BMW E46 330Ci
THE MAINSTAY OF THE BRAND SINCE THE 1980S, MORE THAN 10 MILLION THREE SERIES HAVE BEEN BUILT
Three Series BMWs have been the mainstay of their brand since the 1980s. Not only has the company built these cars in the tens of millions, they have also served for more than three decades as a major platform for BMW’s motor-sporting success. The downside of this success and the low prices generated by quite recent cars is serious dilution of BMW’s status and prestige. When young punters in mildly affluent regions of suburbia can spend less than $10K to slap a P Plate on the back end of a 330Ci soft-top you know your brand is trashed – or at best trashy.
The E46 began life in 1997, with the first 328 model cars reaching Australia in 1999. A year later the 330i sedan, 330Ci coupe and convertible were introduced with prices starting at $90,000 and climbing to a quite reasonable $105,000 for the soft-top.
So competitive was the luxury car market of the day that by 2007 when the massively equipped SMG Highline convertible was replaced by a 335 model, its basic price had risen to just $113,000.
The E46 was marginally larger than the E36 range it replaced, sitting on a wheelbase 25mm longer and adding 47mm in body width. Changes to materials used and construction techniques delivered a more rigid body-shell – especially in convertible form – with greater occupant protection in the event of a serious crash.
Coupes are effective as classy, low-cost transport for singles or couples. However the back seat also offers sufficient head and leg-room to accommodate a couple of children in decent comfort. Any with a sunroof steal some head-room but the boot is decent sized for a sporty car.
The M54 straight-six is a nice rather than brutish engine with smooth delivery of its 170kW and strong mid-range acceleration. The downside of this and other BMW engines of similar age is the VANOS variable valve timing system which suffers durability problems as its components age.
Acceleration using the automatic’s Sport mode is brisk – 80-110km/h in 4.5 seconds – and while the manual transmission is undoubtedly more fun when whistling down a mountain pass, 330 owners will spend more time staring at the brake lights of the car ahead than ridiculing advisory speed signs.
BMWs of this age and in this price bracket are still ver y viable as regular transport, so the more convenience and safety items the better. By the end of its model run in 2006 the Sport Special Edition coupe cost $103,000 and was loaded with items including a television screen and 10-stack Harmon Kardon Premium sound system.
Choosing a 2006 model convertible and spending $14,000 as opposed to $8000 on a similar car built in 2001 will deliver goodies like Xenon headlights, a revamped dash with bigger and more functional display screen, bigger wheels and lower-profile tyres.
In other respects the newer car should be displaying less wear and fewer kilometres. Some older, low kilometre cars are cheap and might appear to be bargains until a specialist starts listing all of the components that have deteriorated so badly due to age that they need replacement.