Sometimes there are signs that I need to make a specific blog post; it could be a rare car that catches my eye, a random encounter at work or maybe just something I randomly tune into on television. Today’s post is one I have sort of been mulling over for months, but in the last few days I have had my attention drawn to the idea numerous times so it’s only fitting that I spend this afternoon speaking about a vehicle I have coveted for a long time; the BMW 3 Series Coupe, specifically the E46 model (so 1999-2006).
Now I am aware that anyone willing to go far enough back in my blogging history will see that I’ve already covered the cabriolet version of the E46 in quite some detail, but back in those early days of blogging I’m not sure that I did the car much justice – in my opinion it’s a future classic and is a car which will forever have a place in my dream garage (especially in M3 iteration).
A large part of the attraction in an E46 is the way it looks…that classic coupe look is one that can only really be found on a BMW, and whilst earlier versions of the 3 Series are a little too square for my taste, and the E92 coupe a little too flabby, the E46 gets it just right and manages to look classy and menacing at the same time. I actually find it quite funny that the BMW who most resembles the E46 in both pre and post facelift form is my beloved E53 X5; despite being a very different beast in most ways, that flared kidney grille and racy headlamp design are most similar in the svelte 3 and beefy X5, to the extent that even their facelifts match in terms of looks and year.
Inside it is also a similar story to the X5 at least in terms of navigation unit and general atmosphere. The E46 had a console which was a bit more driver focused and also featured slightly different climate controls, but essentially apart from the much lower driving position an X5 driver would feel completely at home in an E46. A minor quibble for me is that the window controls are mounted ‘European style’ next to the gear shifter, plus the fact that there is little practicality either in terms of rear occupant space or in the boot – which while not terrible does lack the flexibility of a hatchback/larger vehicle.
Engine options in the E46 were a pretty mixed affair, with a lot more choice than the X5, even in the coupe which actually had pretty much the same selection of engines as the bog standard saloon! Whilst the 4 cylinder petrols are decent enough, it’s going to be the larger 6 cylinder ones that are the real classic cars…a 330Ci Sport is about as desirable as a mid-00’s BMW can get without looking at M-cars, plus although they are relatively thirsty they are likely no worse on fuel than a similarly aged X5 diesel or even an X3. Most of these larger engined cars get the excellent 6 speed automatic ZF transmission, and can cover 60mph in just over 7 seconds.
Although my SUV-lust prevents me from thinking about buying a (much cheaper than an X5) 330Ci, it remains one of the relatively few coupes that can provoke me into long smouldering gazes. A co-worker has a very tidy looking 325Ci and in my eyes it is one of the best looking cars in the car park; seeing it today up close again just made me want to get in and drive! I also watched an interesting YouTube video recently in which the debate between buying a 10 year old E46 M3 and a brand new Ford Fiesta ST was explored…I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions if you get a spare 12 minutes to watch the video, but factor in that in the UK a new base Fiesta costs about £10k vs a 2006 330Ci for around £6k and it might influence your vote!
Those after a few more mod cons could do worse than choose the E46 coupe’s successor, the E92. In a precursor move to the current car (more on that in a minute), the coupe had a different model designation (E92) compared to the standard saloon version (E90) and featured more radically different design details on the inside and out. Although a little heavy handedly styled (and heavier all around full stop) the last ever 3 Series Coupe is still a good looking car and one that can still run rings around the competition on the track and in everyday driving. Will it age as gracefully? Well I can’t imagine so but then each new generation of BMW tends to be slated compared to the previous one, but by the time comes for replacement it is often cherished and adored by enthusiasts.
Has that happened to the E92? Well that’s debatable but as the last 3 Series coupe it will still likely have some clout in future years…yes that’s right folks, in case you didn’t already know BMW has done the unthinkable and has changed the name of the 2 door 3 Series to the 4 Series. Groundbreaking stuff I know, but it is supposed to represent the larger differentiation in terms of style and driving dynamics compared to the softer F30 saloon. I am not entirely convinced by the styling but the consensus seems to be the that 4 has brought a bit of a spark to a range which had been on the verge of being beaten by the flashier Audi A5 and double act of Merc’s C and E Coupes. The more cynical observer could highlight that the higher number also makes it easier/more likely for BMW to increase the prices of the model, and that the lack of a proper M3 coupe in their range could cause minor panic amongst BMW fanboys, but overall they seem to have pulled it off even if their flagship M4 sounds curiously more motorway-like than the M3/M5/M6 nameplates.
If you want my advice though, if you have a spare £6k sitting around, go out and buy a tidy stock 330Ci before they all get turned into chav-wagons 🙂