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
Just the other day, Paul looked at a 1998 BMW 318ti in Oxford Green. An offbeat commuter, the condition of that car was great, but not so much was the near $7,000 price. Today I have another 318ti to look at, but this one ups the ante a bit. Again it is an original M44 car in great shape with well below average miles. The color is a little less 90s spectacular, but still looks nice in Alpine White. However, it’s the addition of the California roof and the M-Sport package which really helps this hatch stand out. Let’s take a look:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1998 BMW 318ti M-Sport 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
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: