BMW 3 Series Compact – The Ugly Duckling Of The Family

3-Series | October 17th, 2014 by 14
BMW E46 compact front 20071104 750x500

The BMW 3 Series Compact is considered to be the grandfather of the BMW 1 Series. A significant (if not by design) model tweak allowed …

The BMW 3 Series Compact is considered to be the grandfather of the BMW 1 Series. A significant (if not by design) model tweak allowed a smaller, but seemingly fitting model to be squeezed into the whole product range.

The 3 Series Compact is basically a truncated liftback version of the BMW 3 Series produced by the German automaker between 1993 and 2004 on first, the E36 chassis, then after 2001 on the E46 platform.

While it shared a wheelbase of the full-fledged 3 Series, it did come with some different specs – which made it totally awesome!

BMW 3 Series Compact 2003 800x600 wallpaper 01 750x562

The 3 Series Compact was never meant to be a powerful car, neither on the E36 or E46 chassis after that. Most powerful engines were – surprisingly – the diesel variants and their amazing torque. While any self respecting 3 Series Compact diesel owner wasn’t keeping the car stock, examples with 130-150HP for the E36 and over 200 hp for the E46 models were frequently seen.

Something similar can be said about the first generation 1 Series with diesel engines providing better acceleration, more torque and more fun!

BMW 318ti Compact UK spec 1994–2000 4 750x562

The E36/5 compact shares its suspension with the BMW Z3; the front suspension employs the E36’s standard MacPherson strut design, while the rear suspension uses a semi trailing arm from the previous model BMW 3 Series (E30). The E36/5 made use of the older semi-trailing arm rear axle, as opposed to the E36’s Z-Axle Multi-link suspension. As the trailing arm design was smaller, it allowed for a lower trunk floor height, fold-down rear seats, and an exterior undermounted compact spare tire.


The inherent design of the trailing arm suspension was that it favored oversteer. While journalists everywhere were happy to discourage anyone from buying the car, the fun factor was there: it was prone to oversteer. It was also a rather driver-intensive vehicle, requiring enough work and skills to master it properly.

Design wise, the E36 Compact was a slightly more successful model than the E46 variant which stood out with its weird headlights, a first and last for BMW. None of the two variants were considered to be award-winning designs and didn’t add to the bottom of BMW sales, but the enthusiasts seemed to have enjoyed their athletic capabilities.


14 responses to “BMW 3 Series Compact – The Ugly Duckling Of The Family”

  1. jason bourne says:

    The current 1-series hatchback is probably a close second in the ugly duckling race.

    Whoever is designing/authorizing the front fascias for some of these BMWs needs to have their vision checked… And maybe their taste as well.

  2. Alen says:

    Fuck you. I owe a e46 compact m for 6 years now and absolutely love it!!

  3. PTeuro says:

    The E46 compact still being one of the best small cars ever built. The M version (M Sport) is simply amazing. The tuning of the chassis and direction is simply unique.

    • Horatiu B. says:

      That’s what we said. Ugly but great car

      • Alen says:

        Isn’t ugly something emotional and personal from person to person. You can not write an article stating something is ugly, especially not in the article’s title. If it is ugly to you, doesn’t mean it’s ugly to everyone other. For example, I don’t like the 1M design at all, but you would never post such an article, because you own one… and you love it…

        • Horatiu B. says:

          I believe my article reflects most of the other opinions out there. Design wise, the e46 compact looked weird at the front.

          As far as the 1M. I didn’t buy the 1M cause of its looks. The decision was solely based on how it drives. If i wanted looks, would have bought the E92 M3.

          • Soren says:

            Change your believe Horatiu .

          • Henry says:

            But your 1M really look good – admit it! I think its proportions are perfect, not even the current 2 series have such great looks. In fact, I think Audi’s A3 sedan looks extremely similar to BMW’s 1 Series Coupe. That A3 sedan is also one hell of a good looking car in the right package. Pity the 2 Series is not as good looking as the 1 Coupe proportion wise.

          • Horatiu B. says:

            It has a nice ass. I’ll give it that :)!

  4. SteinarK says:

    The e46 Compact with the engine +++ from its e46 m3 big brother, is a dream to drive.

  5. Prussian Motors says:

    Prussian Motors loves the tail happy ti chassis! Especially with Mpower plants : )

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