Supun Vithanachchi purchased this BMW 330Ci used for $8,750 (including all on-road costs) in 2017. Supun Vithanachchi would buy this car again because: “It’s a fantastic first car for the price and is the juxtaposition of showing a young car enthusiast the characteristics of a driver focused mainstream road car as well as learning how to maintain an older German car. “
When I bought the car it was clear it had been seriously neglected both cosmetically and with respect to its service history. The previous owner who also happened to be the first owner of the vehicle had been doing oil services at 50,000km intervals using semi-synthetic oil.
A big no-no for any car let alone a German one with its slightly tighter tolerances and a patchy history when it comes to oil related issues such as valve stem seals and piston rings when the miles and age are added on. It has one or more leaking fuel injectors which presents itself in the form of a slightly hard start when the engines warm followed by the expected puff of black smoke as the engine turns over.
Anyone who’s remotely familiar with the E46 chassis will need no introduction to the cars cooling system which is primarily plastic and is known to spring leaks around the expansion tank, radiator and basically any component that is part of the cooling system.
I wasted no time taking risks with it given the car had done 200,000km and was 13 years old so immediately replaced everything including hard plastic lines that run under the manifold.
I also took this opportunity to get my mechanic to do other maintenance items that would be worth doing while a significant chunk of the engine was opened up. This included other big ticket items such as replacing vacuum lines with more durable silicone ones and cleaning out the throttle body, idle air control valve, PCV valve and camshaft position sensors.
Outside of religious engine oil, differential oil and transmission oil services there isn’t much more to write home about other than a small array of problems you’d expect of a previously neglected E46 BMW that’s been parked in the sun for years.
These are things like cracked rubber seals and paint fade on exterior panels. Many of the other preventative maintenance items that I replaced include things like the original fuel pump assembly and brakes. But again, these specific things can be done by anyone with minimal tools and do not take much time either.
The suspension is original and is my next project going forward and is starting to make the telltale creaking noises you’d expect. Outside of that and a phone Bluetooth connection that intermittently drops out, I’m pretty happy with where the vehicle is four years on.
You’d be surprised and slightly suspicious of my bias that I’d conclude that this vehicle deserves close to podium position when it comes to the reliability front. This is because many of the issues that plague this generation of 3 Series are completely predictable and can be dealt with by doing preventative maintenance as opposed to the common strategy of fixing things when they break.
Prioritising items like the cooling system and starter motor that could very well leave you stranded on an older car can comfortably ensure you mitigate any reliability risks.
There are numerous other well documented issues as well that haven’t affected me so far but I’ve covered the more serious ones that addressing allows you to simultaneously deal with neighboring maintenance items such as sensors while you have the engine bay open. In saying that, if you buy one of these from someone who wasn’t passionate about upkeep and maintenance then reliability in the short term could be anyone’s guess.
Part of my confidence in this vehicles reliability is that the cult-like following the E46 chassis has means that nearly every conceivable maintenance item is well documented on forums and YouTube which makes staying educated on the car’s maintenance requirements a breeze.
My ownership experience in the four years I’ve had this car has been nothing short of fantastic. As a young car enthusiast and this being my first car, I was justifiably worried about the almost gospel slogans of poor reliability that is associated with some German cars including this one.
However, I’d say doing research and educating myself on how a car works and why things can break has put me on the right foot to not have any qualms with its reliability. Many of the big ticket items on this car will not need touching for at least a decade when replaced and cared for properly with things like regular coolant flushes with the proper coolant and regular oil changes with the right engine oil.
The E46 represents an era of BMW at its very best and when I look at today’s gigantic kidney grilles on the latest 4 Series, the E46 really does represent a bygone era of BMW. My parents weren’t car enthusiasts so growing up with a 2004 Camry with a V6 was about as exciting as our family garage ever got. Therefore, owning the E46 truly opened my eyes to what ‘driver focused’ can actually mean.
I paid $8750 for this car in the condition I described and over time have probably put a similar amount in repainting damage, maintenance and general maintenance outside of common fixed costs such as registration, fuel, tyres and insurance.
The value of this car for me as a used buyer is second to none in that case. The Nappa leather interior that greets you has stood the test of time and the change in cosmetic tastes as well as the BMW Individual Stratus Grey metallic that was a rare option on Australian delivered E46s known as a “Special Edition” which was only available in 2005 and 2006 model years.
When new however this car retailed for approximately $110,000 in 2005. While Bi-Xenon projectors, automatic headlights, automatic wipers and phone connectivity are now standard, there’s no doubt this vehicle represented great value even when new, given that 2005 was the second last year of production of what is essentially a generation that first came out in the late 90’s that had already been replaced by the E90 3 Series by the time my car was built. The stable and balanced driving dynamics are no doubt the X factor when it comes to value.
With a factory claim of 0-100kph in 6.5 seconds and 300Nm of torque, this car is plenty quick for a daily driver from 2005. My current fuel economy using 98 RON with an equal mix of highway and city driving is about 11L/100km which is certainly high by today’s standard but still acceptable for the era this car comes from particularly when one considers my lead foot.
When it comes to sound, even the stock exhaust does not disappoint at high rpms. It’s not particularly throaty or boomy but an exhaust modification that quite easily bring out more character if need be.
It has Bluetooth, satellite navigation, a head unit using an ancient CRT display that I’m sure was cutting edge when it first came out. The technology list extends to automatic wipers and headlights which also automatically dip.
The standout technology feature for me is no doubt the LEDs on the outside of the car. The rear indicators, brake lights, and side indicators are LED. Only the front indicators, licence plate lights and the reverse lights aren’t. This was a big deal in 2005 but there’s still a few popular mainstream cars today that still don’t have all of that comprehensively so I’d say technologically this car stood out for the time even if the lack of passive safety technology and a limited CRT clad head unit show its age.
With this particular car being the Sport model, it comes with the sports suspension settings which give it a lower ride height and stiffer ride. On a good road it’s nothing short of perfect even with the suspension no doubt past its prime at 16 years of age.
Of course this is Australia where road surfaces can very greatly and anything less than velvety smooth tarmac does make itself known. Coarse chip bitumen is enough to elevate the road noise but at that level the comfort of the vehicle still isn’t compromised.
It’s on the typical Australian B roads and single carriageway highways that you sometimes wish you had a Range Rover but anyone who buys a sportier edition of a 3 series would want to feel the road anyway.
This is a great car if you’re looking to experience a fun daily driver for the price point and if you’re willing to learn how and why cars can sometimes not work.