Archive Comparison Test: 1995 BMW 318ti vs 1995 Acura Integra GS-R

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From the November 1995 issue of Car and Driver.

“Is it fun? Is it a real BMW? More to the point, am I gonna look cool in it?” These are the questions presented by the BMW 318ti, a car that turns on its charm even before you can grab the keys. Largely, that’s due to its initials. In the past, we’ve measured our driving fun in BMWs in nautical miles. Naturally, the prospect of a $20,000-something Bimmer with its pedigree intact looked like the pro­file of a future leader of the pack.

Only one problem. The 318ti shows up ready to rumble on turf already claimed by some intimidating hot hatches and sports coupes. At the forefront is one Acura Integra, a car knighted by comparison tests so frequently that Kenneth Branagh is looking into film rights. With a couple of bouts under its belt, the 170-hp Integra GS-R just might knock the 318ti’s strut down to a stroll.

Sound like trouble? Sounds like a com­parison test.

Aaron Kiley|Car and Driver

“Wait just a minute, Sparky,” you pipe in, breaking the mood. “What about the VW GTI?”

Granted, the BMW hatch does look an awful lot more like its German compatriot than its Japanese fencing partner. But the GTI finished last in its most recent com­parison test (C/D, March 1995) largely because of its soft handling.

Stay with us here. Both the BMW and the Acura have 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines. Both are hatchbacks with flip-fold rear seats. Their base prices open on either side of the $21,000 bookmark. After hours of knitting our eye­brows together until we looked like that guy in R.E.M., we decided the 318ti was more closely matched in configura­tion, performance, and price to the Integra GS-R than to any­thing else.

So, exactly what happens when you throw two toughs into the same shark tank? You get to blaze across southeastern Michigan in the duo, sample the narcotic effects of spaetzle at the German restau­rant in Stockbridge, and choose a favorite speed thug. In the end, one wins and the other gets to play Miss Congeniality in the ever-growing ranks of “Nice, but . . .”

Here’s how these two settled their dif­ferences.

2nd Place: BMW 318ti

If you read magazines like Details, watch NBC’s “Friends,” or listen to any radio station with an “X” in its call letters, you’ve probably already been assaulted by a tempting numerical come-on for BMW’s 318ti: “$19,900.”

Allow us to gently disabuse you of that notion. First, you’ll have to pay to get your vehicle off a ship and to your dealer ($570). Which means the baby Bimmer will run at least $20,470, including two airbags, anti-lock brakes, and power win­dows. Bargain hunters who crave Euro credentials can and should stop there.

HIGHS: Unblemished handling and mechanical verve . . .
. . . but we’ll get back to you on its speed and looks.
VERDICT: A real BMW for slightly tighter belts.

If you want your Bavarian-built bahn­stormer to handle like an SCCA sprinter, it’ll cost you more. You’ll need the lim­ited-slip differential ($580) and the $2400 Sport package, which includes trick 15-inch wheels and tires, a sport suspension, grippy seats, and extremely groovy fabric upholstery. A minimum of $23,450 by our HP calculators.

Add a premium stereo, a power sun­roof, a security system, and cruise control, and you’re talking $25,200. That many dead presidents would also buy you a nifty VTEC Prelude or a Ram Air Firebird. It would almost get you into Audi’s new A4. And BMW’s own 318i two-door sedan is just a grand more.

No surprise, really, because the two have much in common—at least in front of the firewall, where the 318ti is a dead ringer for the 318i sedan. Aft of there, even the lookalike parts are subtly different. Look at the doors: those windows are framed, dude, and a little of their flame-red paint shows through into the cabin. The 318ti’s dash is a simpler, streamlined affair with big push-pull knobs for the headlights and foglamps. Its rear seats split and fold to reveal a cargo area that’ll swallow a Sears lawn mower. Try that in an M3.

If you could take an X-ray of the 318ti’s internals, you’d notice more. The heart of this matter isn’t the stout inline six common to the 325i and M3; rather, it’s the 138-hp 16-valve four that’s been around since the last-generation 3-series. It’s still a sweet-revving engine, especially coupled to the slick-shifting stylings of BMW’s five-speed. But after living with Bavaria’s senior statesmen, we’re not used to waiting 8.4 seconds to get to 60 mph. And with 170-hp GS-Rs running around, we’re used to more energy from 1.8-liters.

Keep going. Under that low-liftover hatchback floor you’d find a semi-trailing-­arm rear suspension. The various 3-series 10Best champs each have an indepen­dent multilink rear suspension, but the 318ti reverts to the setup of the previous­-generation 3-series cars. Theoretically, it’s a little less adept at handling single-wheel bumps. In practice, the handling tradeoff, in exchange for a usable trunk and low base price, seems reasonable.

This melding of old and new leaves the traditional BMW virtues—like light, pre­cise steering and an uncompromised sense of stability at speed—in place. Handling is balanced; it tends toward mild understeer, but you can rotate the tail in low­-gear, high-rpm corners. The pedals are tightly grouped so that even narrow feet can execute deft heel-and-toe maneuvers.

