Review: BMW 3 Series Compact (2001 – 2005)


150PS 320d version offers lively performance, good fuel economy and rewarding handling.

Reports of turbo failures on 320D 150PS models.

Recently Added To This Review

29 January 2015 2001-2005 BMW 3 Series Compact subject to Takata airbag recall in the UK.
14 December 2012

4-cylinder petrol engines can be susceptible to the sump bolts loosening themselves. May have dropped out altogether. Worth checking. Read more

10 December 2012

Heavy oil consumption problem of 4 cylinder petrol engines may be cured as follows (with thanks to Rod Ker): Oil is usually leaking away, not being burnt. What seems to happen is that the O-rings... Read more

BMW 3 Series Compact (2001 – 2005): At A Glance

Sometimes you just fall in love with a car. You didn't expect to. You thought you'd judge it dispassionately, like everything else. And, from what you'd already seen of it, you weren't even particularly keen on its looks.

But there was something about it. Could it have been the Ambra Ochre pearlescent paint that seemed to change colour in the light? Could have been the way the chunky 16in alloys filled the wheel arches so perfectly? Could it have been the quality of the fit and finish? And when you looked at it again, could it have been the shape of its face? What is it with the Germans these days that makes them so keen to give a car eyes that seem to implore you to fall for it?

Road Test  BMW E46 320TD Compact 2002

What does a BMW 3 Series Compact (2001 – 2005) cost?

List Price from £27,805
Buy new from £23,903
Contract hire from £285.82 per month
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What's the BMW 3 Series Compact (2001 – 2005) like to drive?

Get in, turn the key and, oops, shouldnt have done that because this is a diesel. Should have waited. No sweat, though. I'm off and discovering that, though light, the clutch doesnt take prisoners, so starting in second needs getting used to.

This is a diesel that pulls nearly 50 in second. Third is good for around 20 to 85. Fourth is the most you ever need in town. And fifth gives you 32mph per 1,000rpm on the motorway.

But it's the way the thing responds in every way that gets to you. The rear-drive handling and roadholding are sensational. Whatever traction control it's supposed to have to spoil your fun, it doesn't spoil your fun. The front grips like mad, and eventually you can push the back to oversteer, but the limit is so high you hardly ever will. And you feel totally, joyously in control all the time.

Couple this to a diesel engine with more punch than Mike Tyson and you're having a ball. Not to mention worrying the owner of an Escort Cosworth that can't seem to shake you off on the straights or through the corners.

Yet this is a 'sensible' diesel. Simplex chain cam, so no timing belt to worry about; 150bhp; 330Nm (243 lb ft) torque; 060 in 8.6 seconds; 133mph. Yet 51.4 mpg on the combined cycle. And just 148g/km CO2 chugging out of the exhaust pipe. It's even in the £110-a-year VED bracket, which is the lowest you can go with a diesel.

I didn't get 51.4mpg. Pressure of work meant I only managed to drive the thing about 100 miles and couldn't do an accurate brim-to-brim. But 45 to 50 has to be a distinct possibility for most drivers, and some will see closer to 60mpg.

Not much else to report, really. Despite its truncation there's more room in the back than in a Volvo S60. The trunk itself is plenty big enough, and truly massive compared to the hole in the back of an Alfa GTV. The only big disadvantage is the price, because £20,865 plus £495 for metallic paint is a lot of womba for an economy car. Even if it's an economy sports car.

What have we been asked about the BMW 3 Series Compact (2001 – 2005)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

Our 2003 BMW 3 Series is consuming a lot of oil - do you know what's going on?

We purchased (privately) a 2003 BMW 3-Series 1.8-litre petrol automatic in late 2016, with 49,000 recorded miles. It has a stamped BMW Service Record, full MoT etc.The BMW had, prior to our purchase, three previous owners. The first owned it until late 2016, with Full Service History. Second was the supplying dealer who took the BMW as part exchange. A private owner then owned it third, for approx one month, for a daily commute of 10 miles while he ordered his new car. Our extensive test drive, including full throttle through the gears, showed no indication of any performance issues. The BMW was purchased to perform primarily as a commuting transport to and from work daily, approx 20/25miles each way. After a week the oil light came on because it needed to be filled up. It now consumes about one litre of oil every three weeks. I'm not technically qualified to grasp what has brought on this problem. I took it to my local BMW dealer, who suggested changing the head gasket. However, the issue continues. I called BMW, who didn't deny that there is an ongoing oil consumption with this E46 engine. I also discussed this E46 engine problem with two very experienced Vehicle Engineers, who suggested they were aware of this problem. Their solution was for the engine to be removed, stripped, new valves fitted etc (approx £1200, plus VAT). My son and I like this BMW so, money considerations aside, have you come across this problem before? If yes, what is the practical solution to rectify this problem? This car is currently used on a daily basis as essential transport. It drives well, other than this vexatious problem.
It's 14/15 years old. I guess what has happened is that the valve stem oil seals have finally given out and this has caused the oil consumption problem. On some engines these can be replaced with the head remaining in position. On others the head has to come off, making it a much more labour intensive job.
Answered by Honest John
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