We're always taught to never judge a book by its cover. But humans are shallow when it comes to choosing cars: if it looks aesthetically challenged, we grimace and recoil in a swift manner. Trouble is, by doing that, we often miss out on some great cars. The Fiat Multipla may have looks only a mother could love, but the clever idea of fitting six full-size seats across just two rows was genius. If it had caught on, we probably wouldn't be seeing so many SUVs on our streets.
BMW had the brainwave in the 1990s that it needed to attract younger buyers into the fold, but found it had one big problem that prevented the yoof from buying Bavarian: the price. Obviously, they couldn't reduce how much a base 3 Series cost at risk of devaluing the brand. However, it could produce a smaller car instead, which is where the 3 Series Compact came in.
It was an idea that worked. BMW found that many compact buyers returned to purchase bigger and, therefore, more models next time around. It was such a good idea that Mercedes tried it as well when the W203 came out and created the Sports Coupe.
On paper, the new E46 Compact was off to a good start. Unlike the regular 3 Series, the compact had sharper steering and many came fitted with sports suspension. This, combined with the reduction in weight thanks to its smaller size, meant that the compact was the nicest 3 Series to drive. You could still fit two adults in the back because the roofline wasn't significantly reduced, and the hatchback body style meant practicality was better too. There was even a handy cubby in the parcel shelf to stop your shopping flying about.
And fly about it would do, particularly if you ordered it with the largest 2.5-litre, 192hp straight-six engine. 0-62mph was dealt with in 7.1 seconds which was as good as most contemporary hot-hatches, but the BMW had an ace up its sleeve in being rear wheel-drive - so wet roundabouts were always an opportunity for a spot of mischief.
The only issue was that it certainly wasn't an oil painting on the outside. Plus, you couldn't get it with five-doors, so it was never going to be able to challenge the Volkswagen Golf or Mercedes A-Class for premium hatch sales. This is probably why the compact was never replaced and we got the equally aesthetically challenged 1 Series in 2004.
But, forget about that for the time being and concentrate on the facts. You can find a tidy 325ti compact like this Spotted for well under £2k. Many have hung their hat on cheap 330i E46s for drifting thrills, but saloon and touring E46s don't have the greatest resilience to rust, whereas the compact, on the other hand, seems to be holding up much better with age - another point in its favour.
This one is in Wales and is probably being sold out of frustration because the police have recently stepped up their 'surveillance' on the evo triangle. It deserves to go to a good home on some great roads So, get in there quick before the world wakes up to the idea of the 3 Series Compact.
SPECIFICATION - BMW 325TI SPORT COMPACT
Engine: 2,494cc, six-cylinder,
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 192@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 181@ 3,500rpm
First registered: 2004
Recorded mileage: 126,000
Price new: £25,710
Yours for: £1,750
See the original advert here.