2005 BMW 330Cd E46

2005 BMW 330Cd E46

Would you take a punt on a sixteen-year-old diesel with over 200k on the clock? Mike Evans did, and he’s over the moon with it… Words: Dan Bevis. Photography: Jason Dodd.

Diesel mile-muncher

2005 BMW 330Cd E46

Would you take a punt on a sixteen-year-old diesel with over 200k on the clock? Mike Evans did, and he’s over the moon with it…

2005 BMW 330Cd E46

The distance around the equator is 24,901-miles. Given that the average motorist probably covers around 12,000-miles per annum, we’re all lapping the globe once every couple of years, which really is a staggering feat when you think about it. Naturally these miles are most likely covered in day-to-day pursuits rather than epic globetrotting adventures (and you can’t actually drive fully around the equator without getting rather wet), but it still gives pause for thought, doesn't it.

While we’re on the subject of distances, you may be interested to learn that it’s 238,900- miles from the Earth to the Moon. That, of course, is another journey that you can’t physically drive; your BMW has neither a jet propulsion system nor the ability to maintain breathable pressure in space. The point is that distances are worthy of consideration – big numbers can be jaw-dropping, but every single one of them is happily broken up into bite-sized chunks. If you walk a mile down the road for a pint of milk, you’ll have made it 1/24901th of the way around the entire planet.

2005 BMW 330Cd E46 - ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: M57D30TÜ 3.0-litre straight-six turbo-diesel, decat and custom backbox, remapped to 270hp / 369lb. ft, 6-speed manual

Mileage, then, is perhaps not necessarily something to fear, but instead be impressed by. It’s been drummed into us from time immemorial that buying a car with low mileage is the route to success, but this is actually something of a non sequitur. We know of a chap who bought a late-nineties Mercedes C-Class a few years ago that had just 10,000-miles on the clock. It lasted about a week before the engine disintegrated. This may or may not have simply been because it was a late-nineties Mercedes C-Class, we probably needn’t get tribal about it. Point is, cars are machines built to function, and it’s an integral part of their design and make-up that they like to be used. Buyers can get really hung up on those little numbers on the milometer, but if you don’t take cars out and stretch their legs on a regular basis, things start to seize up. You know what it’s like when you’ve been slumped on the sofa all evening bingeing a box-set, and then all your joints click and creak when you stand up? Your car feels your pain.

Now, it is possible to take this line of thinking to extremes. There are some cars out there with truly (literally) astronomical mileage; a Volvo P1800 in the States has covered over three million miles, and there are numerous Hondas, Saabs, Mercedes and assorted pickup trucks that have broken the magic million. That may be stretching the concept a bit, but let’s say you see a car advertised that’s showing over 200,000-miles on the dial. Should you immediately discount it on the grounds that everything will be worn out? If so, you may be missing a trick, as the E46 we have here proves. This 2005 330Cd came into Mike Evans’ possession with just such a pedigree (and you can see from the photos it’s now showing a pleasingly rhythmic 222,225). Has it turned out to be a bag of bones? Absolutely not. In fact, having owned a couple of E46 M3s, he’s keen to highlight that this diesel coupé actually feels a lot tighter. It’s certainly an interesting position, jumping into a leggy diesel in 2021. After all, the writing’s been on the wall for oil burners for some time; Volkswagen’s ‘dieselgate’, increased regulation and media scrutiny of NOx emissions, plus the real deal-breaker: the cessation of internal combustion of all types from 2030. Is it a bit mad to buy a car like this now – in 2021? Well, no, actually. There’s a strong environmental argument to be made for wringing a car out to this sort of mileage, even if it does burp out a relatively sizeable chunk of CO2. At 50mpg-odd it’s fairly supping its juice, and driving a car more than twice the distance that most would enjoy saves at least one other car having been built to replace it. This argument is patchy, admittedly, but the principle is clear: the car’s already been built, so it makes environmental sense to use it as much as possible rather than throwing it away and getting another one.

The other point to consider here is that, once upon a time, the 330Cd was very much the diesel BMW to own. Before all of the gnashing of teeth that accompanies such a concept these days, in the early-2000s this was an intriguing proposition indeed. The idea of the diesel-powered performance/ luxury car was still rather novel. At time of launch, a desirable 150mph car with a derv under the hood seemed like a positively batty notion, which is precisely why this model sold like hot cakes. The novelty soon gave way to the reality: this was a car that was markedly cheaper to buy, tax, insure and run than an M3, but offered quite a lot of the thrills, thanks in no small part to the almighty torque available. A 0-62mph time of seven seconds put it squarely in hot hatch territory, and the fact that 300lb ft of torque was available from just 1,500rpm made the stablemate 325Ci’s petrol engine seem a bit limp in comparison. In terms of everyday performance, the diesel version was – completely surprisingly – suddenly the option in the model range that everyone really wanted.

