BMW E46 330i Saloon and Touring, 330Ci Coupé and Convertible
With enduring styling and a rewarding drive, BMW’s great-value E46 330i and 330Ci models are much admired, but avoid rough examples.
Words: Guy Baker
Some BMWs have stood the test of time better than others, like the well-proportioned E46 models, which are prominent on many enthusiasts’ ownership wish lists. Their appealing styling is undoubtedly part of the reason, but affordable and practical E46 models also provide entertaining handling and – in 330i and 330Ci guise – a strong dash of performance, too. In addition, the M54 engine has proved durable (if well-maintained), and most parts are reasonably cheap. Decent examples start at just £2800.
Produced from 2000 to 2006 and available in saloon, Touring, coup. and convertible versions, all 330i E46 BMWs come with the same 231hp variable-valve 2979cc M54 straightsix engine. Coupes and convertibles were badged 330Ci, and although the saloon and Touring were phased out in late 2004 (following the introduction of the E90 3 Series), the 330Ci Coup. and convertible models continued in production until August 2006.
A popular five-speed – and later six-speed – manual transmission was standard, with a five- and later six-speed SSG automated manual gearbox offered as an option, as well as a five-speed Steptronic auto, the most popular transmission choice. Naturally aspirated, BMW’s M54 straight-six produces a maximum of 221lb ft of torque, and that is sufficient to propel the 330i and 330Ci from 0 to 62mph in around 6.4 seconds, while top speed is limited to the default 155mph.
Available in SE and Sport guises, you can expect to achieve 25-35mpg depending on your driving style and chosen gearbox, and all cars are well equipped with electronic brake-force distribution, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, climate control and cruise control. Most also possess leather, xenon headlights, heated seats and satellite navigation.
The 330i saloon and estate were facelifted in September 2001 with a wider satellite navigation screen, revised xenon headlights, a new grille and front bumpers, while March 2003 saw the 330Ci Coupe and convertible refreshed too, following the 2002 release of just 600 330Ci Clubsport Coupes. Sold in Titanium silver, Estoril blue, Velvet blue and Carbon black, the 330Ci Clubsport had the same power output as the 330Ci but came with unique wheels and rear spoiler.
With well-balanced handling and sensible ride quality, all four E46 models are great to drive, and even the coup. feels reasonably spacious inside. You will find the gear changes slightly slower than the more contemporary 3 Series, though, and the engine isn’t as torquey at low revs – but the growling soundtrack and impressive steering feedback more than make up for it. And admiring glances from fellow BMW enthusiasts are guaranteed.
330i Saloons and rare Touring models tend to be more affordable than equivalent coupes and convertibles, with values for the very best lower-mileage examples starting to creep up.
This top-end Dakar yellow 2002 330Ci Sport Coupe at Daniel James Cars Ltd (danieljamescarsltd.co.uk) in East Sussex is a classic example: with just two owners and a mere 25,083 on the clock, it is advertised at a substantial £13,900. However, you’ll probably struggle to find a finer E46 Coup. in the UK. Boasting light Montana leather with piano black dashboard inserts, it looks absolutely mint and was originally supplied to the Japanese market. As with all good E46s, this coup. comes with a full service history and a comprehensive history file.
Values are most affected by mileage, spec and the number of previous owners, which is why this gold 2000 one-owner 330Ci SE automatic coup. is on the forecourt for £9995 at the Aspire Motor Company (aspiremotorcompany.com) in Winchester. With just 38,000 miles on the clock, it is one of the lowest-mileage examples currently for sale and comes with a glass sunroof, Mosaico extended leather and Myrtle wood trim. But you don’t have to pay such a high price to bag an excellent condition low-mileage E46, with cars like this silver 2005 55-plate 330Ci Sport Coup. selling for less than £8,995.
Spotted at Professional Cars Ltd (professionalcars.co.uk) in Berkshire, it’s an automatic and packs a full service history, has covered just 64,269 miles and had over £2000 spent on it over the last couple of years. At the lower end of the price spectrum, however, there are some rough examples advertised for sale, with rust issues or other major problems that will prove expensive to rectify. So we’d recommend you stick to rust-free cars possessing a full service history and pay for a specialist vehicle inspection before parting with any cash.
Aside from rust, the most common 330i issues are water pump and thermostat failures, VANOS issues, oil and water leaks and electrical glitches. Various suspension and trim items will also require replacement eventually – so keeping a fighting fund for inevitable repairs is a sound move. And watch out for water ingress into the footwells, sagging headlining and pillar trim, broken sunroofs, perished window seals, broken door locks and ball-joint failures.
Always put your 330i through a full service before carrying out any modifications, with fresh fluids for the engine, transmission, cooling and rear diff. Replacing the OE bushes and ARBs is a wise move before looking at lowering the car, adding coilovers or upgrading the brakes – and do all these before moving on to the exhaust system, intake, pulleys and considering a remap. The latter should take your 330i to around 245hp, but if you want more, you’ll need expensive forced induction. And don’t change the exterior too much if you care about resale value.
I’m very grateful to Grant Darling at James Paul (jamespaul.co.uk), the BMW Car Club of Great Britain (bmwcarclubgb.uk), British Car Auctions (bca.com), Silverstone Auctions (silverstoneauctions. com), bimmerforums.co.uk, and Glass’s (glassbusiness. co.uk) their help with this feature.
Total BMW RetailPrice Guide
- POOR: Under £2800
- GOOD: £2800 to £6000
- EXCELLENT: £6000+
- SPECIAL EDITIONS: Low-mileage 330Ci Coupés and convertibles can command more than £10,000
Recent E46 330i and 330Ci Auction Prices*
- Model Transmission Registration Year Mileage Sale Price
- 330Ci Sport Coupé Auto 2002/02 67,864 £2650
- 330Ci Sport Coupé Auto 2003/03 54,268 £4200
- 330Ci Sport Convertible Auto 2004/04 95,406 £4300
- 330i Sport Saloon Auto 2005/05 78,866 £2550
- 330i SE Saloon Auto 2005/05 55,123 £3300
- 330i SE Touring Manual 2005/55 45,645 £6250