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What Car? says

3 out of 5 stars

For The 3 Series' sharp chassis means it’s better to drive than its rivals

Against The looks are questionable, while rear passenger legroom is very tight

Verdict A fine-handling, premium-badged hatchback, but not as spacious as a VW Golf

Go for… 318ti (140bhp)

Avoid… 316i

BMW 3 Series Compact
  • 1. Check the engine out thoroughly on a test drive, as some early versions had misfire problems
  • 2. Alloy wheels are easily kerbed, which can knock the tracking out
  • 3. The deep front bumper is prone to stone chips, so check it carefully
  • 4. Ensure that recall work on the fuel injection pump was carried out
  • 5. If high-mileage diesels smoke on heavy acceleration, walk away
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BMW 3 Series Compact full review with expert trade views

With all the hype surrounding the 1 Series, the 3 Series Compact tends to be slightly overlooked, and this three-door, second-generation hatchback isn't helped by its squashed-rear looks. On top of that, it doesn't have as big a boot as an Audi A3, nor are its rear seats as roomy. Entry-level models are also modestly equipped.

There is still much to like about the Compact, though. Fit and finish are up to BMW's usual high standards and there's the same, driver-oriented, high-tech feel that characterises the marque.

You certainly won't find much to moan about behind the wheel. Admittedly the entry-level 1.8-litre model is far from rapid, but the rest of the range exhibits refinement and smoothness that few rivals can match. While the ride is hardly super-soft, the handling is first-rate, making the Compact easily the best-driving hatch in the class.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Still a strong demand, diesel does well but lots of interest in 325 ti Sport Auto

James Ruppert
Used car guru

Although the entry-level engine is labelled 316i, it is actually a 1.8, while a 2.0-litre unit powers the 318i. The 115bhp 1.8-litre is adequate, but it will always leave the keen driver frustrated that they can't exploit the Compact's fine chassis a little further.

Our choice, the 140bhp 2.0-litre, is a rewarding drive and posts a 9.0sec 0-60mph time. An excellent 150bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine arrived in late 2001 with masses of pulling power, while fastest of all is the 192bhp 325ti, capable of hitting 60mph in just 6.9sec.

Safety is good on all models, with anti-lock brakes and front and side airbags as standard. ES trim adds a single-CD player and air-con. We recommend the SE, though, which comes with alloy wheels, fog lamps and steering wheel-mounted controls. Top-trim models are badged Sport and feature traction control, stiffer sports suspension and sports seats.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Good overall reliability, but watch for suspension failure

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

Anything with a BMW badge does not get sold cheaply and that rule applies here. This is far from the cheapest small hatchback.

Insurance costs on the 316ti and 318ti are reasonable. Provided you don't succumb to the lure of a Sport badge, you'll face no more than group 12 costs. The diesel variant sits one group higher, while the most costly to insure is the 325ti, in group 16.

The 325ti is also the thirstiest model in the range, retuning no more than 31mpg on average. The 316ti delivers a claimed 40mpg, although the more powerful 318ti almost matches that with 38mpg. Most economical of all is the diesel, at a claimed 49mpg, which will still easily translate into 42mpg in the real world.

Servicing is required every 15,000 miles, but BMW dealers are far from cheap, so unless you are buying a very late car with some warranty left, it makes more sense to seek out a good independent specialist.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Still a strong demand, diesel does well but lots of interest in 325 ti Sport Auto

James Ruppert
Used car guru

While it hasn’t quite been top of the class in recent What Car? JD Power Customer Satisfaction surveys, the 3 Series Compact still enjoys a good reputation for sturdiness, with few problems to report.

By late 2006 there had only been one official recall. This addressed the concern that bearings on the fuel injection pump could be prone to failure.

When you test drive a potential purchase, check the engine out thoroughly, as some early visions had misfire problems. If a high-mileage diesel engine produces clouds of black smoke under hard acceleration, go and find another one. And, make sure there's no hint of clutch slip, but don't be put off if the manual gearchange feels sticky at first, as that's a characteristic rather than a fault.

The deep front bumper is prone to stone chips and the design of the alloy wheels means they are easily kerbed.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Good overall reliability, but watch for suspension failure

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct
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