Used BMW 3 Series Compact 2001 - 2004 review

Category: Family car

The BMW 3 Series Compact is a fine-handling, premium-badged hatchback, but it's not as spacious as a VW Golf or Audi A3.

BMW 3 Series Compact (98 - 07)
  • BMW 3 Series Compact (98 - 07)
  • BMW 3 Series Compact (98 - 07)
Used BMW 3 Series Compact 2001 - 2004 review
Star rating

What's the used BMW 3 Series hatchback like?

Ever since the launch of the 1 Series, the BMW 3 Series Compact has tendes to be overlooked, and this three-door hatchback isn't helped by odd looks. On top of that, it doesn't have as big a boot as an Audi A3, nor are its rear seats as roomy. And entry-level models are 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.


The BMW 3 Series Compact is a fine-handling, premium-badged hatchback, but it's not as spacious as a VW Golf or Audi A3.

  • The 3 Series Compact is better to drive than its rivals
  • The looks are questionable, while rear leg room is very tight

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 3 Series Compact easily the best-driving hatch of its era.

Ownership cost

What used BMW 3 Series hatchback will I get for my budget?

How much does it cost to run a BMW 3 Series hatchback?

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.

Our recommendations

Which used BMW 3 Series hatchback should I buy?

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.

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