BMW 3 Series (E46)

BMW 3 Series Sedan (1998-2001)

The E46 series is the fourth 3-series of car manufacturer BMW. The mid- range was introduced in March 1998 as a successor to the E36 series, the last models were available in 2007.

The production of the E46 models took place in the plant in Munich - Milbertshofen and works in Leipzig, Regensburg and Rosslyn ( South Africa). Other manufacturers were Brilliance Motors in Shenyang ( China), the Bavarian Auto Group in the city of the 6th October (Egypt) and the Avtotor in Kaliningrad (Russia).

Model history

The E46 was released in late April 1998 as usual with BMW initially only as a sedan, with revised six-cylinder ( M52TU ) and four- cylinder petrol engines ( M43TU ). With the M47 diesel engine BMW sold the first time a direct-injection engine. The safety features included in all models as standard ABS, Traction Control ASC T, Cornering Brake Control, Electronic brake force distribution and six airbags. DSC was initially available for the 328i, optional on all models later, finally only standard against 1,800 DM additional cost. From model year 2001, a Brake Assist was series.

The E46 has been equipped since the appearance with a standard 5 -speed manual transmission. It was not until the 2003 model year, the six-cylinder models were delivered with a 6- speed manual transmission. On request, there was a 4- speed automatic with the four-cylinder models and a 5-speed Steptronic ( automatic) in the six- cylinder models. For the 325Ci and 330Ci, there was also an additional optional sequential manual 5 - speed manual transmission with a short name of SMG, which is a feature of BMW. This is a classic automated manual transmission, which can be either manually or automatically using the selector lever and shift paddles as a switch.

In April 1999, we pushed the coupe and shortly after the six-cylinder diesel engine M57 after, which was first mentioned only in the sedan as well as in the published in October 1999 and at BMW Touring traditionally offer available. Only with the " facelift " ( facelift ) of the coupe and the convertible in 2003 was also available for these models of diesel engine.

In April 2000, the convertible followed. In June 2000, appeared with the first 330i M54 engine, fall the other M52TU six-cylinder have been replaced by more powerful M54 versions. Together with the M54 engines were also the four-wheel models, which were named Xi.

In June 2001, the Compact was launched based on the E46 series. For the first time engines have been fitted with the new Valvetronic, which appeared a few months later to the beginning of the new model year in the other E46 variants. Visually, the Compact is different by nature at the rear and this time also clearly on the front of the other designs.

The BMW E46 is one of the best selling vehicles in the last ten years. With him also the modern direct -injection diesel engines were introduced at BMW, the standards in terms of translated at the time of performance and refinement. Compared to its predecessor ( E36) the passenger compartment was substantially stiffer designed and thus increases the crashworthiness.

Production periods

  • Sedan ( E46 / 4):
  • Coupé ( E46 / 2):
  • Touring ( E46 / 3):
  • Convertible ( E46/2C ):
  • Compact ( E46 / 5):
  • M3 Coupé ( E46 / 2):
  • M3 Convertible ( E46/2CS ):

BMW 3 Series Touring (1999-2001)

BMW 3 Series Coupe (1999-2003)

BMW 3 Series Convertible ( 2000-2003)

BMW 3 Series Compact (2001-2003)


In September 2001, the sedan and the Touring received a facelift, which stemmed the look to that of a year earlier modified 5 Series, but did not yet have parking light rings. In addition, a new four-cylinder engine generation appeared with the variable valve control Valvetronic. Be seen that the revamped version externally mainly on differently shaped front and rear lights, the flatter, wider and above more angular BMW kidney, the now outward current rebate on the hood, as well as on the side indicators front lights, whose expiring contours of the waistline was highly moved to the shoulder line of the vehicle.

Another important, but not externally visible at first glance revision concerned the fixing of the rear axle to the body. Here it came - especially for vehicles with six-cylinder engine from the first years of production - frequently to cracking, which required a very complex ( complete disassembly of the rear area and replacement of a large body part ) and expensive repair. As a preventive measure and an alternative to complete repair at not much more advanced cracking BMW offered a time to the targeted bonding the risk of cracking sheets with a special resin.

An ESP (Electronic Stability Program ), there was now from September 2001 in all models as standard.

In March 2003, coupe and convertible have been redesigned, but could vary slightly from the sedan. For M3 and M3 CSL models there was no facelift during the entire construction period. Just the taillights were replaced with slightly different lights with LED technology.

As part of the revisions, the 3 Series, the following models have been converted to manual 6-speed gearbox from March 2003 instead of previously just a 5 -speed gearbox: 320d, 330d, 330i. This affected all models, ie both Coupé, Convertible and Sedan.

The prices in 2004 ranged from 21,500 Euro expensive 3 Series Compact up to the 85,000 -euro M3 CSL.

Also, the compact came to enjoy a visual makeover in March 2003. It should ease the unusual clear-lens taillights with completely red taillights. In addition, there were outwardly curved side sill, and an additional bead in the trunk lid.

However, the Compact of the E46 series could not repeat the success of its predecessor and became a flop. Its production was discontinued in December 2004 after just over three years of construction. BMW later learned from the mistakes in the market positioning and developed as the successor to the BMW 1 Series, a separate series, which is intended to compete against the Audi A3 and Golf in the compact class.

