Editorial: Bavarian Underdog – The E46 Compact

3-Series, Featured Posts | July 19th, 2010 by 16

There’s no denying the massive success that was the third generation 3 Series enthusiastically and internally known at the E46. The E46 series was a …

There’s no denying the massive success that was the third generation 3 Series enthusiastically and internally known at the E46. The E46 series was a force to be reckoned with both on the track in the ALMS or WTCC and off the track as a class leader of performance and luxury.

Most know of the S54-powered E46 M3, a lucky few of the “ZHP” Performance Package, perhaps fewer know of the 325i Touring with a manual but we’re confident that even less people have heard of the E46 316/318ti aka the “Compact.”

Most Americans are unfamiliar with the quirky model as it was never sold in North America. The E36 318ti was to blame for this as, being of similar design, the two-door hatchback coupe never quite captured the American market during the 1990’s. That said, this most interesting E36 has achieved cult status among diehards as something both unique and a bit of a throwback to the delectable 2002tii Touring. However, due to poor sales of the baby 318ti, the E46 equivalent was doomed for the U.S. before its sheet metal was even stamped.

However, unlike the E36, the E46 “Compact” came with a special exterior design that sets it apart from the E46 coupe/sedan/convertible/wagon variants – though it remains blatantly BMW. Two pairs of rounded out, separated headlamps take place of a full, double-headlamp assembly on either side of the double kidney grill while glancing just below the headlamps a slightly revised, if not sparse, lower spoiler. Along the sides, the Compact somewhat resembled the coupe/sedan door lines but the rear is where the car really distinguishes itself from the pack of sport compacts.

BMW 325ti Compact Front Angle 2003 800x600 5 of 12 655x491

To meet the design needs of heavily truncated rear hatch, the Ti had to forgo the then characteristic L-shaped taillamps for clear, near-triangular taillamps that were retained from the E46 sedan, sans the longitudinal lamps. Needless to say, the littlest Bavarian of its day cut quite an interesting figure across the premium car segment. To motivate Compact, a series of potent engines were fitted behind the quad headlamps such as the 2.5L M54 in the most powerful guise, the 325Ti.

Additionally, the Compact was powered by two versions of the N42 inline-4 cylinder engine in both 316 and 318 form were provided along with small array of 4 cylinder diesel engines.


Though a full 11 inches shorter than the standard E46 Coupe and being the littlest of BMW’s at the time, the Ti still managed to retain both the luxury of its brethren and, most importantly, the driving manners. Some have rumored that the Compact was the precursor to the 1 Series.

In 2002, Automobile Magazine went on to compliment the handling prowess and tactility of the Ti:

“Compared with the rest of the 3-series lineup, the second-generation hatchback has better-balanced power steering that is fifteen percent quicker, much meatier around the straight-ahead position, and more communicative as you wind on lock. These changes have brought back the precise steering feel that used to set the 3-series apart from the competition, and they have eliminated flaws such as excessive kickback on imperfect surfaces and a lack of progression during quick lane changes. The recalibrated helm requires a little more effort at parking speeds, but this is a small price to pay for the transformed handling.”

Proof the Compact was every bit the BMW’s that it stood peers with and its predecessors. For those who needed the extra touch of unique flair could add the M Sport package to the Compact. This extra addition gave buyers the visual distinction over the standard model with special 17 inch M Sport wheels, an M Sport steering wheel, M footrest, and flared side valences and special M bumpers front and rear.

Despite off-beat styling and a cult following, the Compact is a car that enjoyed relative success on its home continent. As a sort of homage to truncated E46’s , Format67 , the European digital film group, has put together a very dramatic film focused around the 318Ti. A fitting tribute to the to a car that – while slightly obscure – has comfortably found its place in the history of the Roundel and continues to do the brand justice.

(Silver E46 Compact courtesy Distant Mirror)