BMW 3 Series E46, one of the most legendary models in the history of the Bavarian manufacturer. A car loved by both car enthusiasts, chavs and music of dubious intelligence enthusiasts, the BMW 3 Series E46 still has it’s charm in 2020. This is why it’s featured in today’s article.

You could argue that the BMW 3 Series E46 is the perfect car. In fact, many people agreed with this, the E46 being considered BMW’s peak in terms of cars. Launched in 1998 to replace the BMW 3 Series E36, another extraordinary car, the BMW 3 Series E46 was indeed one of the last sports cars that was more mechanical and less electronic, where the driver was not busy on the phone, but was involved in the pleasure of driving.


BMW 3 Series E46 – From “The Ultimate Driving Machine” to “Efficient Dynamics”

The BMW 3 Series E46 comes from an era in which cars were mechanical, they were made to be driven. Where most R&D went in performance and not in the latest navigation system with Android connectivity, fatigue sensors or automatic wipers. This brings up 2 big advantages to old fashioned cars, such as the E46:

  • The car has less technology and more mechanics, which means both increased reliability and increased performance.
  • The car is lighter, so more agile and faster. Less technology, less cables, less weight. I have a friend who switched from the E46 to the BMW E90, the successor, and the E46 is much faster, having the same engine (318i)

BMW 3 Series E46 Engines


  • 316i of 104 and 114 horsepower – Much too small, about as muscular as Margaret Calvert. Besides, the facelift version has far too many issues to deserve its miserable existence.
  • 318i of 118, 143 and 150 horsepower – By far the most balanced engine for the budget conscious buyer, this gasoline with 2 liters capacity and 4 cylinders in line offers the perfect compromise between consumption and performance. Notorious instead for cold starting issues and oil consumption.
  • 320i / 323i of 150 and 170 horsepower – One fantastic engine, being also the smallest petrol unit with 6 cylinders in line, with 2171 cc. Absolute power, but that comes with absolute oil consumption that is almost equivalent to the petrol consumption. A practical solution is to use 10W-60 type oil, an oil specially designed for racing and heavy use.
  • 325i of 189 horsepower – An inline 2.5-cylinder engine with 189 horsepower available. Stronger than 320i and 323i, but weaker than 330i. The real middle of the road engine for the BMW 3 Series  E46. But when we talk about the E46, can we talk about the middle road?
  • 330i of 225 horsepower – 3 litres of muscle, arranged perfectly linear in 6 cylinders that sing the glory of the internal combustion engine. If you can afford the taxes, fuel consumption and maintenance, you have one of the best BMW 3 Series E46 money can buy and one of the best sports cars in history.


  • 318d and 320d – The same 2-liter M47D20 engine, in the 318d version with 114 horses, and in the 320d version with 134 horses (pre-facelift) and 148 horses (facelift). A rugged engine, made to eat up the miles, thanks to the simple construction.
  • 330d – The top of the range in terms of diesel, the M57 comes with 3 liters divided linearly into 6 cylinders. As with the 330i, if you keep your financial hinges to bear the taxes, consumption and maintenance, you have a spectacular engine.

BMW 3 Series E46 General Issues

  • Diesel engines have swirl flaps, which are just as useful as a beer dropped on the floor. Moreover, the flaps are made of plastic bought from Tesco, and when they fall off they can fall into the intake manifold and start up an party worthy of Charlie Sheen. Many people simply kicked them out and reported no difference with or without them. It’s kind of the appendix of the engine: you don’t know what it’s doing, why is it there or if you need it.
  • Everything that has the gasket, hose, oil seal or the piece that connects something to something in it’s name, is made out of the cheapest plastic. It will either break down or wear out. For this reason BMWs from this period are notorious for oil consumption. Particularly bad with 2.2 petrol engines, where it can easily chugg down 1 liter of oil every 1000 kms.
  • Special point of interest for the wagon (touring) variants, the insulation was not the best and it might aswell rain in the car.
  • Engines with timing chain will have issues with the tensioners. In the worst case scenario, the timing chain breaks and wrecks your engine worse than The Great Khali wrecked Hornswoggle.. But you don’t usually get that far, unless you are negligent enough.

BMW 3 Series E46 Verdict

A car of the likes we will not see many years from now, possibly never again. A car loved by absolutely everyone, from enthusiasts to wide-neck-narrow-forehead-tracksuit-wearing chavs and immigrants . A car that is worth buying even in 2020, if you are careful and don’t take all the wheelbarrows which were abused by those who had a maximum monthly maintenance budget of 10 pounds. Pay close attention and look for a model that has been maintained and that is not like Top Gear: on it’s last leg.

Would I buy an E46? Surely. Which engine would I choose? 318i. Even if it’s not a car for my taste, the BMW E46 is like a Colts cigarette: you have to live this experience at least once in your life.