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BMW 318i: Enthusiasts Love To Hate-Even With A V8?

This is the BMW that enthusiasts love to hate. But there are many fans of the 1994-2000 3-Series hatchback also known as the “compact” and code-named E36. It was BMW’s first hatchback and was made from a standard 3-Series sedan. It even had the sedan’s same wheelbase. What made it unique was the seven-inches chopped off of the rear. The hatchback design along with the short rear overhang is what fans of the 318 love. It’s also what most BMW fans love to hate.

Up in front the 318i is the same as the 320 sedans, but in back it’s different

BMW 318 Compact E36 Hartge | Sothebys
BMW 318 Compact E36 Hartge | Sothebys

Up in front, it had the same MacPherson strut suspension and bits as a 320 3-Series. Out in the back is where things changed. Instead of the sedan’s Z-Axle multi-link suspension, it utilized a semi-trailing arm setup from the previous E30 cars. It’s also the same suspension as the Z3 uses. Whereas most all hatchbacks of the time were front-wheel-drive the 318 was rear-wheel-drive. 

Yeah, it was done to save some money, and it was also more compact to fit within the truncated rear. Some enthusiasts and magazine writers of the time though it also caused oversteer. Engines were four-bangers in the US, plus diesel and even a propane version in Europe. 

Here we have a 318i of a different stripe-by Hartge

BMW 318 Compact E36 Hartge | Sothebys
BMW 318 Compact E36 Hartge | Sothebys

OK, so that’s the skinny on the 318. Back in the 1990s, there was a BMW tuner called Hartge-remember them? They took two BMW compacts and put on the full blitz to turn them into lookers and cookers. The big part of the transformation was pitching the banger and stabbing in a 4.7-liter V8. 

Don’t forget that in these years the 318 was the lightest BMW. You would think that would excite BMW enthusiasts? Maybe it takes more? Like A V8, maybe? What started as an M62 4.4-liter was punched out to put out 340 hp. Also, it’s naturally aspirated. Hung onto the back of the M62 was an E36 nM3 Evo six-speed manual transmission. 

Hartge changed the rear suspension to improve and endure

BMW 318 Compact E36 Hartge | Sothebys
BMW 318 Compact E36 Hartge | Sothebys

Hartge knew the rear suspension needed an upgrade. Bilstein adjustable coil-overs combined with Hartge axles were just a start. The brakes were also upgraded. A new exhaust system to allow for more breathing was also part of the package. 

Add a Hartge body kit, some aftermarket wheels, and some steam roller tires, and the Compact is transformed. Don’t you agree? Hartge also replaced the stock gauges with its own including a 185 mph speedo. Optimistic? We don’t think so.

So you want the bad?

BMW 318 Compact E36 Hartge | Sothebys
BMW 318 Compact E36 Hartge | Sothebys

So, with all this goodness there must be bad somewhere and there is. The price of one of Hartge’s Compacts was close to $70,000-and that’s in 1990s money. Yeah, so that probably had a lot to do with there only being two ever made. Even with those impressive stats, the BMW-philes were not. 

The Compact seen here will be up for auction at RM Sotheby’s in June, providing the coronavirus crisis doesn’t affect it. With only a bit under 24,000 miles on the odometer, it’s a super low-mile example.