In March 2005, the successor to the sedan (E90 ) was introduced. The Touring ( E91 ) followed in September 2005. The coupe ( E92 ) came in September 2006 and the Convertible ( E93 ) in March 2007 on the market.

Rear view

BMW 3 Series Touring (2001-2005 )

BMW 3 Series Coupe (2003-2006)

BMW 3 Series Convertible (2003-2007)

BMW 3 Series Compact (2003-2004)

In addition to these there are the uprated versions of the BMW M GmbH in Munich M3 sports car. In the E46 Coupe and Cabriolet M3 252 kW ( 343 hp) draws from a six-cylinder inline engine with individual throttle injection. In the reduced-weight, limited edition M3 CSL are 265 kW (360 hp).

The BMW tuner Alpina continued, however, with its E46 versions Alpina B3 and B3S (3.3 / 3.4 -liter displacement, 206/224 kW) to a more comfort-oriented sportiness. The engine is based on the E46 U.S. M3 version ( S50USB30 and S52USB32 = cast-iron engine block, aluminum cylinder head with two overhead camshafts and vanos, a throttle valve ) among others, was modified with Alpina crank mechanism and other pistons. These models were also available as a sedan, Touring, Convertible and all-wheel drive and are not governed at 250 km / h but reached a top speed of about 270 km / h

Interior variants

Dashboard with navigation system Professional 16:9 and leather " Cinnamon " with seat BMW Special Edition "Sport"


As each vehicle also has the BMW E46 certain weaknesses in the design, with most problems over the years, BMW has been gradually improved and corrected. These weaknesses include:

  • The differential is leaking in some second-hand vehicles and then tends to whine when coasting.
  • The diesel engines of the E46 are basically very stable, but some have problems in the area of the turbocharger and the common rail injection pumps ( 330d ).
  • The 320d is most noticeable with often defective air mass meters.
  • The chassis shows on bad roads high wear on spring strut bearings, bearing joints, control arm bearings and the rear axle. Stand Firmer components there are in the spare parts trade.
  • The electronics " spins " occasionally in the immobilizer, navigation systems and phones also cause interference often.
  • The brake system is dependent on the driving part, a high wear.

Many customers complain loudly Auto Bild further a schüttelndes steering wheel during braking and on bumpy tracks. Blame but are supposedly not a defective steering or the brake system, but the soft padding of the front wishbones and to direct translation of the steering.

The engineers of the DEKRA testing to determine when the main studies at four -to five- year-old vehicles from the E46 frequent failures of the parking brake. The reason for this is that the cables lengths and then falter. Above average often problems on the suspension be faulted. " Conveniently buying a used BMW 3-series is not. But for the used car buyer will benefit from typical BMW Advantages: The equipment falls rich from, the quality of the extras such as leather upholstery, audio system and tightness of the glass sunroof remains beanstandungsfrei even after years and the electronics turns out to be always reliable. She fell neither the breakdown services nor the critical gaze of the DEKRA test engineers on as a fail- prone. "

The front axle of the four-cylinder models also fell, according to the Auto Zeitung during braking often in slight shaking. However, this problem could be addressed through the BMW constructive change to the check rails and ball heads.

Safety-related problems fell on the brake pedal of the BMW E46. So, for example, failed in a test car of the Auto Zeitung in 1999, the pedal mechanism. Due to a missing spring clip slipped a bolt from his leadership and had thus unhook the brake pedal. Since this was not an isolated case, BMW responded therefore with a recall and repaired all vehicles affected by.

The braking action itself applies the 3 as well. However, used car buyers are often recommended brake tests to detect warped brake discs based rubbel Direction noise from the brake system. These mostly unusable due to overheating discs must then be replaced.

All engines in the E46 are robust and durable. Some problems because of the strong starting torque, there was in delivered in the first two years of production 320d. The high torque overwhelmed the clutch, let her pick the engagement and therefore wear out quickly.

In the petrol ADAC registered frequent outages due to damaged radiator, which are usually damaged by rockfall and may leak. Too low a coolant level can also lead to failures due to blown head gaskets. Any problems start by damp spark plugs were corrected from the 1999 model year by a new generation of spark plugs was installed.

An expert from the TÜV SÜD summarizes the vulnerabilities of the BMW E46 as follows: " The weaknesses of the chassis also result in our statistics to a below-average performance of the E 46 Too bad, because in most other areas of the 3 top. We must exclude these, only the hand brake, which can occasionally miss effect, especially but often pulls unevenly. Kudos, however, for the headlights, which give significantly less than the previous reason for complaint. "


On 1 January 2008, the Federal Motor Transport Authority announced a recall for the 3-series. Affected are the model years 2002 and 2005. This is justified by the possible corrosion in the control unit of the fan, which can cause short circuits and in the worst case lead to a vehicle fire.

On May 17, 2013, BMW announced a recall for the 3-series of the model year from December 2001 to March 2003. Affects about 220,000 vehicles worldwide. Due to the age of the vehicles BMW expects worldwide with only 180,000 vehicles. The recall is an error in the front passenger airbag gas generator of the Japanese supplier Takata and leads to uncontrolled development of airbag deployment.


Performance and fuel consumption