Photo: BMW

With time and distance, almost any failure in the car marketplace can become a desirable oddity. Case in point: the BMW 318ti, also known as the E36 compact. Why did writer Louis Keene choose it, above all others, for a cross-country road trip?

An amalgam of modern E36 and old-school E30 parts when it launched in the mid-1990s, the car was America’s taste of the weird downmarket European stuff we only seldom get to experience. You know, cloth-seat Mercedes-Benzes with sub-2.0-liter diesel engines and bad manual gearboxes, shit like that.

This car was not a bad idea in principle: it was a smaller, but still practical 3 Series with a base four-cylinder engine and a hatchback, sold at a pretty reasonable price to attract younger newcomers to the BMW brand.

But despite positive reviews in its time—for under $30,000 it was bested only by the Honda Prelude SH in a 1997 Car and Driver test—the 318ti didn’t sell well here. When Americans want a BMW, they want to show off, and this little Euro hatchback didn’t pull off conspicuous consumption. Though it’s a popular candidate for engine swaps today, it’s still even derided as cheap and slow by a lot of people.

Advertisement

Many, then, say it’s bad. I think we, like Louis here, see its weirdness as a good thing, as does reader COMTNDRVR:

Truer words have never been spoken.