The 318ti, otherwise called the Compact, was an odd mix. From the front, it looks like a normal 3-series, and from the back it, uh, doesn’t. The most unique part of BMW’s oft-forgotten hatch is actually hidden out of sight: the rear suspension is more or less the same as an older E30 BMW, making it a favorite amongst car guys.
From the A Pillar forward, it was standard 3 Series and used the standard 3 Series McPherson front suspension. From the A Pillar rearward, it was a very different car, using the rear semi-trailing arm suspension from the E30, instead of the E36’s multi-link setup. It also only came with three-doors and had a strange looking hatch. The proportions just never looked right, which is a shame, because the 3 Series Compact is actually very fun to drive.
Nobody, of course, would buy the 318ti for ergonomics alone. The fun begins after you turn the key. For unlike its more refined six-cylinder cousins, the four-cylinder, 16-valve, 1.8-liter engine growls like a miniature racing engine as it stirs to life.
These weren’t powerful engines and the Compact wasn’t very fast, but, when paired with a manual, it was quite fun to drive. It goes back to that old mantra of driving a slow car at its limit instead of a fast car nowhere near it. The Compact was a plucky little car that was able to put a smile on your face and a BMW badge on your hood for a decent price.
Sports car buffs will also appreciate the fact that unlike virtually every other compact on the road, the 318ti is pushed by the rear wheels rather than pulled by the ones in front. That probably means the traction in snow is inferior. But it gives serious drivers an opportunity to flog the car to its limits on dry pavement by allowing the rear end to slide a bit on turns.
The 318ti, at least here in the ‘States, has gained a very large cult following. As a frequent forum browser, I see many threads about Compact 3 Series’, and the various mods people do to them. They are actually great first cars, or weekend toys, because they are dirt cheap to buy and fix, and relatively easy as well. So people love to buy cheap models and modify them until they’re a shell of their former selves.
We did some searches on web and found many priced from $1200 to a few unrestored, mint condition specimens as high as $14,000. While there are not many around, If you ever stumble across an unmolested example for sale, and the price is low, consider it as a project or toy. It’s bound to bring fun and levity to your weekend car ownership.