We’re intrigued by the possibility of a bargain BMW, even with the minor com­promises made to the rear suspension and interior. It’s a great deal of fun and a rea­sonable value, but we’d be more enthusi­astic if the 318ti, with the handling goodies, really could be ours for just $19,900.

1st Place: Acura Integra GS-R

Handling or utility? Speed or ride quality? The face-off between the Integra GS-R and the 318ti is a Gordian knot of practicality and comfort versus fun.

We’ll take the latter. The Integra may be a smaller, less useful package than the 318ti, but it spits out the objective num­bers and insinuates the subjective percep­tions that once were the sole province of expensive sporting machinery. Like BMWs.

HIGHS: Top-gun motor and shifter, slick steering.
LOWS: Concedes ride quality and roominess to speed, sounds less happy as the revs build.
VERDICT: A bully with a heart of gold.

A dazzling powertrain is chief among the Integra’s many delights. The GS-R gathers a head of steam like no other sports sedan—except of course, the four-door GS-R. Its 1.8-liter VTEC four charges full­-tilt for 8100 rpm at the slightest provoca­tion, burning only 7.1 seconds as it claws to 60 mph on its way to an unfettered 134 mph. Playing around in the upper reaches of its power band is more fun than playing around in a sandbox is to a five-year-old­—without the itchy aftermath.

The yang to this yin is a short-throw shifter that clicks in and out of gear over bare inches of travel like a toggle switch. It’s mounted a little low, but the shift lever feel wouldn’t be better if it were made by Nintendo.

Even if you prefer the steer-here, power-there feel of rear-wheel drive, the GS-R’s benign understeer is anything but offensive. This is a very balanced chassis, one that remains unflappably poised as it dashes from crest to crown. The steering response is fast and fluid, if a little heavy. The only penalty for its razor’s-edge pre­cision is a slight arthritic feel as it dances over irregular surfaces, transmitting some harsh impacts a little too directly.

In a narrowly won contest, we decided that the Integra is more handsome than the BMW. Its proportions are leaner. And though the projector-style headlamps are at the zenith of their trendiness, the face isn’t something you see everyday—unless you drive a Lexus coupe or a del Sol.

Other complaints we could muster were typically small. The Integra isn’t the roomiest sports coupe, while the BMW is essentially as large inside as any other 3-series. Predictably, the Acura suffers in compar­ison. It does have a tilt wheel and the BMW doesn’t, but the Integra’ s front seats are a little less commodious. The back seat is much tighter, requiring contortions and goodwill far and above that asked by the 318ti. The dash styling is cooked clean of any imperfections in the same autoclave as the rest of Honda’s ergonomically faultless offerings—maybe a little too sterile.

If you can’t feel the intent of the GS-R through its mechanicals, you will certainly hear it. It registers 6 dBA more noise at full throttle than the BMW, and the Acura’s cockpit throbs with exhaust boom above 4000 rpm—coincidentally, the point where the VTEC mechanism switches from the lower-lift set of valves to the higher-lift variety. Last, despite some minor fade from the brakes, the Integra stopped just as quickly as the BMW did ­in a short, controllable 185 feet.

Toe to toe, the Integra GS-R out­muscles and outhustles BMW’s newest trick pony. Deft handling is on both agendas, but the Acura’s bonus ponies and punchier feel nudge it ahead of the BMW’s superior package and probably its resale luster. The prestige of a whirling propeller might look good in prep school, but in this neighborhood, an attitude counts for some­thing, too.



1995 Acura Integra GS-R
Vehicle Type: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 2+2-passenger, 2-door hatchback


Base/As Tested: $21,070/$21,870

DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 110 in3, 1797 cm3
Power: 170 hp @ 7600 rpm
Torque: 128 lb-ft @ 6200 rpm 

5-speed manual 


Wheelbase: 101.2 in
Length: 172.4 in
Width: 67.3 in
Height: 52.6in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 48/28 ft3
Cargo Volume: 13 ft3
Curb Weight: 2649 lb


60 mph: 7.1 sec
1/4-Mile: 15.5 sec @ 92 mph
100 mph: 19.1 sec
120 mph: 34.0 sec
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 7.8 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 10.8 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 10.3 sec
Top Speed: 134 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 185 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.82 g 


Observed: 24 mpg

City/Highway: 25/31 mpg 


1995 BMW 318ti
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 2-door hatchback


Base/As Tested: $20,470/$25,200

DOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 110 in3, 1796 cm3
Power: 138 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 129 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm 

5-speed manual 


Wheelbase: 106.3 in
Length: 165.7 in
Width: 66.9 in
Height: 54.8 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 48/36 ft3
Cargo Volume: 11 ft3
Curb Weight: 2789 lb


60 mph: 8.4 sec
100 mph: 24.8 sec
1/4-Mile: 16.4 sec @ 84 mph
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 9.0 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 11.2 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 11.4 sec
Top Speed (gov ltd): 114 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 185 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.81 g 


Observed: 25 mpg

City/Highway: 22/32 mpg 


Source: Reviews -


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