BMW E46 drives into a legend
Hands down, E46 was one of the most, if not the most, popular car BMW has ever made. Driven by gangsters, bankers and students alike, this Bavarian powerhouse was bolstered by it's fantastic, aggressive design, addictive driveability and wide range of engine palette.
E46 was a successor to the popular E36, a new descedant in the famed BMW's 3 series. Released in 1998, the E46 was a promise fulfilled. It's design, heralded as the car's strongest selling point, has managed to fight off the modern competition; a precious coup for the E46 that still holds it's own on it's 14th anniversary. Even if it had not seemed like that when it was released to the general public, polarised about the 3er's new skin.
This prompted a response from the then-chief of design, Chris Bangle, stating that "it would take a few years for the design to mature.“
Introduced initially in sedan form only, coupe and touring version followed a year later. Engine selection ranged from the weakest 316i (105hp) to the 330i (235 hp), petrol-powered monster on which M3 is based, while diesel engines ranged from 318d (113hp) to 330d (200hp). Transmission was available as a standard 5-speed or a 6-speed manual and an optional SMG (sequential manual gearbox).
E46 driveability was another strong pillar of it's success. Tight, muscular feel, neither soft not rigid, the E46 was not picky when it came to driving surface. The car delivered on every corner, awarding skilfull drivers and putting the fear of God in begginers and passengers. Autobahn, city streets, country roads; it didn't matter to the E46. It was as good as the driver wanted it to be, which is probably the best thing you can say about a car's driveability.
However, it was the interior that saw the biggest leap from E36. The simple and rigid interior of E36 was transformed into a lush, driver-centric cockpit of E46, richened by brushed aluminium trims and optional paddle shifters for the SMG-equipped 3er's.
Optional equipment boasted with rain sensors, automatic headlight control, moonroof, DVD-based navigation system with in-dash CD player, wood-based or aluminium interior trims, lumbar seat support and Xenon headlights, to name a few.
In September 2001, BMW introduced the overhauled, facelifted E46 sedan; changes included re-designed headlights, new bumpers and a firmer chassis. 2002 saw a record in E46's sales; an estimate of 561,250 vehicles were sold worldwide. Come March 2003, coupe and convertible went through their cosmetic operation; new headlights, larger "kidney" grills, front bumpers and LED tail lights were introduced.
Another testament to E46's quality and popularity was frequent inclusion in „Best Car“ polls, featuring in Car and Driver Magazine's "10 Best Cars“ for every year of it's production, among others.
Naturally, the most coveted version of E46 was the M3. The pinnacle of BMW's 3 series, it was available ony in coupe and convertible versions. Standard coupe/convertible shared ony the doors, roof and trunk with the M3. M3 had wider fenders and "M styled" bumpers, side skirts, mirrors, a protruding hood, spoiler, and M marked grills on the front fenders, ending with four exhaust pipes. The interior of the M3 was accented with an M steering wheel, seats, rear view mirror, and instrument cluster.
Outfitted with the 338hp, 3.2 litre naturally aspirated engine, E46 M3 was offered with a standard Getrag 6-speed transmission, while SMG II was optional. The route from 0-100 km/h was covered in only 5.1 seconds for coupe and 5.5 seconds for the convertible version. Top speed was electronically limited to 249 km/h; de-limited, M3 could fly to 308 km/h.
2005 saw the introduction of the E90, the new 3er saloon, effectively ending E46's sedan production later that year. Similar fate awaited the coupe and convertible version in 2006, when the E92 coupe and E93 were introduced, followed by the new M3 a year later.
E46's complete production spanned from 1998 to 2005 and was recognized for it's quality, design and sheer joy of driving by people all around the world, as E46 excelled in all markets and age groups.
As BMW marketing division would put it, it was a "sheer driving pleasure“.