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The 318i Business changed my perception of modern BMW sedans

Let’s hope the Bavarians keep the formula as is

The author is still flabbergasted that he drove a 3-Series. PHOTO BY JUSTIN YOUNG

During my teenage years, I was a huge BMW 3-Series fanatic. My eyes shone bright (and still do) whenever I saw an E30 online or in real life, and I would post nonstop about the compact executive sedan, whether it was a 316i or an M3.

As time passed (and the kidney grilles grew larger), I outgrew the Bavarian bug due to my disappointment in its design and overall direction. However, I got to experience the current 318i, the first Bimmer I’ve ever driven, and boy, did it change my mind.

Mercifully, the 2- and the 3-Series still haven't caught the vertical kidney-grille bug. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

My biggest gripe with modern BMWs is its current design language and how much freedom the designers had. The kidney grille is an icon for the Bavarian marque, but its designers haven’t given the iconic signature a great look (see the M3/M4 and the iX).

Thankfully, the G20 3-Series debuted back in 2018 carrying a contemporary yet subdued shape still intact in the LCI facelift.

Our managing editor already drove the face-lifted 318i last year in the Sport trim, which has since been delisted in BMW Philippines’ lineup. While the show-fast bits sound enticing with the race-inspired front and rear diffusers, I highly preferred this Business trim and its all-body color affair in every corner.

Grasping its leather rim and clicking its paddle shifters already ignited the author's enthusiasm. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

Sitting inside a BMW feels special, regardless of the model. This being the ultimate driving machine, the front sport leather seats hug its occupants like a clingy significant other—providing maximum protection, comfort, and enjoyment. However, be sure that you can find ways to get in and out easily the more you drive it.

After writing about its operating system for almost a year, I got hands-on with the 14.9-inch infotainment system and the BMW iDrive. Getting used to the touchscreen and the rotary dial took a while, but it didn’t last the entire day leaving the remaining three days of the lend-out feeling like second nature.

Within this niche category and price point, a 360° camera would be overkill. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

Its safety suite doesn’t offer much considering it’s a base model. Nevertheless, the high-definition reverse camera and the all-around parking sensors are decent enough for careful drivers like me to traverse parking slots and tight roads with peace of mind.

What ground my gears throughout the experience was the climate controls. Adjusting fan speed and temperature in the OS is a slap in the face of simplicity, and the two basic A/C buttons won’t make up for following a terrible fad that will likely be phased out in the distant future.

Anyone can be an executive chauffeur with a 3-Series. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

The leather comfort continues to the rear, and while it’s no 7-Series, there is enough legroom even against my tall driving position (as well as a dedicated climate control system). Those rejecting the crossover meta would have to compromise on trunk space with 480L to play with for luggage and golf bags.

For slightly larger cargo, the 318i Touring has got you covered.

The 12.3-inch digital cluster isn't too blinding at night. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

On the flip side, the biggest highlight has got to be the engine: that 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, code-named B48B20. You may mock its 156hp and 250Nm figures, but as a firm believer in “rather driving a slow car fast than a fast car slow,” there is a lot of responsible power to have fun with.

The eight-speed ZF automatic transmission is so smooth that it’s no wonder the current M3/M4 uses the same unit. In Eco mode, the soft power delivery sipped fuel in increments up to 11km/L, while Comfort and Sport left little to no delay in flicking the paddle shifters, a satisfying feeling while cruising along SLEX and Skyway.

Still refreshing to see remnants of pre-2020 BMW design language. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

I grew up knowing that the BMW 3-Series was the best compact rear-wheel-drive sedan compared to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Despite the latter garnering more wins as a constructor in the DTM series, I always saw the Stuttgart brand as more driver-focused and sporty, regardless of generation and trim level.

The handling feels like nothing else I’ve ever driven before this, as cornering felt planted and composed living up to the brand’s motto. While the electronic power steering is not in the same category as an M3/M4, it could still excite light enthusiasts looking for that itch on the weekends.

Old or new, you won't doubt that a fantastic handling-and-powertrain combo is in its DNA. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

The 318i Business shouldn’t be slept on. What you’d miss from the Sport is what frankly cheapened the overall aesthetic of the German sedan, but I won’t take that against your taste and wallet. Regardless, P3,590,000 will still get you a rear-wheel-drive four-door sedan from a brand that knows about designing potent four-cylinder engines and amazing handling dynamics.

No matter how much horsepower it puts or how much tech is added—good or bad—my younger self would still be giddy about driving a 3-Series. Maybe the future isn’t that bad after all, but here’s hoping the current designers take down notes for the next generation to fix the goofy grilles.

Justin Young

Justin loves cars of all forms. Molded by motoring TV shows and Internet car culture, he sees the world from a different perspective that not many get to see every day.