BMW 3 Series E46 - Used Car Review

BMW 3 Series E46

€41,500 - €104,570

The first E46, the fourth generation of the 3 series, was manufactured in 1998 and it was a massive seller for BMW until 2006 when it was replaced by the BMW E90. The E46 is available with many different engine sizes from 1.8 litre petrol to a 4 litre V8 32 valve engine, all offering a different driving experience.
The Pros

The E46 followed the 3 series E36 and it transformed into a very different and more curvaceous model. As part of the change from E36 to E46 this 3 series was put on a major diet and BMW claim it was 70 per cent more rigid than its predecessor. To lose weight some of the steel piping was changed to aluminum and the wheel base was lengthened ever so slightly. All of these changes along with a more aerodynamic body meant a better and smoother driving experience for potential owners.

The E46 attracted a massive amount of customers to BMW and it became one of BMW’s biggest ever sellers. Even now you will find E46 forums and fans all over the internet. This really was a well built automobile.  Its interior is comfortable and although it doesn’t feature a too exciting dash it certainly isn’t the most boring I’ve ever seen. If you are going for an E46 and you enjoy a cup of coffee with your drive make sure you get cup holders, if your car isn’t fitted with them already they are easily installed and are readily available online.

The Cons
As with many second hand cars there are a few common problems to be aware of. Firstly there have been many owners who complain of problems with the front arm control bushes, it has been reported that these can go after 30,000 miles, this can result in a change in the cars handling as well as a knocking noise from the car.

Another common issue is that the radiator expansion tank has been known to burst. This happens because the tank itself wasn’t a perfect design, thankfully it’s not the most expensive job in the world to get fixed, but it is worth keeping an eye on it.

It’s not uncommon for the airbag warning light to malfunction in the E46, again this is not an expensive fix and it’s usually down to a problem with the airbag sensor. It is however always worth fixing this problem properly as it could genuinely be a problem with your airbag, and as well as that if it is on while doing your NCT you will fail.

One more problem with the E46 is a central locking issue. This is common enough, what happens is that your key fob won’t allow you to unlock your car, but will allow you to
 open the boot. The key will allow you to open the driver door manually, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it will open the other doors for you, as well as that if the other doors are locked and this issue arises you may not be able to open them. This can be problematic as it can take a lot of pressing the unlock button for your car to open and you could be waiting a while to let other passengers into the car. This appears to be a problem with the GM5 control module. This can be very annoying and it’s worth looking out for if you’re considering a purchase of the E46.

Our thoughts
So, yes there are a few problems with the E46, but as soon as you get passed them, and once you are aware of these issues it is actually a very nice car.

If this doesn’t flick your switch
If the 3 Series is not for you and you want to look at other options why not consider the Audi A4, the Mercedes C- Class, the Volvo S40, the Volvo V50 or the Saab 9-3.

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Compare specs to an alternative car!
€ 46,930 when New

Key Facts

New Price
€ 46,930


3 Series
318Ci SE
First Launched
Engine & Transmission
5 speed manual
Fuel type
Body Type

Running Costs

Tax Band
Average L/100km
CO2 emmissions (g/km)


Driven Wheels
Engine (L)
Break Horsepower
Top Speed
Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

Space & Practicality

Kerb weight
Tyre Size Front