Editorial: Bavarian Underdog – The E46 Compact

3-Series, Featured Posts | July 19th, 2010 by 16
 Editorial: Bavarian Underdog   The E46 Compact

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.

 Editorial: Bavarian Underdog   The E46 Compact

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 Editorial: Bavarian Underdog   The E46 Compact

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)

16 responses to “Editorial: Bavarian Underdog – The E46 Compact”

  1. Sajan says:

    OMG!!!! Thankyou!!! I requested this as an article. BMW BLOG is the greatest. Thankyou, from an e46 compact owner

  2. Sajan says:

    This article is much appreciated, Here I was thinking this was a forgotten model amongst BMW fans. I know most of you in the states have never seen this car, but in the flesh it is truly magnificent, even better to drive then the rest of the e46 range.

  3. Andrew says:

    Sajan – thank you for the email regarding the story. Everyone please feel free to continue to request these sorts of articles.

  4. Doug says:

    I had no idea this existed after E36. So, is the 1 series BMW’s strategy to make the Compact successful? Did they feel it was unsuccessful because it was a “lesser” 3?

  5. Doug says:

    And… what a weird-looking bimmer. The styling changes just don’t make a lot of sense for where BMW was at the time. Why did they try and distinguish it at all?

    • bob says:

      Actually, it did make sense for where BMW was at the time. Then, the problem with the E36/5, from a design perspective, was that it looked like the E36 from the front..which didn’t match up with its side profile. CEB determined that the E46 Kompact would have its own character — front, side & rear.

  6. Josh B says:

    Sorry guys but i found the above car to be one of the worst looking BMW’s made in the last decade. I live in Melbourne and every so often i come accross one of these “compacts” and i try to think what BMW was thinking….it really is ugly and its re-sale represents that.

  7. Wooo hoo. says:

    Garbage…. I think less of these than I do the 1er…

    It’s screams”Look I got me the the roundel out of the bargain basement”

    Glad that never made it to the US…there’d be hundreds all over the place…. kind of like the entry level “me too” 1er…..

  8. Sajan says:

    I personally love it which is why I have one, and it isn’t a cheapened BMW. Same dashboard and seats, better steering, same 2.5 I6 engine. Looks aren’t to everyone’s taste but think its a nice change from all the e46’s on the road.
    I wouldn’t say it’s more vulgar then the old x3 or bangle 7 series. Would you?

  9. FreudeKing says:

    This is a wonderful baby BMW. Very reliable and good quality.

  10. sharkhunter635 says:

    “the third generation 3 Series enthusiastically and internally known at the E46”

    The E21 waves and says ‘hey’. That would make the E46 the 4th generation 3 Series (E21, E30, E36 –> E46).

    that said, this is kinda cool for us Americans who never actually see it on the roads. I wonder if people swap S54s in and call it “332Ti” like some have done with E36s and S52s…bet that would be fun

  11. Danny Shore says:

    I’ve never seen this model in real life but quite a few members have this model on e46fanatics

  12. Sajan says:

    sharkhunter635, I’ve seen a couple of modified e46 ‘m3’ compacts on the internet. Mostly coming from Gemrany.One person has fitted csl parts to his, wheels, interior door cards, engine cover etc. It looks stunning. A few people have modified the front so It actually looks like an e46 coupe.

  13. ARPcPro says:

    Thanks for
    taking time writing this article. When I was searching for a car I never considered
    owning a normal BMW until I saw a front photo of the E46 Compact. My first
    though was “uauw finally a beautiful BMW”.

    It had some
    sort of exclusivity and individuality and it looked like the front of a Bentley
    Continental GT. It was beautiful from the side and it is even better in real
    life than in photos. The rear is so so, and reminds me an old VW Polo sedan but
    I like the fact that is even shorter than the saloon.


    Mine is a
    320TD sapphire black M pack with 6 speed manual gearbox. And I love this car so
    much that I’m grateful that BMW did it this way breaking the ties with the BMW elititists
    tastes. My other option was the Mercedes C Sport Coupe that was slower and
    didn’t handle as good as an E46.


    My 320TD
    reaches 230kmh with M pack. Front are 225/45/ZR17 and Rear 245/40/ZR17.

    version does 8.8s from o-100kmh and M pack on 320TD does 8.6s.

    BMW Compact commercial
    from german TV: http://youtu.be/1YpkqFKByzg

  14. Sami Ayubi says:

    I think it’s cos BMW was taking over Rover at the time and so there was some crossover with design policy and possibility of platform sharing. If you look at the Rover 25 and 75 cars you can see a few similarities, and they shared a few components such as self-dimming rear-view and so forth. That doesn’t really explain the Lexus tail lights though! However, facelifted cars look a bit better and it is possible to improve the look of the headlights a bit with aftermarket xenons. 

  15. Nate says:

    The problem with the E36 / E46 BMW Compact was that neither the stillborn 5-door hatchback body-style was sold from the outset to widen the car’s appeal nor was the halo-model creating M3 Compact prototype given the go-ahead for production.

    On top of the above, the E46 Compact meanwhile should have received the tidier front-end from its bigger E46 3-Series brother (in place of the existing styling which needlessly limited its appeal) as well as the latter’s existing 228 hp 3.0 petrol / 181-201 hp 3.0 diesel engines.

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