ⓘ Blog | BMW 3 Series, E46 - bmw. The BMW E46 is the fourth generation of the BMW 3 Series, which was produced from 1997 to 2006. The body styles of the range are: 4- ..

BMW 3 Series (E46)

BMW 3 Series (E46)

The BMW E46 is the fourth generation of the BMW 3 Series, which was produced from 1997 to 2006. The body styles of the range are:

  • 4-door sedan/saloon
  • 2-door coupe
  • 5-door wagon/estate marketed as "Touring"
  • 2-door convertible
  • 3-door hatchback see BMW 3 Series Compact

All-wheel drive, last available in the E30 3 Series, was reintroduced for the E46 on the 325xi, 330xi and 330xd models. The E46 was the first 3 Series to be available with an engine using Valvetronic variable valve lift. Various electronic features were also introduced to the 3 Series in the E46 generation, including satellite navigation, electronic brake-force distribution, rain-sensing wipers and LED tail-lights.

Following the introduction of the E90 3 Series sedans in late 2004, the E46 began to be phased out. However the E46 coupe and convertible body styles remained in production until 2006.

The E46 M3 is powered by the S54 straight-six engine with either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed SMG-II automated manual transmission. The M3 was introduced in late 2000 and was produced in coupe and convertible body styles only.


1. Development

In 1993, the development programme for the E46 began under chief engineer Wolfgang Ziebart and head of R&D Wolfgang Reitzle. In late 1993, design work began under chief designer Chris Bangle and continued into 1995. In May 1995, the general exterior design of the E46 by Erik Goplen of DesignworksUSA was approved and as a result DesignworksUSA was contracted by BMW to work alongside BMW Groups in-house design team to create the exterior body work for the 3 Series range in February 1996. The design team put an emphasis on improving aerodynamics and increasing the cars aggressive stance. Design patents were filed in Germany on 16 July 1997 and in the US on 16 January 1998.

Chris Bangle and Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle BMW Head of R&D were responsible through 1995 for the production sedans exterior, as evident in the 1997 design patent. Production development of the sedan took 24 months following design freeze and was 31 months from executive board styling approval in 1995 to its start of series production in December 1997. Erik Goplen designed the production coupe, convertible and station wagon during 1996–1997. The E46 sedan was unveiled via press release on 11 November 1997 and was launched on the market at the end of April 1998 with customer deliveries.


2. Drivetrain

Manual transmissions

  • 6-speed ZF S6-37 330i, 330Ci
  • 5 speed ZF S5-31
  • 6-speed Getrag 420G M3
  • 6-speed ZF S6-53
  • 5-speed Getrag 250G
  • 5-speed ZF S5-39

Automatic transmissions

  • 5-speed GM 5L40-E A5S390R
  • 6-speed SMG-II
  • 4-speed GM 4L30-E A4S270R
  • 5-speed GM 5L50-E A5S390R
  • 5-speed GM 5L40-E A5S360R
  • 5-speed ZF 5HP19 A5S325Z

3. Chassis

The body shell of the E46 was claimed by BMW to be 70% more rigid than its E36 predecessor. Aluminium was used for an increased quantity of suspension components, in order to decrease unsprung mass. However, with a curb weight of 1.450 kg 3.197 lb, the E46 328ci is 55 kg 121 lb heavier than the E36 equivalent.

In tune with BMWs core values regarding handling dynamics, the E46 was initially available with a rear-wheel drive layout and a 50/50 weight distribution.


4. Electronics

The electronic components in the E46 are more integrated than previous generations of 3 Series, including the use of a CAN bus system. Drivetrain information such as engine, transmission and stability control is communicated using the CAN bus. Vehicle electronics can communicate to each other via the K-bus.


5. M3 model

The E46 M3, first introduced in October 2000, was available with the 3.2-litre S54 M-tuned engine. It was available in coupe and convertible body styles.

The M3s S54 engine has a redline of 8.000 rpm. As with most M engines, the S54 has 6 individual throttle bodies, in this case electronically operated drive-by-wire throttle. The transmission options for the M3 were a 6-speed manual or the 6-speed "SMG-II" automated manual transmission.


6.1. Special models Performance package ZHP

The Performance Package was an option sold in North America, which is commonly referred to by its order code in the United States, ZHP the order code in Canada was ZAM. It was available for 330i sedans from model years 2003 to 2005, and available for 330ci coupes and convertibles from 2004 to 2006. It included various aesthetic changes over the regular 3 series, as well as functional and mechanical enhancements.

