The E46 was released in 1998 to worldwide markets (excluding the United States) in the sedan body style. In 1999, a coupé and touring body style became available to all markets, and the sedan was released in the United States. A convertible and hatchback body style was released in 2000, the latter only for Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The E46 experienced enormous success in all markets and was widely considered the performance benchmark of its class. The record selling year for the E46 chassis was 2002, when 561,249 vehicles were sold worldwide.
BMW M GmbH produced a high performance variant of the E46 chassis, designated the M3. This version had a larger, more powerful engine, sportier suspension, a limited slip differential, and various aesthetic modifications. The M3 was released in 2001 and was available only in the coupé and convertible body style. It was offered with two transmissions; a standard 6-speed manual, or an optional sequential manual gearbox.
The E46 was developed as a modern replacement for the ageing and cornered BMW E36 chassis. Designworks USA was contracted by BMW to work alongside BMW Group's in house design team to create the exterior body work. Based on the E36 body shell, the design team put an emphasis on improving aerodynamics and increasing the car's aggressive stance.
Flexible electronics design
Since the start of production the entire in-car entertainment system (Radio Function, Navigation System, Television and Telecommunications systems) is based on a very flexible automotive computer system. As a result the E46 models can all be easily upgraded with the newest BMW technologies including BMW's Bluetooth System, the DVD based Navigation system, as well as BMW's CD changers that play MP3s.
Powertrain and engine design
An emphasis was put on reducing unsprung weight and increasing structural rigidity rather than increasing power output: the highest displacement model at release, the E46 328, had only 3 horsepower more than the E36 328. To counter this small power increase, the body shell of the E46 was claimed by BMW to be 70% more rigid than the E36's, and aluminum suspension components were used increasingly in order to decrease unsprung weight. In tune with BMW's core values, the E46 was released with a front engine drear-wheel drive layout with 50/50 weight distribution. This balance allows for optimal handling in regards to the drive train layout.
The 316 was introduced in 1999 and has the smallest engine available in the E46, the 1.9 L BMW M43 producing 105 hp (78 kW) and 165 Nm. Like all 4 cylinder models, it was not released into the United States market. In 2001, the 316 was given a smaller, yet more powerful, 1.8 L BMW N42 engine producing 116 hp (87 kW) and 175 Nm.
The 318 was introduced in 1998 , the 1.9 L BMW M43. However, it was designated the M43B19TU (technical update) and had dual balancing shafts which increased horsepower to 118 hp (88 kW) and torque to 180 Nm. Along with the 316, the 318 received an updated engine in 2002: the 2.0 L BMW N42. It produced 143 hp (107 kW) and 200 Nm. The 318 was not released into the United States market.
Sold in many places, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Ireland, it was powered by a 2.2-litre inline six making 168 horsepower. It was the base model in Canada, where it would be succeed by the 323i.
The 323 was one of the first E46 models available for purchase, 1998 for the sedan (excluding North American markets) and 1999 for the coupe (and sedan in North American markets). It was powered by BMW's 2.5 L M52 engine designated M52TUB25. The M52 engine was previously used in the E36; however, this 2.5 L version added dual VANOS, BMW's mechanically continuous variable valve timing system. This improved low end torque and fuel economy over the M52B25 used in the E36 323. The E46 323, despite having a 2.5L engine, was designated "323" and not "325", to increase the apparent spread between it and the correctly-numbered 328 to appeal to BMW enthusiasts.
The 323 ended its run after 2000, when it was then retired to make way for the updated E46 325.
The 328 was released alongside the 323 as a high-performance option, still using the BMW M52 engine. The E46 328 and 323 ended their production runs after three model years (1998–2000) when it was succeeded by the 330 and 325, respectively.
The 325 took over from the market position of the 323 and uses the same 2.5 L I6 engine, however the 325's engine has improved double-VANOS and fully dual pipe exhaust system. The European version makes 192 hp (143 kW), while the U.S./Canadian version had a catalytic converter installed which reduces the output to 184 hp (137 kW) .
The 330 succeeded the 328 as the top-performing E46 (excluding the M3), with the M54B30 making 231 PS (170 kW; 228 bhp) and 290 Nm@ 6500 rpm, while the performance package (ZHP) version had an output of 235 bhp (175 kW; 238 PS) and 301 Nm@ 6800 rpm.
