If you’ve been following my posts here on GCFSB for the last seven years or so, you’ll know I’m a fan of obscure vehicles. These days, the sight of an M-badged BMW or Porsche 911 does little to excite me, as they seem all too ubiquitous in the urban environments I frequent. It’s no surprise then, at a recent cars and coffee, it wasn’t the fast German machines or Italian exotics which grabbed my attention. Rather, it was a mint Citroën SM sitting in the corner of the parking lot that caught my eye. It had been years since I had seen one of these French grand tourers and it was a design that looked as good in 2016 as it did when it debuted over 45 years ago. The BMW 318ti is not nearly as exotic as the Citroën SM, but it’s not something you see that often on the streets these days. This one for sale in California is saddled with an automatic gearbox but makes for a nice alternative commuter that you could have some fun with on the weekend.
After reading a Car Magazine long-term test review of the new Caterham 160, my interest in base model vehicles was rekindled. Much like the rather basic BMW 518 that Nate featured back in 2013, this 318ti has caught my attention for similar reasons. When the E36 hatchback made its debut, I wasn’t particular fond of it. But time has changed my view of it, not in the least because it wasn’t the most common E36 3 series on US shores. It’s rare you come across a good example, as these were the most affordable car in the BMW range at the time, but sometimes you’ll find a hidden gem. Such is the case with this example equipped with a 5-speed manual for sale in Oregon.
It seems that another generation of small BMW hatchbacks – I’m looking at you, 1 series – will be passing us by here in the US market. But, not many people can blame BMW, as there were few takers for its mid 1990s experiment, the 3 series Compact. Sold here as the 318ti with the 1.9 liter four cylinder engine found in the Z3 Roadster, this car was all E36 saloon from the A-pillar forward but carried a vastly redesigned hatchback rear section with trailing arm rear suspension and simpler, one piece dashboard inside. This 318ti for sale in Pennsylvania has the rare California Roof option, which equips the 3er hatchback with a canvas folding roof, providing almost targa-like motoring pleasure.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA and forthcoming Audi A3 sedan are proof that Americans can be open minded to compact premium vehicles. However, dial it back a few years and you’ll come across one small BMW that was barely a blip on the sales radar screen: the 3 series Compact. Sold as the 318ti stateside, this hatchback was a mix of old and new, featuring the E36 front suspension setup while utilizing the old trailing arm setup from the E30. A simpler dashboard and unique bodywork from the A-pillar were additional features that set it apart from the rest of the E36 clan.
When introduced for 1995, these cars retailed for just under $20,000, opening the BMW experience up to a new demographic. Subsequently, given their lower priced status, there are few good examples left out there on the used market. This clean 318ti for sale in California has just over 100,000 miles and the 5-speed manual gearbox.
To round off a week of highlighting basic German transportation here at GCFSB, here is an example of BMW’s attempt to move down market in the 1990s: the 3 series hatchback. Paying homage to the 2002 hatchback with its “ti” moniker, the hatchback 3er was also known as the Compact. Offered here in the US solely as the 318ti with the venerable twin cam, 1.9 liter four cylinder engine, customers abroad could request a bit more power with the 2.5 liter inline six cylinder engine in 323ti. From the A pillar on back this was a completely unique car and featured a semi-trailing arm rear suspension instead of the Z axle multi-link setup found elsewhere in the lineup. With the intro of the E46 3 series in 1999, BMW abolished all four cylinders from its lineup and that along with lackluster sales saw the Compact exit the US market that year. These hatchbacks aren’t a common sight these days, but this low mileage 318ti for sale in North Carolina has the M package and looks relatively well cared for.
I’d be all over this car if it weren’t for the 4-speed automatic transmission. The two tone black and red upholstery is especially appealing and helps to break up the austere nature of the standard interior. I know I bang on a lot about how I don’t like slushboxes, but this car certainly needs a 5-speed manual to make the most of its power. Since many of these were commuter cars, I can see why people would opt for the auto, but with the M package, it screams poseur. At close to $7,000, this car is a bit out of its league pricewise, as you can get plenty of faster M material for that kind of money. I’d say $4,000 to $5,000 is a more realistic number for this particular car. Still, it’s nice to know there are a few of these forgotten E36s out there and it will make safe, reliable transportation for someone out there.