It was refined too. Archaic notions of tractor-like clatter were brushed aside, with the silky-smooth M57 straight-six offering a whisper-quiet idle. And that wasn’t the last of its party tricks. Mated to a six-speed manual ’box with superbly judged ratios, the claimed extra-urban mpg figure was an exceptional 51.4mpg, while its comparatively low CO2 figures pitched the 330Cd at a taxation level that was supremely attractive as a company car option, these were seriously hot property in the office car park.

Perhaps the most fun part is that BMW really embraced the heavy oil format rather than trying to disguise it. Before this platform came along, diesels were something bought for frugality, and they certainly didn’t sound nice – they rattled and shuddered on start-up and sounded worryingly agricultural under stress. But what the engineers somehow managed here, presumably deploying some manner of sorcery and witchcraft, was to build a curve from whisper-quiet idle to genuinely attractive roar at high revs. As the M57 approaches its 4,700rpm rev limiter, it sounds properly sporty, and not at all like it should be hauling a plough across a bumpy field. The combination of a particularly whistly turbo and a snarling exhaust certainly doesn’t hurt either.

It was a compelling package twenty years ago, with its feelsome steering, taut handling, slick gearshift and decent levels of equipment. And today? Yes, still equally compelling – particularly now that they’re starting to plunge into bargain-basement territory. A quick scan of the classifieds at time of writing throws up a few examples around the £2,500 mark.

For Mike, it represented a slice of cheap family transport following a long line of fast BMWs and assorted other performance cars. Prior to this, he’d owned the aforementioned E46 M3s as well as an E39 M5, an E34 540i (which was apparently great fun to throw around the Nürburgring), and an E28 M535i; there was also a DC2 Honda Integra Type R and a 400bhp R34 Nissan Skyline GTS-t.

“The E39 M5 was my favourite car; in fact, in my opinion, that’s the perfect vehicle,” Mike says. “I bought the 330Cd because I needed something cheap to get around in, and having had a child my days of running crazy cars has come to an end (temporarily!). But I still wanted a bit of fun and the 330Cd hit the mark – good mpg but still fantastic driving dynamics, plenty of power, torque, and comfort.” You can't argue with that.

The car was found for sale on a Facebook group, local to Mike’s home. “The mileage was crazy and because of that I really didn’t expect to buy it,” he recalls. “Upon viewing it, however, I could see that it had been properly looked after – and despite having moon miles it drove incredibly; very tight, better than my E46 M3s I’d had. So I bought it!”

There are a couple of deviations from stock, most visibly in the cabin where everything has been swapped out for the full Imola Red interior from an M3. This adds a frisson of everyday luxury to family duties, along with looking pretty spectacular against the black bodywork. And the really exciting bit is under the bonnet, where the unexpected tuner prowess of the venerable M57 has been exploited to masterful effect: a healthy remap, working hand-in-hand with a decat pipe and custom backbox, has unleashed a full-fat 270hp and 369lb ft. So it’s everything a 330Cd should be, but reimagined in a current 2021 context.

What, then, of the concerns about buying an ageing diesel for reliable daily use when it’s got such large numbers on the dash? A recipe for disaster? No, of course not. “During my ownership I’ve only had to fix one thing, and that was the air-conditioning,” Mike grins. “It was just a pressure sensor on the condenser.” You see, a high-mileage car doesn’t need to immediately have you clicking onward to the other options in your search of the classifieds. Condition and history are the crucial bits, not how far it’s gone – after all, cars are meant to be driven. And the E46 330Cd? Even with moon miles, it’s still just as desirable as it was at the turn of the millennium.

A quick scan of the classifieds throws up a few examples around the £2500 mark

E46 330Cd

  • ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: M57D30TÜ 3.0-litre straight-six turbo-diesel, decat and custom backbox, remapped to 270hp / 369lb. ft, 6-speed manual
  • CHASSIS: OE 330Cd-spec wheels, brakes and suspension
  • EXTERIOR: OE 330Cd specification
  • INTERIOR: Full E46 M3 leather interior in Imola Red The diesel version was – completely surprisingly – the option in the model range that everyone really wanted
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