BMW 325ti Compact | Spotted
Big engine, small car, little price – and rare, too. Has the Compact finally found its time to shine?
By Matt Bird / Tuesday, 28 February 2023 / Loading comments
There’s no denying the status of the BMW M135i and M140i as cult heroes. Though ostensibly 1 Series hatchbacks, they really were like nothing else on the road, with a chunky 3.0-litre turbo six powering the rear wheels in a compact three- or five-door body. Purists could have a three-door manual with passive suspension; a five-speed auto with adaptive dampers might suit the family folk. Both models were legends in their own lifetimes, even if they weren’t the best hot hatches in the world to drive, and no doubt their reputations have been embellished by a less memorable successor.
It can be easy to forget, however, that the M Performance 1 Series was merely the culmination of a recipe BMW had been working on for more than a decade before the M135i. Since 2001 it had been offering a weird-looking hatchback with a big straight six up front, a manual gearbox in the middle and rear-wheel drive. Only without the M badges or the conspicuous value for money of the later models, they never sold in quite such droves. The E85/7 130i was one of them, and this car – the E46 325ti Compact – was the other.
Launched in 2001, it was the first time the 3 Series Compact had been given a six-cylinder engine in the UK; the E36 generation had a 323ti variant in some markets, though here it was just a range of four-cylinders. More than 190hp endowed it with proper performance for the early 2000s, with 62mph coming up in a little over seven seconds and a top speed that exceeded 140mph. Like the M135i all those years later, there really wasn’t anything like the 3 Series Compact out there. It launched before even the Golf R32, if six cylinders were a must, and was a much more driver-focused offering than something like a Mercedes C-Class Sports Coupe.
Rather unlike the M135i, however, the 325ti wasn’t all that popular. The reason was obvious: the E46 saloon was one of the great-looking compact four-doors, and the Compact was weird. Perhaps time (and BMW’s recent efforts) have dialed back its strangeness a bit, but it was certainly noted at the time. Those who didn’t need rear doors and who might have bought a ti could have been swayed by the 3 Series Coupe, which was just as handsome as the saloon.
So not many sold new, and the final Compact was made almost 20 years ago, so they’re seriously scarce nowadays. HowManyLeft suggests that fewer than 750 are still taxed on UK roads. That’s manuals and automatics, SEs and M Sports – all of them. Which is not very many at all. This early car looks interesting with the manual gearbox, the MV1 alloy wheels, a great colour and a very funky interior spec, exactly the kind of thing you’d have to pay a small fortune for to have in a new M car. Bravo to whoever opted to have their dorky BMW three-door in wine red with a yellow and black interior back in 2001. The advert promises a full service history for its 106,000 miles, and it seems to scrub up really nicely. That said, the MOT is imminent, and previous tests have noted some corrosion, so bear that in mind. Something to factor into an offer, perhaps.
Without negotiation, the Compact is for sale at £3,995. When seemingly every vaguely interesting car with a mildly potent engine from the early 21st century is worth £5k, that doesn’t seem bad, even with maybe a bit to spend to have the ti back to its best. Bear in mind what classic saloon-shaped, six-cylinder BMWs will cost you and the Compact is even better value. Doesn’t look so bad now, does it?
SPECIFICATION | BMW 325TI COMPACT
Engine: 2,494cc, straight six
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],000rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],500rpm
Year registered: 2002
Recorded mileage: 106,696
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £3,995
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