BMW E46 3 Series Review, Price, Interior, Exterior and Engine

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The BMW E46 is the fourth generation of the 3 Series compact executive cars produced by BMW, produced from 1998 when it succeeded the BMW E36.

The E46 was released in 1998 to worldwide markets in the sedan body style. In 1999, a coupé and touring body style became available to all markets, and the sedan was released in the United States. A convertible and hatchback body style was released in 2000, the latter only for Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The E46 experienced enormous success in all markets and was widely considered the performance benchmark of its class. The record selling year for the E46 chassis was 2002, when 561,249 vehicles were sold worldwide. The main competitors during the E46's production run were the Acura TL, Alfa Romeo 156, Audi A4, Infiniti G, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Saab 9-3 and the Volvo S40.

BMW M GmbH produced a high-performance variant of the E46 chassis, designated the M3. This version had a larger, more powerful engine, sportier suspension, a limited slip differential, and various aesthetic modifications. The M3 was released in 2001 and was available only in the coupé and convertible body style. It was offered with two transmissions: a standard 6-speed manual or an optional sequential manual gearbox.

Traction Control – The DSC / Traction Control was probably the thing I liked least about the M3. It does some really silly things. Pulling out of a junction near my house that always had gravel, the TC would kick in at around 5mph. The car throttles back instantly, not at all subtle and unlike any other TC I’ve experienced. This results in your head lurching forward. The car then suddenly is ready to try again and re-applies the power, and your head snaps back. But as we’re still on the gravel the wheels begin to slip a little again and so power is taken away instantly again and your head is on the way forward. All this happens in a second or two but the result is you looks like a complete numpty doing the “Kangaroo Petrol” thing away from the junction. I ended up having to turn off the TC coming up to this junction in the end. I had similar issue overtaking a van once where the whole power on-off-on thing happened about 4 or 5 cycles, awful. The TC is way too aggressive and shouldn’t even be getting involved at such low speeds. Then I had an incident a few years back in the rain where the car over steered badly accelerating out of a wet corner at around 80mph. From what I read the CSL has a much improved TC system with an intermediate setting between full on and full off. This is a good thing.

For the most though the TC means you don’t spin off into the scenery when you run out of road or talent. Even on a slightly greasy surface the M3 would spend a lot of time sideways if it weren’t for the electronics. Over-steer is nice and controllable though. The car is poised and balanced and you can drift like Tiff Needel if you like that sort of thing.

Gear Shift – On my manual car the gear shift got progressively more notchy the longer I owned the car. This seems to be a case of “they all do that sir” and it was improved a little by lubricating the linkage occasionally. The pedals were perfectly positioned for rolling my foot over while braking to blip the throttle on the down change. The six ratios are well spaced and provide stunning acceleration, albeit without the brutal sensation of a turbo rally replica. The SMG seems to be a Marmite-esque love it or hate it thing with passionate opinions for and against on the forums. I’ve never driven one so can’t comment.

Handling & Ride – Eventually the memories of the Subarus faded and the M3 too started to become just a little too hard for my ageing bones. This wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t live in the countryside and have to suffer some pretty awful roads. As well as feeling too jarring on these surfaces the M3 also can feel quite “fidgety” on uneven surfaces too. Unsurprisingly the car feels most at home on smooth roads. Show it anything from a motorway to a fast sweeping A road and progress can be immensely fast and satisfying. Even more so when you consider you can have a family of 4 and all their luggage with you as I did shortly after I got the M3 when we travelled to Scotland for the weekend

The Toys – Coming from a Subaru the bee em felt like a Rolls Royce in terms of comfort and equipment. My car had pretty much every option fitted and now I’m ruined. Driving a car without automatic Xenons, Heated seats or TV will be hard work from now on. Little touches like the ability to hold down the lock button on the keyfob to close the windows and sun roof are excellent. The key itself charges while in the ignition and so its battery is always fine too.

The E46 was developed as an evolutionary replacement for the BMW E36 chassis. In late 1995, the general exterior design of the E46 by Erik Goplen was chosen and as a result DesignworksUSA was contracted by BMW to work alongside BMW Group's in-house design team to create the exterior body work in February 1996. Based on the E36 body shell, the design team put an emphasis on improving aerodynamics and increasing the car's aggressive stance. Design patents were filed in Germany on 16 July 1997 and in the US on 16 January 1998. While the styling of the E46 was seen as an evolution of the extremely successful previous generation 3-series, it was not immediately embraced by either the buying public, or the automotive press. Word leaked out in the press that the BMW stylists were unhappy in raising the roof-line, and the general "rounding" of the body panels in comparison to the more squarish E36 series. Chris Bangle was responsible in 1996 for the production saloon exterior, as evident in the 1997 design patent. Goplen designed the production coupe and estate.

An emphasis was put on reducing unsprung weight and increasing structural rigidity rather than increasing power output: the highest displacement model at release, the E46 328, had only 3 horsepower more than the E36 328. To counter this small power increase, the body shell of the E46 was claimed by BMW to be 70% more rigid than the E36's, and aluminum suspension components were used increasingly in order to decrease unsprung weight. In tune with BMW's core values, the E46 was released with a front engined rear-wheel drive layout with 50/50 weight distribution. This balance allows for optimal handling in regard to the drive train layout.

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