I must admit I had a soft spot for the E36/5 when it first came to our market. To me, it combined some luxury looks with practical performance. And when I say performance, honestly there wasn’t much available. The M44 engine that was fit to the 318ti was a decent performer, but it had only 138 horsepower, and at the price point you were much better off getting a GTi VR6, which oddly was more luxury oriented than most of the 318tis and offered more performance. However, the base of the 318ti was a good idea; a smart looking, light and nimble hatchback with a manual transmission and rear drive. This one has some strong positives going for it, but just one thing is missing…
Like the M535i from the other day, the 318ti continued BMW’s expansion of M branding to pedestrian models. That plan included inclusion of a new down-market economy model; the 318ti Compact. The new hatchback platform brought the pricing of the small executive into the teens (just), but the only engine available – the 138 horsepower M44 1.8 liter 4-cylinder – proved just adequate motivation. Though big brother power wouldn’t come to the chassis, the Sport, Club Sport and later M-Sport packages added BMW Motorsport DNA into the E36/5. Subtle styling revisions included M3 front bumper cover, revised rocker panels and a diffusor-inspired rear cover. The Club Sport and M-Sport received special mirror covers and integrated fog lights, as well, along with the M-Sport suspension. Inside, special sport seats with Millpoint fabric (red in the case of the Club Sport), along with an M branded wheel and shift knob, helped to remind the driver that they were in the sportiest of economy BMWs. And the basic package was fairly good to begin with, in spite of the power shortfall; Car and Driver rated the 318ti Sport second in its handling competition, though it should be noted that it lost to a front-wheel drive Honda.
These 318ti M-Sports have developed a bit of a cult following as a result, offering economy car sensibility and cheap repairs with M3 looks – and, for many, a great basis for motor swaps down the line:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1998 BMW 318ti M-Sport on eBay
If you’ve been following my posts here on GCFSB for the last seven years or so, you’ll know I’m a fan of obscure vehicles. These days, the sight of an M-badged BMW or Porsche 911 does little to excite me, as they seem all too ubiquitous in the urban environments I frequent. It’s no surprise then, at a recent cars and coffee, it wasn’t the fast German machines or Italian exotics which grabbed my attention. Rather, it was a mint Citroën SM sitting in the corner of the parking lot that caught my eye. It had been years since I had seen one of these French grand tourers and it was a design that looked as good in 2016 as it did when it debuted over 45 years ago. The BMW 318ti is not nearly as exotic as the Citroën SM, but it’s not something you see that often on the streets these days. This one for sale in California is saddled with an automatic gearbox but makes for a nice alternative commuter that you could have some fun with on the weekend.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1998 BMW 318ti on eBay
Nate has been on a run of covering some great classic Alpina models, and it’s very easy to see the appeal of the brand. Their tried and true recipe of taking the motor out of a higher-end model and swapping it into the smaller chassis might have seemed a simple task, but the execution of Alpina was always top notch and the results were undeniable. Coupled with upgraded wheels and suspension and full of lovely details, they always managed to feel like a premium product and today that appreciation is shown in high asking prices. In the same vein as the legendary Alpinas, many enthusiasts have tried to take the motor out of M models and fit them to lesser 3-series and 5-series models with varying success. But if done right, the result can be a very tidy looking and appealing package on a more friendly budget:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 BMW 318ti S52 on eBay
I never understood why, but hatchback seems to be a dirty word in the US. So many of my friends eschew these vehicles, whether in three or five door form. Curiously, SUVs are popular here in the Land of the Free. So it seems Americans might not be all that averse to practicality, just as long as it is jacked up and classified as something more butch than your average passenger car. BMW dabbled with the idea of a hatchback 3 series for a number of years across two generations, however, only the E36 318ti, or Compact as it was known as, was sold stateside. While there were a number of different options you could spec a 318ti with, you had one choice of engine, the 1.9 liter inline-4. Customers in other markets, however, had access to the 2.5 liter inline-6 in the form of the 323ti. Enthusiasts took note of this and we’ve seen a number of six-cylinder ti swaps appear over time. This example for sale in Miami has an S52 from a 1999 M3 under the bonnet. It looks to be a rather tidy swap, with its look enhanced by the BBS RK alloys.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 BMW 318ti on eBay
Almost 14 years after the re-introduction of the MINI brand in the US, BMW seems to have made a rather shrewd move in keeping this marque in their fold. It seems a distant memory, then, when BMW tried its hand at a small hatchback in the form of a shortened E36 3 series. The Compact, as it became known, would be the entry point for those seeking that BMW badge in the 1990s. The US market would only receive the 318ti, powered by the 1.9 liter inline-4 that also found a home in such cars as the 318i sedan and Z3 roadster. This 318ti for sale in Missouri is in fantastic shape, equipped with a 5-speed manual and the M Sport package and looks rather sharp in Alpine White.