The ZHP was equipped with sportier camshafts and revised engine tuning to increase power output from 168–175 kW 225–235 hp to as well as a shorter final drive gear ratio, and a corresponding increase in redline from 6.500 rpm to 6.800 rpm. Suspension was modified over the standard suspension with firmer springs and dampers, larger anti-roll bars, stronger front control arm ball joints, a lower ride height, heavy duty steering rack, and slightly more negative camber. Car and Driver magazine track-tested the car, which recorded a 0–60 mph 97 km/h acceleration time of 5.6 seconds and a 1/4 mile time of 14.3 seconds.


6.2. Special models 325i SULEV

BMW introduced a super ultra low emission vehicle SULEV into the selected regions of the United States to meet stricter emission standards. California, New York, and Massachusetts received the SULEV E46s in 2003, and Vermont in 2004. They utilised a variant of the M54 engine named the BMW M56. The M56 meets SULEV standards, as well as partial zero emission vehicle PZEV and zero evaporative emissions requirements. The M56 is claimed to have identical power output as its M54 counterpart.


6.3. Special models M3 GTR road car

In order for the M3 GTR race car to compete in the American Le Mans Series, BMW produced 10 examples of the "M3 GTR StraSen Version" street version in 2001. As per the race M3 GTR, the roadgoing Version was powered by the BMW P60B40 4.0 L V8 engine which was slightly detuned and generated a maximum power output of 283 kW 380 hp at 7.000 rpm. Power was delivered to the rear wheels via a race type 6-speed dual clutch sequential transmission with M locking differential. The engine featured dry sump lubrication as its racing counterpart and bigger radiators.

The stiffer chassis and suspension system were a carryover from the race version. The car was lowered further than a standard M3 and featured additional strut braces between the firewall and strut towers as well as between the right shock towers. The redesigned front and rear fascias and the rear wing optimised aerodynamics.

The roof, the hood, the rear wing and front and rear fascias were made from carbon-fibre in order to reduce weight. Notable changes made to the interior included leather Recaro bucket seats, removal of rear seats and special M3 GTR sill plates.


7. Model year changes


  • Electronic Stability Control "Dynamic Stability Control" introduced, replacing the previous ASC+T traction control system.
  • Manual shift mode "Steptronic" added to automatic transmissions

7.1. Model year changes 2000

  • Electronic Stability Control "Dynamic Stability Control" introduced, replacing the previous ASC+T traction control system.
  • Manual shift mode "Steptronic" added to automatic transmissions

7.2. Model year changes 2001 facelift LCI

In September 2001, the facelift LCI versions of the sedan and Touring were released for the 2002 model year.

  • Display for navigation system upgraded to widescreen.
  • 330i M54 engine replaces 328i M52TU engine.
  • 325i M54 engine replaces 323i M52TU engine.
  • Sedan and Touring receive revised headlights, tail-lights, grille, hood, front fenders and front bumpers.
  • Xenon headlights now include Xenon for high-beam lamps "Bi-Xenon headlights"
  • 318d, 320d engine upgraded from M47 to M47TU.

7.3. Model year changes 2003

In March 2003, the facelift LCI versions of the coupe and convertible models except M3 were released for the 2004 model year.

  • Auxiliary input for sound system becomes available.
  • 330d engine upgraded from M57 to M57TU.
  • Coupes and convertibles receive revised headlights, tail-lights LED, grille, hood and front bumper.
  • Navigation system upgraded to Mark IV version, which is DVD-based.
  • SULEV engine option M56 becomes available for 325 models with automatic transmission.
  • Adaptive headlights available for coupe and convertible models
  • Manual transmission for 330 models upgraded from 5-speed to 6-speed.

8. Production and sales

Production dates for each body style are as follows:

  • Hatchbacks were produced from June 2001 to 2004
  • Wagons were produced from October 1999 to 2005
  • Convertibles were produced from December 1999 to 2006
  • Sedans were produced from December 1997 to May 2005
  • Coupes were produced from June 1999 to 2006

The E46 was produced in Germany Leipzig, Munich and Regensburg and in South Africa Rosslyn. Local assembly of complete knock-down CKD kits was used for cars sold in China, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico and Russia.

The highest selling year for the E46 chassis was 2002, when 561.249 vehicles were sold worldwide.


9. Motorsport

Andy Priaulx won the 2004 European Touring Car Championship season and 2005 World Touring Car Championship season championships driving a 320i. Franz Engstler won the 2006 Asian Touring Car Championship season in a 320i.

The E46 has also competed in the British, European and Russian touring car championships.

In the United States, the National Auto Sport Association organises a "Spec E46" amateur racing series. The Spec E46 cars are built to a standard with minimal modifications, to create increased competition between drivers.