RWD manual hatchbacks are practically extinct in 2021.
BMW recently revived the 'ti' moniker - which stands for Turismo Internazionale - for its new 128ti, a hot hatch that isn't coming to America but that aims to give the Volkswagen Golf GTI headaches in other markets.
However, long before the 128ti arrived, there was the 318ti Compact. This was a hatchback version of the E36 generation 3 Series and although it was far from a style icon, its rear-wheel-drive layout made it quite a rarity for a hatch. BMW Group Classic decided to revisit this often forgotten hatchback which it describes as a pocket rocket - and for good reason. Unlike in North America, the 3 Series Compact was offered with six-cylinder power in other markets. Producing up to 170 horsepower, it was quite a performer since it was smaller and lighter than the E36 sedan.
The Compact's lower price was also possible since it used several parts from the older first-generation E30 BMW 3 Series such as the air vents and the general cockpit, whereas the 3 Series sedan of the period had a modernized dashboard. Even the suspension borrowed bits from the E30, although this didn't lead to it being a great handler.
Because of these older parts, its unloved styling, and the capable but lower-powered four-cylinder engines, the 3 Series Compact didn't sell particularly well in North America.
In remembering the Compact, BMW Group Classic then revealed something special in the above video: the only example ever made of an E36 M3 Compact. Using BMW's incredible inline-six S50 naturally-aspirated engine, it produces 321 hp which is a lot in such a small vehicle.
With Recaro lightweight bucket seats, quad-exit tailpipes, a curious mix of E30 parts, and that amazing engine that preceded the influx of smaller turbocharged powerplants, it's a special car that would surely have been a hoot to drive if BMW decided to produce it. Perhaps the closest thing to this in size and power would be the Z3 M Coupe, affectionately known as the Clown Shoe.
While the E36 3 Series Compact may not scoop up a spot on BMW's crowded hall of fame, it was a rare rear-wheel-drive, manual hatchback and, outside of the US, could be had with six-cylinder power. It showed BMW's unwavering commitment at the time to build driver's cars even if it had to be done within the confines of a smaller, impractically-sized body. Those were the days.