Click for details: 1999 BMW 318ti M Sport on eBay
What’s the perfect commuter car? Well, that varies by your definition of commuter, how far you need to drive and how much traffic you encounter, and what your goal is – do you want high mileage, or perhaps you want extreme comfort and isolation. But I’d like to think that a fair amount of our readership would love to have a dual purpose car. It would be something that wouldn’t be a collector-status car, but yet one that was unique and not often seen. It would combine comfort and affordability. While some would opt for automatics, I’m sure a larger percentage would choose to row-their-own boat. Fuel mileage, while gas is cheap now, would probably still be a consideration, as would maintenance. And finally, when the traffic cleared and there was a empty bit of road, most of us like to squeeze the pedal down that bit further and be rewarded by and entertaining push in the back. That’s a difficult grouping of characteristics to achieve in one package, but I’d like to suggest that this 318ti might just be the car.
The Club Sport was the answer to the question that effectively no one was asking in 1995; depending on the source, BMW sold a reported 200-300 of them in 1995 only. What the option 9530 got you was a 318ti hatchback that had been breathed upon by BMW Individual. Added were 16″ sport wheels, M3 front bumper, rocker trim and mirrors and a special rear bumper. But it was more than an appearance package, because it also received a M-tuned suspension, special steering wheel and shift knob and uniquely trimmed Millpoint M-cloth sport seats. The seller of this car has brought the performance up to M levels, though, with the addition of a PSS9 coilover suspension, double spoke M3 wheels and supercharger to the M42 inline-4:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1995 BMW 318ti Club Sport on eBay
Okay, so maybe the Renault 5 isn’t your thing. I get it, it’s not mine either. I like the ideal and audacity of the Turbo models with their mid-engined lunacy, but pricing on good examples is pretty outrageous and if the videos of them driving are to be believed, they’re not the best hatch dynamically. No, I’ve pretty much always been a Golf fan, having owned a few of them now. But I must admit I had a soft spot when the E35/5 hatch popped up for sale. To me, it combined some luxury looks with practical performance. And when I say performance, honestly there wasn’t much available. The M44 engine that was fit to the 318ti was a decent performer, but it had only 138 horsepower, and at the price point you were much better off getting a GTi VR6, which oddly was more luxury oriented than most of the 318tis and offered more performance. However, the base of the 318ti was a good idea; a smart looking, light and nimble hatchback with a manual transmission and rear drive. And, of course, being an E36 platform, it was ripe for engine transplants. Today’s example is one of the more rare M-Sport equipped models, but this one has yanked the M44 in favor of an odd choice – the M52B25:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1998 BMW 318ti M52 on eBay
After reading a Car Magazine long-term test review of the new Caterham 160, my interest in base model vehicles was rekindled. Much like the rather basic BMW 518 that Nate featured back in 2013, this 318ti has caught my attention for similar reasons. When the E36 hatchback made its debut, I wasn’t particular fond of it. But time has changed my view of it, not in the least because it wasn’t the most common E36 3 series on US shores. It’s rare you come across a good example, as these were the most affordable car in the BMW range at the time, but sometimes you’ll find a hidden gem. Such is the case with this example equipped with a 5-speed manual for sale in Oregon.