BMW 316i

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Keywords: BMW 316i

Description: For some drivers, only a BMW will do. They think that having a blue-and-white propeller badge on the bonnet shows that they have made it, and can't wait to trade up from a Ford Mondeo - even if it means having a base model Beemer.

With the 316i, BMW has opened up the 3-Series range to a new group of buyers. But there are obvious sacrifices to be made in terms of performance.

For some drivers, only a BMW will do. They think that having a blue-and-white propeller badge on the bonnet shows that they have made it, and can't wait to trade up from a Ford Mondeo - even if it means having a base model Beemer.

But thanks to a new engine, life with the cheapest 3-Series needn't be too fraught. Contrary to the name, the 316i is powered by the 1.8-litre engine used in the Compact, and will be sold beside the more powerful 318i. Known as Valvetronic, the 115bhp unit propels the weighty 3-Series to 60mph from standstill in 11.2 seconds and gives a top speed of 125mph. Yet in everyday driving, the powerplant can feel sluggish and it's only when the revs build that swift progress can be made.

On twisty roads the newcomer is as capable as its acclaimed stablemates, although you can't help feeling that the chassis is compromised by this lower powered engine. At high speeds the refinement is excellent, while A-road composure is second to none.

Inside, build quality is impeccable although standard equipment is miserly unless you can stretch to the SE versions. The Touring models offer more practicality and space than the four-door, but don't expect acres of room - it's more about style than practicality.

The 316i makes sense when you glance at the price list. The range now starts at £18,635 for a basic spec four-door, and £20,645 for an entry- level Touring. Company car drivers will save money in tax, because the small Valvetronic unit emits 177g/kg of CO2, which puts it in the 17 per cent tax bracket. But is it really worth sacrificing your V6 Mondeo load-lugger for the weediest BMW on sale? That depends on your priorities. The 316i Touring is a fine car with accomplished handling, impeccable quality and a legendary image. But it simply can't disguise that it's a base engine model and robs the 3-Series of some of its natural flair.



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