While North America keeps getting more and more SUVs/CUVs to fit every perceived niche of the market, Europe has always received some truly interesting small cars that are both fuel efficient and fun-to-drive, and anything but glorified family trucksters.
The BMW 3 Series Compact was actually a car that initially came stateside as an E36, two years after its European introduction, for the 1995-1999 model years. Poor sales prompted BMW to halt importation and sales of the 3 Series Compact to North America, while Europe and other markets received a fully-redesigned next-generation E46 version for the 2001-2004 models years.
Like its predecessor, the E46 Compact shared its wheelbase with other 3 Series bodystyles, yet with shorter overhangs, length was still about 9-10 inches shorter. Front and rear fascias were even more distinctive from other bodystyles now, with unique quad headlights and smaller taillights. Unlike E36 Compacts, E46 Compacts shared no sheetmetal with their sedan, touring, coupe, or convertible counterparts.
Dashboard design and layout was also now shared with the other E46s, as the E36 Compact’s interior was a mix of E30 and E36 components. Versus its E36 predecessor, the E46 Compact gained a more advanced multi-link rear suspension that was shared with the rest of the 3 Series range, as E36s used the previous generation E30’s semi-trailing arm setup.
In a segment where most competitors were front-wheel drive, the 3 Series Compact was notable for sticking to the rear-wheel drive train of its larger relatives, something that arguably enhanced its performance, especially considering the E46’s impressive capabilities. Engines were shared with other 3 Series, with Compacts being available in four-cylinder 316ti and 318ti, and six-cylinder 325ti regular gasoline models, as well as the 318td and 320td, which both were powered by 2.0-liter I4 diesel engines.
I came across this particular example when I was in Alsace last summer, on a guided tour of the region that included visits to several towns and villages, Haut-Kœnigsbourg (Hohkönigsburg in German) Castle, and a wine tasting at an Alsace Gran Cru-designated vineyard, Domaine Sylvie Spielman. The highest classification for wines of the region, if there were a “Gran Cru of Subcompacts”, I think this bug-eyed Bimmer has the appropriate qualifications, as it didn’t sacrifice its chassis for smaller size.
Photographed in Eguisheim, Alsace, France – September 2017