Some parents would have you think the perfect first car should be a decommissioned M4 Sherman tank — a safe choice, no doubt. But there’s more to a great first car than safety. Beginning drivers need something easy to maintain and as analog as possible. This teaches them about the basic dynamics of a car and how it behaves on the road. And there aren’t many cars better suited for the job than an old BMW like this 1984 318i.
Here, you won’t find any touch screens or infotainment systems to steal the driver’s attention from the road, nor is there an abundance of power to abuse. The whole driving experience is dedicated to precisely that: driving. If you ask any commercial airline or airforce pilot what the first plane they flew is, they’d say a Cesna 172 — it’s as basic as it comes and teaches all the fundamentals. The BMW 318i is a road-going Cesna 172.
This particular 1984 BMW 318i only has 37,000 miles on the odometer. There’s probably little to no handy work needed but if there were, the BMWs of the ’80s are incredibly simple, mechanically speaking. The upshot is that learning valuable skills like changing oil and swapping spark plugs are easy to pick up.
Out on the road, the 3-Series is famous for its balanced handling. It’s classified as “sports car” but parents can rest easy knowing the 1.8-Liter inline-four only makes 103 horsepower. It’s not exactly pulse-quickening, but the little Bimmer will get out of its own way and that’s more than enough for the novice. There’s also the added benefit the five-speed manual transmission — a sure way to get a teen to stop texting on the road.
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