extra dimension to the 3-series driving experience. It makes it more relaxing without taking away any of the sharpness. Basically it can be as laid-back or as pro-active as you want it to be and makes the lowly 318d a desirable car in its own right.
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