Words by Matt de Prez @mattdeprez
Photography by Rowan Cullen @rowancullen
have to search far into your contact list to find someone who owns or has owned a BMW E46. In fact, we didn’t have to search at all because I ran one for three years. The E46 was an incredibly popular car and thanks to ‘Munich’s finest’ build quality and an uncompromised parts supply – many of them are still on the road.
Lets focus on the flagship 330ci MSport. The engine is a silky smooth double-vanos straight-six, developing 231 BHP and is capable of 0-60 MPH in 6.3 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155 MPH. All the power hits the rear wheels through either a six speed manual, automatic or sequential gearbox.
Behind the wheel it is difficult to fault the E46. The hydraulic steering is well weighted, the ride is firm but smooth and the cabin is quiet. The dashboard is rather lackluster in comparison to the latest offerings but it offers a decent level of equipment and is well made.
Open the taps on that straight six and the car comes to life, over 4000 rpm there is a significant jump in the pulling power right up to the 7000 rpm red line. The deep hum from the exhaust becomes an addictive metallic rasp as you climb the revs hinting at the engine’s race derived layout.
The best use I found for the 330 was a trip to the Nürburgring in Germany. Gliding over the smooth motorways of Europe allows the engine to finally stretch its legs. with the RPMs just edging the magic zone where the Vanos (variable timing) system comes into play, not only was the BM returning 36 MPG at around 85 MPH but was also knocking on the door of the big 150 with very little effort.
Leaving the Autobahn behind the 330 danced its way through the desolate mountain roads which surround the famous track and serve as a teaser for what the track has to offer. Opting to leave the stability control engaged allows for a controlled amount of over steer if you bring the power in early when exiting a corner. With the DSC off the E46 becomes rather tail happy, it will scrabble off the mark spinning the wheels through first and into second gear although it lacks an LSD so don’t expect precision drifts.
In three years of ownership the E46 was fine roadtrip companion. Costing me little more than a few tyres and oil changes. To bring a the old girl into the 21st century I added a few touches such as a nappa leather M3 interior and a digital TV tuner to replace the defunct analogue one that is built into the satnav. The only bugbear was the frame-less windows which despite making the car look sleek are a nightmare in reality. You can’t open the door when the window is frozen, the seals inherently fail and cause wind noise (£260 per side to replace) and if you get out when its raining they allow the interior to get drenched… Oh, and there are no cupholders!