BMW E46 M3: My experience owning the iconic youngtimer

The S54 engine is the swansong for the naturally aspirated straight six and is what makes the E46 M3 what it is

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My infatuation with the BMW 3-series started as a kid when my father brought me a brochure on the then recently launched BMW E30. And of course it was the six cylinder 325i that was my E30 of choice. Even over the supposed legendary E30 M3.

The E36 came around and I fell in love with its shape and lines. Not one bad angle on the car. So sleek and compact. BMW updated the M3 to the M3 Evo. The icing on the cake.

But the E39 5 series was such a beautiful lovely car too. The M5 soon arrived with a 4.9 litre naturally aspirated V8, those beautiful gun metal alloys. And updated later to have the beautiful rear lights with the LED light rods.

However, the car went out of production before I had the money to buy one. And a friend pointed out that the front of the E39 looked a bit weak compared to the rest of the car. And my brother said, why bother with a saloon?

So, to the E46. I was slightly disappointed to see how BMW had softened the lines on the successor to the E36. A sign of the times I suppose. Still, I thought I’d get the 330Ci.

Or a M3. By mid 2005, I was decided I’ll get one. A few emails to BMW Park Lane London and I had all the info I needed. A trip to London and a test drive later, I had put down the deposit for a LHD M3. The car was scheduled for production in September 2005 and I can pick it up on my next visit to London in December 2005. Those days, I was planning to settle in Germany so the car was ordered LHD.

Anyway, to the car and the ownership experience.

The car is all it is made out to be.

I loved the design language of the BMWs from the 80’s (E34/E36/E38) and the E46 was the last to carry on that styling before the Bangle era came about.

The S54 engine is the swansong for the naturally aspirated straight six and is what makes the E46 M3 what it is. Starting the car up is a highlight and though chances to explore the higher reaches of the rpm range are few, it is a delight when I am able to.

The interior is sublime too. With the low orange illumination and wonderful instrumentation and dials. The front seats are full electric and very comfortable. The lesser said about rear seat comfort, the better. There isn’t any!

The car was ordered with the HK stereo package. Which is rubbish. Thankfully, with the car sounding this great, who wants to listen to the stereo anyway?

Options that I ordered were the front heated seats, 6 CD changer, and electric rear blind. All of which I find very useful.

Another thing that I am not very impressed with on the E46 M3, and I believe it is a BMW trait and therefore nothing to do with this particular model per se, is the gearbox. I do find it notchy and long.

The car has travelled with me from the UK, to Germany, then France, and now finally in Dubai.

It also spent a year in India as a temporary export with the Bombay to Dehra Dun trip being a highlight of that stay.

The car has not suffered any major troubles in all these years of ownership but I have not yet addressed the rear subframe issue that is the design flaw on the E46 M3.

I have uprated the suspension/brakes/steering/wheels to CSL spec and run the car on road legal race tyres which have added that little bit of additional sparkle to the handling and the steering.

However, the car is strictly a two seater. You can fit two people in the back but anything more than short journeys and they will be complaining. It does get a little claustrophobic in the back.

Getting in and out of the car is troublesome too, due to its very low height and ground clearance. And when it was in India, it scraped at just about every speed hump.

Running costs and servicing for the car are not cheap, as expected. Fuel economy goes down substantially in traffic or if the car is driven in a spirited manner, to as low as 5-6 kmpl. As the engine is a high performance unit, it does not like anything less than 98 unleaded. Also, since I am running soft tyres on the car, they don’t last long and are quite expensive to replace. There is a range of engine oil brands to choose from for the car. From Liqui-Moly to Shell and BMW’s own brand engine oil.

The soft touch coating on interior buttons is now beginning to flake and even the slightest scratch shows.

But all in all, I find the car wonderful. It’s an iconic car and my conversation with people who know about it usually goes like:

  • Stranger: Wow. E46 M3. Are you selling it?
  • Me: No.
  • Stranger: Well, here’s my card. Just in case you change your mind.
  • Me: Save your card. No possibility ever of me changing my mind.

The car during its stay in India.

More photographs of the car over the years.

The first two at Premier Inn London Heathrow and the third one while on a trip in Munich.

Read BHPian comments for more insights and information.

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