The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.3
After the disaster of the pug-ugly R1200C of 1997 BMW have put everything into its new cruiser not least an all-new boxer engine to ensure it works – and it does. The R 18 rides as a classy American cruiser twin should but is every inch a luxury BMW but at nearly £20K when Harley’s cheapest, similar alternative is under £13K, it’s not cheap.
Reasons to buy
- The first truly credible BMW cruiser
- Monstrous but refined boxer twin matches Harley vibe
- Fabulous build quality and detailing
At a glance
The old 1997 R1200C was a run of the mill BM boxer turned into a cruiser. The R 18, however, is very different. Everything from the engine to the switchgear, clocks and silencer is bespoke and exquisitely built while the R 18’s styling, a fusion of cruiser and classic as inspired by BMW’s landmark R 5 of 1936, blends beautifully and somehow seems ‘just right’ for a BM cruiser.
Best if all, though, is how it all works, riding comfortably, effortlessly and intuitively. The R 18 doesn’t redefine cruisers, but BMW have now a classy, credible option in the class that will sway many Harley buyers.
This ‘First Edition’ model is a bar bones, solo-saddled, minimal machine due to be joined by ‘bagger’, ‘full-dresser’ and more variants in due course. Even so the riding position is less extreme than it looks. The seat is an ultra-low 690mm and the foot pegs aren’t particularly forward and combine with fairly natural, straight bars. The result is comfortable and natural but the foot pegs can ground out through corners, not that most riders will ride it that that hard.
The R 18 is for cruising and posing, especially in this First Edition trim, so if you want a practical workhorse look elsewhere (and BMW has plenty of options). That said, the recently added ‘Classic’ bagger version adds a touring screen, panniers and pillion, and with it plenty of versatility, BMW also has a long tradition of brilliant accessory options and the R 18 is comfortable, its 16-litre fuel tank is reasonable and, thanks to its natty reverse gear, it’s decently manageable, too, so we’re erring on the generous side here. The R 18’s never going to have the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ versatility of BMW’s R1250GS, admittedly, but we can easily see it being a cool city commuter as well as sunny Sunday toy.
Performance & braking
The all-new, air/oil cooled, 1802cc boxer twin is BMW’s biggest ever, is a sheer wonder of engineering and dominates the R 18 experience – although it’s not as thunderous and dynamic as expected. Instead, with 91bhp at 4750rpm and a meaty 158Nm of torque at just 3000rpm, it eerily matches established US V-twin cruisers such as Harley’s 1746cc, 84bhp Street Bob or Indian’s 1890cc 90bhp big twins for both performance and character. Three power modes, called cringingly, ‘Rain’, Rock and ‘Roll’, add versatility and bite, the delivery is refined and the classic-style exposed shaft-drive is a bonus. Flat out, reckon on around 110mph. Braking is taken care of by twin discs with meaty four-piston calipers at the front with, unusually, another four-piston arrangement at the rear, all with ABS. And, although more than adequate, the R 18 is such a hefty lump – over 340kg ready to roll – that you need them, too.
Ride & handling
We’re giving the R 18 high marks for its ride and handling – not because BMW’s all-new cruiser even remotely matches the dynamism and finesse of a sports bike such as Ducati’s Panigale. It doesn’t. It’s because, as an all-new cruiser from a brand with little previous experience of them the R 18, despite its bulk and cruiser stance, rides smoothly and handles without complaint while always retaining the all-important cruiser attitude and vibe. Sure, when pushed hard, those kicked out forks and big 19-inch front wheel add up to slightly distant steering and committed cornering can see the foot pegs ground out, but overall the R 18 delivers and impressive ride.
It’s early days with a brand new bike so it’s impossible to be certain, but although a high end, premium machine, in terms of day-to-day running costs the R 18 should be better than most. Performance is relatively gentle and BMW’s new cruiser is unlikely to be ridden hard so tyre and brake pad life should be decent. There’s shaft drive, so there’s no chain to worry about or to pay for; the lazy-revving motor easily returns over 50 miles to the gallon and, being a premium BMW, residuals should be pretty good too, even with a high initial price.
Again, it’s difficult to be certain at this stage simply because the R 18 is a brand new model with, crucially, an all-new engine so it’s impossible to completely rule out the possibility of any reliability issues. All that said, it is a premium BMW, and the German marque overall has a good reliability record, especially with its range-topping machines. In addition, the R 18’s an under stressed cruiser whose mechanical parts are unlikely to be put under any great strain while, thirdly, this type of bike more than most tends to get pampered and is unlikely to rack up high mileages. All told, we see little reason for concern.
Warranty & servicing
The R 18 is so new that, as we write, it’s service intervals haven’t yet been released. That said, we have no reason to suspect they’ll be worryingly short while, in addition, the all-new boxer engine is so exposed and accessible working on it should be a comparative breeze. Better still, BMW has recently introduced an extended three-year parts and labour warranty for many of its machines, including the new R 18, so there’s even more reason for prospective buyers to rest easy.
Slightly a moot point, this, so again we’ve erred on the generous side. Being a classic-inspired, pared-back cruiser means the R 18 is minimalistic by nature. So there’s just one dial, which, although sufficient, some have already criticized for lacking things like a fuel gauge. In addition, there’s no cruise control as standard, few gizmos and not even a pillion seat. The other way of looking at it is the R 18 has everything you’d expect of this type of bike, plus a few extras such as riding modes. Besides, if you want more there’s already the bagger Classic version of offer plus a meaty accessories catalogue available of genuine BMW add-ons for you to tailor your R 18 exactly how you want. Instead, our main criticism is that, when the base bike already costs over £18K, paying anything more for any extras (such as heated grips) is a little on the salty side…
The R 18 deserves to succeed because it comprehensively succeeds in what it set out to achieve – and that’s be a unmistakably BMW, yet classy and cultured cruiser alternative to the likes of Harley and Indian. The massive 1800cc boxer engine is the star, both in looks and authentic delivery, although we’re slightly disappointed it isn’t a quantum leap better than its American V-twin rivals. Its handling and ride are more than competent and its quality and detailing are mouth-wateringly exquisite. We can easily see Californian executives with maybe a 7-series in the garage preferring this over a Harley. Trouble is, at £18K+ you need to be an executive to afford one and, though good, we find that £5K premium over an equivalent ‘Hog’ hard to justify.
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