In 1995, BMW decided to bring it’s compact hatchback version of its iconic 3-series to the US market. This car was already a massive success in Europe, and BMW thought since it was such a hit there, that it would naturally be a sales boom here. It was quite a bit less expensive than the sedan and coupe versions already on sale here.

To get the base price down, the entry level model had a cloth interior, steel wheels with plastic wheel covers, and was only offered with a four cylinder engine. The biggest difference, other than the body style, was the rear suspension. The semi-trailing arm setup was almost the same as what was used in the previous generation 3-series. Not only did this save on cost over the new multi-link setup that was used on the sedan and coupe, it also was more compact, allowing for more cargo space in the smaller hatchback version of the 3-series. Personally, I am not sure if using the older suspension was a bad thing. The previous generation 3 series is still to this day regarded as one of the best driver’s cars of all time, and was again lifted for use in BMW’s sports car, the Z3. It helped give the 318ti its own personality in the lineup.

Throughout the years it was on the US market, the most interesting trim level was the Sport. It had seats with larger bolsters, sport suspension, fog lights, a steering wheel with BMW’s “M” logo at the bottom, and only on 1995 models, you could get a limited slip differential. Another item worth mentioning is the “California Roof” option. Starting in 1996, you could get an electrically folding canvas roof that created a much larger opening than a standard sunroof. A friend of mine had one. It was prone to leaking, but was so cool, that the leaking was easily overlooked.

Unfortunately, the 318ti was not the sales success here in the States, as it was on the other side of the pond. BMW to this day claims that the hatchback style is not popular with Americans. I beg to differ. In Europe, BMW offered many different engine choices. Here, all we had were 1.8 and 1.9 liter 4 cylinder twin cam engines, that produced nearly the same power. Europe had the option of a 6 cylinder that would make an already great car even better. I am not sure if the Germans thought Americans hate powerful small cars, or if they were afraid of the little hatch stealing sales away from the sedan and coupe that already had a strong following. All I know is that BMW still refers to this car when it comes to selling hatches here. This is why we have the mutated looking 1 series coupe, and not the handsome 5-door hatch that Europe gets to enjoy.

However, I’d still love to have one of these cars. The fact that it sold so poorly makes it unique and quirky, yet not so quirky that it isn’t a good car. It’s far more practical than the coupe, and is just more interesting than the standard 3 series. This is why it is on my list.

I stole photos for this post from:  If you are the owner of these photos and would like me to take them down, I will gladly do so.