The ES trim level was supposed to be the base level available for the European E46s from 2003, however, it included various safety features as standard equipment, such as anti-lock brakes, 6 airbags, dynamic stability control, and a factory installed alarm which were not common as standard features when the E46 was released. Comfort items such as heated and electric mirrors were also fitted standard. The ES trim did not include cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel (MFSW), leather steering wheel or gearknob, although these were offered as "at-cost" options. For a short period during 2003 BMW offered optional extras for the 320d & 330d Touring from the M-Tech Sport range including M-Tech Sports suspension and when this option was selected the leather M-tech gearknob & steering wheel were included in the upgrade.
The SE trim level included the options the ES trim level was given, but added cruise control as part of the multi-function steering wheel, headlight washers, parking sensors, leather steering wheel and gearknob. It was the mid-range trim level that offered luxury items, but lacked the sporting items the M Sport and M Clubsport trim levels had, although the drivetrains of both SE and M Sport models were identical.
The Sport (later M Sport) trim level included the options given on the ES and SE trim levels, but had additional performance-orientated items added. It came with the "M-tech" I or II bodykits (depending on when the car was ordered), half leather-half alcantara sports seats, sports suspension (comprising stiffer springs, dampers, and altered suspension geometry), gloss black external trim instead of the chrome trim of the SE, sports steering wheel and 17" lightweight style 68 alloy wheels. The drivetrain of Sport / M-Sport models is identical to that of base / ES / SE variants.
The M Clubsport trim level is aesthetically similar to the United States Performance Package. The main difference is that the M Clubsport trim was not given the BMW performance camshafts that the ZHP obtained. Instead, it had 20 kilograms of sound deadening removed from the car. The M Clubsport trim shares the same suspension set up as the performance package (ZHP) in America, as well as the "cubed" interior trim and 18 inch style 135 wheels. However, changes from the ZHP include plastic front splitters on the M-Tech II bumper, a M-tech II styled rear spoiler (instead of the M3 trunk lip), and clubsport door sills. The M Clubsport also came with two "BMW Individual" color options that were carried throughout the car, Estoril Blue and Velvet Blue.
Unlike the other trim levels, the M Clubsport trim was only available on the 330 and the 325.
The "i" badging indicates that the car has a fuel injection engine (Petrol) which first appeared in the E21 & E30 models.
With the introduction of the xi models in 2001, BMW brought back AWD which hadn't been an option in the 3-series since 1991 when the E30 325iX was discontinued. BMW produced the 325xi and 330xi in the US between 2001–2005, but only in Sedan (4-door) trim and the 325xi Sports Wagon.
The AWD models were well received by reviewers for giving customers in severe winter climates the option of an AWD 3-series. At the same time, the xi was criticized for its added weight, slower acceleration, decreased gas mileage, softer suspension, and poor original equipment tires.
The transfer case used in all BMW E46 xi models is manufactured by New Venture Gear, Inc., which is owned by Magna Powertrain. The NV 124 transfer case used in the E46 xi models is a full-time four-wheel-drive gear driven transfer case.
The xi models have a permanent front/rear 38:62 torque split which differs from the E46's successor, the E9X, which incorporated BMW's new xDrive platform. Both the front and rear differentials in the E46 xi are open differentials which are aided by DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) to control wheel spin and oversteer/understeer.
The xi models were only produced in left-hand drive, and as such were not sold in RHD markets such as the United Kingdom.
The "d" indicates that the car has a diesel powered engine.
The "Ci" indicates that the car is a coupé with a petrol powered engine.
The "Cd" indicates that the car is a coupé with a diesel powered engine.
The "Cic" indicates that the car is a 2 door convertible with a petrol powered engine. These cars were badged Ci.
The "T" in "iT" stands for "Touring", the BMW nomenclature for a 4 door wagon. It has a petrol powered engine. These cars are just badged as "i".
The "ti" badge on the E46 Compact stands for "Touring International". This harks back to the BMW 2002 tii touring.
The "td" badge indicates a Compact powered by a diesel engine (a variation of the ti badge for petrol-engined variants)
* 316, 318, 320, 323, and 328 sedans are released to worldwide markets, designated "i"(excluding the US).
