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BMW E46 Three Series - Compact

The compact was basically a three door E46 based on the same mechanicals as the other models. The previous E36 compact had the older E30 suspension and cheaper interior components but thankfully the E46 wasn't compromised in either regard.

 

BMW E46 Compact

325ti Sport in glorious red, most were boring colours.

Other than the tailgate the major styling difference was the headlights and front of the bonnet which were were not to everyone's taste. Luckily if you're so inclined normal E46 panels and lights will bolt on. The tail lights incorporated a central round section and did the car no favours at all unless you had a red car and they were body coloured.

Compacts were the first cars fitted with the Valvetronic N42 engines which were revolutionary at the time. These replaced the throttle plate with variable valve lift, a technique eventually used on all BMW petrol engines. Performance is what you'd expect from a sixteen valve engine and they're a good unit to drive. But reliability hasn't been up to the standard of the older M42/M44 and I'd avoid them now unless they have exceptional service history and evidence of thing like new timing chains and oil seals.

 

BMW E46 Compact

Revised front end and headlights.

The diesels were all four cylinder and used the M47 which was a superb engine and made the compact into a torquey mile eater. Today you want to be wary of sooted up examples that haven't seen enough maintenance, find a good one and you're laughing though. Pick of the punch is the 325ti with it's superb M54 engine, a driver's delight especially with the Sport pack.

In terms of weight the Compact was about 60kg heavier than the coupe mainly due to the tailgate structure. But it was 60kg lighter than a touring so sat in the middle with little extra space but better access to it. It was a practical alternative to the coupe and if you wanted a rear wheel drive hatch it was this or a Mercedes. I'm likely going to end up with one as my next car because I want something I can get a bicycle into but I don't really need a car as large as my current touring.

 

BMW E46 Compact

What it was all about, the hatchback.

Initial 2001 Compacts had suspension upgrades and a 15% faster steering rack than other E46s but over the course of that years all E46s got these badly needed modifications (early E46s had disappointing handling). Compact suspension stiffness is similar to that of the coupe be it in normal or sport flavour.

There was a minor facelift in 2003 comprising of revised tail lights and boot handle. The 325ti Sport got a six speed gearbox, different 18" alloys and new skirts.

 

BMW E46 Compact

325ti SE.

The 325ti Sport was a special model, a kind of poor man's //M325ti. It had sport bumpers, 18" staggered alloys, sports interior and the usual black headlining. But the engineers sneaked in an easier final drive ratio to let the M54 rev a bit more freely. They also fitted suspension that wasn't just stiffer but actually had different geometry to a regular 325ti, for one thing the lower control arms are a different part. There is an excellent chance of me buying one of these in the future.

The only problem you'll find on a Compact that's any different from the rest of the range is the issue of water leaking into the rear wiper motor. This can over strain the mechanism eventually and new ones aren't cheap. Look for a very slow or dead wiper when checking a used car.

 

BMW E46 318ti Compact

318ti SE.

The creation of the 1 series spelled the demise of future three series compacts. Whilst the E46 Compact wasn't that big a seller and was never available in the US the 1 went onto great sales and was a huge hit. Amazing what a bit of re-branding can do.