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Used BMW 316i review: 1995-1999

The 3-Series was the people's BMW, but even that became a stretch for most people as its price rose.  BMW's first move to make their cars accessible for more people was the 3-Series Compact introduced in 1995.


The 3-Series Compact was the company's first, careful step in making a car that had a more affordable sticker while retaining the appeal of the marque.

One look at the Compact and you can see the strategy. Viewed from the front it looks for all the world like a regular 3-Series: there's the same kidney grille, the same bonnet, the same front guards and bumper, and most importantly, the same blue and white spinner badge. Clearly a BMW. But viewed from the side or the rear and it was all new, with its tail shortened into a hatchback.

What mattered most was that it was priced below $40,000 and that opened the door to BMW ownership for more people.  Parked alongside its sedan brother, the Compact was 233mm shorter. That meant the interior was roomy for front seat passengers, if not quite so roomy for those in the rear seat.

The hatch arrangement resulted in quite a large boot area, which in combination with the 50/50 split-fold rear seat delivered a flexibility perfect for carrying just about anything you needed to move.

Under the skin, the hatchback was all BMW. A 75kW 1.6-litre single overhead camshaft fuel-injected four-cylinder, endowed it with modest, but adequate performance. There was a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed auto, the latter dulling the performance somewhat. The suspension was a familiar combination of MacPherson Strut at the front and semi-trailing arm independent at the rear.

It rode and handled well, and with ABS-assisted disc brakes front and rear, it also stopped well.

At its launch, only the single hatchback was offered, with standard airconditioning, central locking, power steering, power windows and mirrors and AM/FM radio cassette sound.

Remote central locking, rear head rests and traction control were added to the list of standard features early in 1996 when it was renamed the Hatchback. The Contour was added in January 1996 and brought with it standard alloy wheels, metallic paint, leather steering wheel and fog lamps.


The pull of the BMW badge is enough for some people to stretch their budget to buy it without considering the costs of servicing a prestige car. The result can be compromised servicing, so check for a good service record, especially one done by a BMW dealer.

Look specifically for things like regular oil changes, annual coolant changes and annual brake fluid changes. Brakes tend to need replacement at intervals of 50,000km or so and original equipment BMW rotors are expensive. Aftermarket rotors are available which will do the job, but you won't find these on offer at BMW dealers.

Lift the oil filler cap and observe any sludge -- a sign that the oil hasn't been changed.

The 1.6-litre M43 engine has a timing chain as do most modern BMW engines, so there's no requirement for servicing in that area.


The Compact had dual front air bags standard and was given front side airbags in 1998, which provided an impressive secondary crash protection system. The E36 rated better than average for occupant protection in the 2004 Used Car Safety Survey, and average for its impact on the occupants of cars it hit.


Year Price From Price To
1999 $4,000 $13,970
1998 $2,500 $13,970
1997 $2,200 $13,970
1996 $2,200 $17,600
1995 $2,200 $15,950

View all BMW 3 Series pricing and specifications

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Range and Specs

325i 2.5L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $7,700 – 11,880 1995 BMW 3 Series 1995 325i Pricing and Specs
328i 2.8L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $7,300 – 11,330 1995 BMW 3 Series 1995 328i Pricing and Specs
316i Compact 1.6L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $3,500 – 5,610 1995 BMW 3 Series 1995 316i Compact Pricing and Specs
316i Open Air 1.6L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $4,400 – 7,150 1995 BMW 3 Series 1995 316i Open Air Pricing and Specs
Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist


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