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BMW 318i Sport (G20 LCI): The automotive iPhone ‘S’ update

Same great formula, new tech inside

In today's dwindling sedan market, the 3-Series is one of the last bastions for driver-focused cars. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Remember when the iPhone used to have “S” updates every other year? These had subtle cosmetic differences, but with big improvements in tech and efficiency.

That’s what the BMW 3-Series (G20) refresh—okay, Life Cycle Impulse—feels like. It’s an iterative, tech-focused update on an otherwise solid platform.

Despite what you think about the vehicle’s price tag of P3.79 million, the base 318i Sport still is one of the best options for a driver-centric luxury sports sedan.

Handsome, isn't it? Especially in this shade of gray. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

We went over the vehicle’s cosmetic changes in past articles, but in a nutshell, BMW is going all-in with sportiness for the G20 LCI.

New headlights, a revised grille, and bumpers make for a meaningful update that fixed the awkward-looking bumpers of the pre-facelift model.

Plus, those 18-inch, two-tone five-spoke M wheels are wrapped with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 ZP, a serious choice of rubber.

We're all for the sportier bits since this car has the performance to match. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

This color, called Brooklyn Gray Metallic, is the best shade for the new 3er.

Some may not appreciate its primer-like looks when seen from afar, but the paint glints and sparkles under strong light. This is more than just a flat monochrome finish. Get it in this hue if you can.

A revised dashboard and center stack make the biggest changes for the update. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

Inside the cabin is an all-black affair for the Sensatec synthetic leather upholstery. It’s far from flashy even with ambient lighting. Thankfully, it is adorned with aluminum-effect trim panels instead of the gloss-black plastic found in the pre-facelift model. It’s all solidly put together, as you’ve come to expect from the automaker.

The biggest change comes in the Curved Display, which can either make it or break it for you. It may have lots of “wow factor,” but the big and bright 14.9-inch main display gets distracting fast. Plus, it’s not intuitive to operate with the rotary controller on the center console. It’s better used via touch or with voice controls.

Redundant media controls could have been more physical HVAC toggles instead. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The removal of the physical climate controls is equally polarizing. The persistent bottom bar in the infotainment only controls the temperature, and anything else would require you to jump into a submenu.

You could also ask the BMW Intelligent Voice Assistant to control everything. It works well with a slight learning curve, but why make it that complicated for a simple function in the first place? There’s a black strip under the climate vents that could be used instead of some redundant media controls.

It's decently equipped, and the built-in maps are capable enough to navigate you without a smartphone. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

Turning the main display off does not hinder the experience for the driver. The 12.9-inch instrument cluster is very customizable, and can display a map and directions with built-in navigation. It doesn’t display real-time traffic, and the routing will get confused with detours or road closures.

Either way, you will just end up using the wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. However, this feature was not enabled on this tester. Audio quality is good from the standard “hi-fi speaker system,” but you’d be expecting at least a name-brand system for the car’s asking price.

The rear armrest and cupholders are new, though. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

These flaws can be forgiven once you get behind the wheel. Great visibility and a multitude of seat adjustments to get the ideal driving position (including adjustable bolsters) are a hallmark of the vehicle.

The sport seats up front are comfortable for short drives, but longer drives would end up giving me unbearable lower back pain. For people with back problems, I highly urge test-driving the car because this could make or break your driving experience.

Space for days, especially when you fold the seats down. You could even put a body in here if you wanted to. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The rear seats are very usable, but the middle seat will only fit a smaller person because of the large transmission tunnel. The other two have generous rear legroom and decent headroom, thankfully.

Rear passengers get their own climate control zone (with physical controls), a fold-down center armrest with two cupholders, and USB-C ports. Plus, the seats fold down in a 40:20:40 split to expand the cavernous 480L boot for longer cargo.

BMW's B48 never fails to deliver, even if it has been detuned for the 318i. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

Despite the multitude of M badges littered across the car, don’t expect proper M performance. First-time BMW owners will need to temper their expectations.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged in-line-four—rated at 156hp and 250Nm—with its eight-speed automatic makes for a gutsy and frugal combination. I managed 8.6km/L in the city, and 12.6km/L on the highway with four adults.

Handling is the car’s forte. The well-balanced weight distribution, responsive brakes, and tight handling make for a taut yet refined ride that’s on the sportier side. But purists will be bothered by the precise yet dull-feeling electric power steering on this car even in Sport mode.

It begs to be driven on expressways with how stable and quiet it is, making it feel at least 20km/h slower than your actual speed. Keep the speed limiter on if you don’t want to rack up traffic violations.

Still the de facto sports sedan on the market today, especially in this price bracket. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

It’s a little light with driver-assistance systems. No blind-spot monitoring, fancy adaptive cruise control, or whatsoever. Just a reversing assistant, basic cruise control with a speed limiter, and braking control. This may be a boon for drivers who want the most out of their experience, but remember, this car costs P3.79 million.

It’s a solid car with a storied history and good performance for its segment. But the biggest question is: Will the drastic technological shift turn off purists who have been sticking with the brand for as long as they can? Only they can answer with their wallets.

Also, there’s the Touring version. It lacks the M Sport cosmetics, but you will enjoy everything the sedan offers (and significantly more cargo space). For the target clientele, the P100,000 price difference is chump change, so it’s down to what you prioritize more when choosing between the two form factors.

BMW 318i SPORT (G20 LCI)

Engine2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo gasoline
Transmission8-speed automatic
Power156hp @ 4,500-6,000rpm
Torque250Nm @ 1,300-4,300rpm
Dimensions4,713mm x 1,827mm x 1,440mm
Drive layoutRWD
UpsideA refinement over the pre-facelift 3-Series with improved tech and great driving dynamics to boot.
DownsidePurists may not like the drastic change in user experience, and the car is still a little light on features.

Sam Surla

Sam is the youngest member of our editorial team. And he is our managing editor (believe it or not). He specializes in photography and videography, but he also happens to like writing about cars a lot.