Shed of the Week | BMW 320 Ci (E46)

Shed's mate Dave loves a cheap, honest E46 3 Series – he should find plenty to like about this one

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, February 19, 2021 / Loading comments

Regular readers – basically Shed's mum in the retirement castle and half a dozen assorted masochists – might remember last week's exciting episode, in which it was admitted that the SOTW choice was between a suave BMW E46 320 Ci in Resale Silver and the car that was eventually picked, a Miami Vice Mondeo 2.5 V6 in Nose Candy White.

This week could have been another awkward one. There are signs that the Covid dam may be about to unleash a flood of bottled-up metal onto a thirsting market. The flow rate is definitely increasing, but the amount of interesting stuff coming down the pipeline hasn't reached hat-poppingly thrilling levels just yet. There's no shortage of sub-£1,500 1.6 Astras, Peugeot 207s or Renault Grand Scenics hopping up and down for your attention, but if you were able to add an 'I don't want to die of boredom' filter onto your searches (hmm…) the selection on offer drastically narrows.

Not just on PH Classifieds either, where Shed has been desperately trying to ignore a tauntingly clean Toyota Camry that's been hanging around for a few weeks now, a bit like the fallback car in a Top Gear adventure. Fortunately, last week's 320 Ci is still around, so Shed is using that on the grounds of self-defence, and also because it looks like a nice car.

Dave, one of Shed's Cockney geezer mates, has been driving E46 coupes for as long as Shed can remember. Admittedly, that isn't a long time these days thanks to long-term overindulgence in plum wine homebrew, but we can indeed confirm that Dave has had at least six E46 Cis so far, one after the other, and he is showing no signs of deviating from that course. When the one he's in seems to be about to cost him some serious money he's always got another one lined up to take its place.

It's odd actually as Dave is quite a jingoistic type, the sort of bloke who could have instantly stepped in if John Cleese had been taken ill during the recording of the 'Germans' episode of Fawlty Towers – and he wouldn't have needed a script for it. When it comes to E46 coupes, however, all thoughts of inappropriate nationalism are conveniently forgotten. Mileage doesn't figure in Dave's wheelhouse. Low purchase price and Resale Silver do. For those reasons Shed is slightly surprised that Dave hasn't homed in on this £1,490 320Ci from 2003 yet. Its gradual accumulation of miles to the current number of 116,000 is backed by a worry-free MOT history. That's important on E46s as they are given to crumbling from the rear end. Our Shed was tested only a couple of weeks back and came through it with no advisories.

Swapping wheels around on BMWs to up the spec has been an Olympic sport for many years. In a rubbish attempt to look knowledgeable about the ones on this Ci Shed has been peering at the results of a Google search he did on 'BMW 5-spoke alloys', but the annoyingly large number of options that came up plus many years' worth of grime on the screen of his Amstrad have made accurate identification impossible, so he will be relying on the usual PH know-it-alls to tell him what these wheels are. They look Sport-y to Shed. Even through his homebrewed specs he can see that the flat seats aren't, and to be fair the car is billed as an SE.

Some would say that the 320 Ci's M54B22 170hp 2.2-litre straight-six is a fine engine, but a mad choice when you could get a 231hp 3.0-litre 330 Ci offering much more performance for practically the same fuel and maintenance costs. True enough, but for younger drivers there'll be quite a big difference on insurance costs, and at the time of writing you didn't have to look very hard on PH Classifieds for evidence that a 330Ci at similar money is unlikely to have such a rosy history.

As hinted at earlier, there's no suggestion of corrosion on our 320 Ci, but it's bound to crop up at some point on an old BMW, or on any old car come to that. 2003-on 320 manuals came with dual-mass flywheel clutches which were expensive to put right, but that won't be an issue here as this is an auto. Ah. OK, well, you can't have everything. Maybe that's why Dave hasn't gone for it. Your 0-60 might creep into the high eights but expect low nines. Official combined fuel consumption was a smidge over 30mpg but expect low to mid 20s.

Rotted carpets could mean that a previous owner had very sweaty feet, but it's more likely to be a fault with the Ci's window seals. Window electronics often conk out, as do the front suspension bushes. Check that last one by dabbing the brakes at low speed while holding the wheel in a gossamer-light grip. Any undue movement through the wheel will be your sign that money will need to be spent, and Dave's final sign to walk away.

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