I thought being a 1.8 (yes, 1.8 on a 316ti) 115-bhp car, weighing 1,200 kg, it would struggle. But having a manual gearbox helps, and easily pulls the car uphills at open road speeds without a problem. Very surprised, coming from a 160bhp V6 Galant and a row of Audis.
Unusually frugal - my previous cars average only 8.5 km/L (11.76 L/100 km, 20.2 US MPG, 27.7 UK MPG) due to terrain and only get to 12 km/L (8.33/28.5/36.36) on long drives; this BMW averages 11.5 km/L easily, and on recent trips out of town, even did as high as 16.5 km/L!
It may be a hatch, but it is only 100 kg (or, one male passenger equivalent) lighter than my Galant and other Audis, so it is not a light car. So I suppose the manual helped there again.
The seats are very good for long distance driving. Support in the right places. Better than the Galant or my previous A4. And the BMW doesn't even have lumbar support adjustment!
Steering is communicative, offers good feel. Well-weighted. And even has steering controls, a luxury in 2001, which I thought was a gimmick until found out how well-designed it was.
Controls are all tactile and damped.
Doesn't feel as "carved-from-granite" as the older E36 3-series cars though, whose doors felt like concrete with the glass welded and not a single rattle. This one feels more conventional.
At suburban speeds, the gear ratios feel they could be better spaced.
The outside temp gauge is very accurate, either spot-on or within a degree of the correct temperature; the Galant's was always 3-4 deg C too optimistic.
On NZ's coarse-chip roads, quieter than the Galant, on par with Audis, but not as quiet as a Hyundai Sonata nor a 5-Series BMW. May just need to change tyres, not much else can be done.
Mine was well-equipped - in a rare gray-green metallic, it even had the walnut dash, cruise control, reversing sensors. I only wish it had a sunroof.
Overall, this car was much better than expected. It's basically a 3-series with a hatchback, which makes it much easier to park (shorter, without the length of the boot). Comfy seats, frugal, nimble, and details were well-thought out.