BMW's easy rider confounds the critics
IT HAS been two years since BMW launched its new range of 3-series cars, and they have been appearing on Hongkong roads in dribs and drabs since.
First came the 320i and powerful 325i, followed in November by Hongkong's first glimpse of the new M3.
BMW's prestige in the region was given a huge boost in last year's Macau Guia Race, when it wiped out rival Mercedes-Benz AMG to take first, second and third places - though admittedly still with the previous generation of M3 cars.
The 1993 Macau race will feature the new-look M3, and BMW has promised a right-hand version for the local market by the end of the year.
Capitalising on the Macau success, local dealer BMW Concessionaires earlier this month launched the long-awaited 3-series coupe.
According to marketing director Mr Patrick Yuen, the car was well received, with the entire first shipment selling quickly.
However, after some scratching around and a lot of prodding, a demonstration model was found for motoring writers to test.
Overshadowed to some extent by its far more powerful stablemate, the 192hp, 2.5 litre 325i, the two-door 318iS has come in for some criticism from the British motoring press for its apparent lack of muscle.
Granted, the 318iS does not quite measure up in terms of horsepower to the 325i driven by two-time Guia winner Emanuelle Pirro, but the car is nonetheless a fairly agile performer.
Powered by a four-cylinder 1.8 litre engine, the 318iS is sporty enough to churn out 140hp at 6,000 rpm and 175 nm of torque at 4,500 rpm. More importantly, power is consistent and not a five-second wonder, offering a fairly flat torque curve and reasonably good performance across the range.
The 318iS is independently rated with a 0-100 km/h acceleration in 9.3 seconds and a top speed of more than 210 km/h.
When you stop to remember that this is achieved with a 1.8 litre powerplant, the 318iS stacks up pretty well against similar-sized cars on the market.
The car's five-speed manual transmission is a comparatively friendly affair, offering a short and easy-to-find action.
Built on a single-joint, spring strut front axle and a central arm rear axle, the 318's ride is definitely on the hard side, producing a firm grip on the road with hardly any discernible roll.
The car's power steering is extremely direct, and with its small four-spoke wheel, the workload is minimal.
Opening the door, the driver is immediately made aware of the car's curved, wrap-over frameless window. For a better seal and improved insulation, the window drops 15 mm every time the door is opened, then up again as the door is closed.
Inside, the high standard of finish lives up to the BMW name - and so it should, for the money. The seats are all upholstered with leather, the velour carpeting extends to the door trim, the windows are powered, and the glass tinted.
As comforting and welcoming at the 318iS is, there is room for criticism. The absence of any safety belt extension arms on the coupe's pillars puts this mandatory safety feature well out of easy reach. Furthermore, unlike either the 320 or 325, the 318 is not fitted with an adjustable steering column.
To give the car's occupants all-round protection, the 318 is equipped to cope with small and large accidents alike.
Minor collisions up to 4 km/h are cushioned by reversible impact absorbers. Up to 15 km/h, deformation is limited to easy-to-replace low-cost body parts. BMW claims that even in the extreme situation that the car rolls three times, the doors can still be opened.
The BMW 318iS Coupe is locally listed at $338,000, including an anti-lock braking system. However, there is a rather lengthy list of extras, including a four-speed automatic transmission and sunroof, which push the distributor's price up closer to the $400,000 mark.
Among these optional pieces of equipment is a $13,500 driver's side airbag, which is listed as a standard item in the manufacturer's catalogue.