Alex Kersten profile picture Alex Kersten 2 months ago 2
Used Cars

3 Things I've Learned Living With A £350 BMW E46 Compact

I've now clocked 1000 miles in my E46 316i Compact. Here's what life is like with BMW's ugly duckling...

Remind me later
BMW - 3 Things I've Learned Living With A £350 BMW E46 Compact - Used Cars

The BMW E46 many of you will have seen in our video is still alive and well. It is, in fact, my daily driver that was bought for £350 a couple of weeks ago, and since that time, I’ve clocked 1000 miles to get to and from YouTube shoots.

Because I rate the E46 316i Compact as a good ‘proper’ starter car (small engine, RWD) I thought it’d be wise to keep you abreast of what the thing is actually like to live with. So in no particular order, here are my findings…

It's good to drive and practical

BMW - 3 Things I've Learned Living With A £350 BMW E46 Compact - Used Cars

The E46 316i Compact is a light car at 1300kg, meaning it changes direction well and pulls harder than its 10.9-second 0-60mph time suggests. In fact, it’s more than adequate for everyday driving, and while it is the most ‘gutless’ version in the Compact range, 116bhp is plenty to put a smile on your face on a B-road and keep you cruising at 70mph (at just over 3000rpm) on the motorway.

The boot's a decent size (excuse the mess, I bought it like that)
The boot's a decent size (excuse the mess, I bought it like that)

It’s a practical car, too, with a decently-sized and deep boot, seats that split 40:60, and more than acceptable space in the back for rear passengers. The front, cloth seats are comfortable too, meaning that 200-mile trips don’t hurt even a 36-year-old back like mine.

And while we’re on the subject of motorway driving, the usual E46 refinements remain, including a fairly hushed, solid cabin, even with the engine ‘screaming’ away.

£350 is nowhere near enough for a decent one

BMW - 3 Things I've Learned Living With A £350 BMW E46 Compact - Used Cars

Prices for E46 Compacts kick off from around £900 online, which is good value for a car as good as this one. So have I bought the bargain of 2021? Well, not exactly, because there are a few issues with mine…

For starters, the lacquer peel on the bonnet and rear-three quarter panel will put people off, while more concerning still is the illuminated engine light which explains the Compact’s hesitation under hard acceleration (something’s not right with the motor’s Valvetronic unit). The engine is also running rich. For everyday use, however, these things don’t stop me getting from A to B, but I will need to investigate the issues and get them sorted soon.

BMW - 3 Things I've Learned Living With A £350 BMW E46 Compact - Used Cars

Alongside the engine issue, the tracking / alignment is also out of whack, which is something I need to get sorted ASAP. The symptoms include a car that feels skittish on the motorway, a bit like driving a high-sided and very light car in high winds. The car never settles, and during a long left-hander at 60mph to join a motorway, the traction control light went nuts, which is a sure fire way to know that the wheels aren’t all pointing the right way.

With a few hundred pounds spent on this little car, however, it’d be a top notch starter car with a lot of potential.

It's a good base for a project car

BMW - 3 Things I've Learned Living With A £350 BMW E46 Compact - Used Cars

The tuning scene for Compacts is varied and plentiful, parts are easy to come by and there are countless E46 forums, owners’ clubs and Facebook pages. These things mean that finding used wheels, suspension components and aesthetic mods will get you well on your project car life way for not a lot of money.

What’s more, engine swapping Compacts with bigger E46 motors has been done a lot too, so if that appeals, you’ll have a wealth of tutorials and people to lean on online.

In summary

BMW - 3 Things I've Learned Living With A £350 BMW E46 Compact - Used Cars

I’m enjoying E46 Compact life. Despite the aforementioned engine and tracking issues, it is a decent car to drive, feels solid and has all the refinements I like, including a multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and a remote central locking that actually works.

I’ll be holding onto the car a little while longer so watch this space for more videos on the channel, but in the meantime I’d be keen to hear your thoughts, ownership experiences and anything you’d like to know more about it.