* 323 and 328 E46 Sedans introduced in the US (The 316 to 320 models were not released in the US to the general public at any point).
* E46 Coupe is launched into worldwide markets, designated "Ci" (excluding the US).
* E46 Touring is launched into worldwide markets, designated "iT" (excluding the US).
* E46 Coupe is launched into the US.
* E46 Touring is launched into the US.
* Dynamic Stability Control replaces Automatic Stability Control.
* Auto Recirculation becomes standard.
* The 323 has 15" Alloy wheels standard (replacing hub caps for no-option package 323s).
* The Premium Package has wood trim and moonroof standard, with 16" wheels only (no more 15" offered).
* The 323 gets the Sport/Premium combo package offered.
* Power seats are a stand-alone option on 323.
* Power seats with driver's seat memory upgraded to include exterior mirror memory.
* Radio has clock function; as a result, an onboard computer function and the time can be displayed at the same time.
* Child seat tether anchorages added as standard equipment.
* Center console buttons redesigned.
* New key design
* Automatic transmission changes to Steptronic
* 323i is replaced by the 325i and receives the new M54B25 engine
* 328i is replaced by the 330i and receives the new M54B30 engine
* New sport steering wheel with circular airbag cover.
* Xenon/HID equipped with larger projector lens.
* New dual exhaust from headers to muffler.
* 325i sports package gets 17x8 style 44 wheels.
* 330: lumbar adjustments standard with leather seats.
* 330: 17" rims are standard
* 330: Sports package rims are changed to style M68 with 17x7.5 up front and 17x8.5 in the rear.
* 330: Brakes are 1" larger
* 330: Headlight washer jets standard on cold-weather package
* 330: Silver trim around headlights
* 330: "Updated" steering (more power assist)
* Coupes get titanium front spoiler trim.
* 325i and 325iT: New standard equipment: foglights, cruise control, & automatic climate control
* 325Ci and 325Cic: New standard equipment: automatic Climate Control
* 330: Due to customer feedback, there was a midyear change back to a steering system with less boost, although more than 323s and 328s had. BMW offered a free "steering retrofit" to reduce the boost for some time. You now must pay for this retrofit. This only affected 2001 cars.
* 330i: New standard equipment: power Seats, Harman Kardon stereo, & sport suspension
* 330Ci & 330Cic: New standard equipment: Harman Kardon stereo
* NAV systems now have a widescreen 16x9 display.
* E46 Sedans and wagons receive a facelift: New headlight and taillight designs, side directional marker moved and re-shaped, new wider grille, new hood, new front bumpers for 325i and 330i without sport package.
* 330i 18" wheel option offered
* 318i receives an engine boost to 2.0L
* 320d Receives new engine 148 bhp (110 kW; 150 PS)
* Xenon headlight option upgraded to Bi-xenon configuration
* Sirius satellite radio now pre-wired on non-navigation cars
* NAV system becomes DVD based (Mark IV NAV system). In addition, the navigation system will now be available with in-dash CD-player or cassette player.
* The sound system head unit now has a new auxiliary input (aux input kit required)
* Sedans receive third rear headrest and 3-point seatbelt.
* 325: Rain sensor and automatic headlight control will now be part of the Premium Package.
* 325: Front armrest will be standard in the sedan and sport wagon.
* 325: Moonroof will be standard in the sport wagon.
* 325: SULEV 325i, 325Ci, and 325iT are introduced with the M56 motor to meet new emission requirements. The SULEV M56 motor was offered optionally and only comes with the Steptronic transmission.
* 330: Tire Pressure Monitor replaces the Flat Tire monitor on vehicles with run-flat tires. The alarm display and button in the middle console remain unchanged.
* 330xi with Sport Package will come with 17" all-season run-flat tires with styling 98 wheels (same as the current run-flat tire option).
* Performance package introduced on the 330i sedan. It's only offered with a manual transmission and NOT offered with the premium package.
* All E46s are now pre-wired for the BMW Bluetooth kit
* All 330 manual transmissions now 6-speed instead of 5-speed
* M3 CSL production (1400 units)
* All 330i/330xi Sedans, and 330Ci Coupes must be ordered with option 403 - moonroof.
* All 330Ci Convertibles must be ordered with ZPP - premium package.
* Myrtle wood is no longer available as a stand-alone option. It will only be available when the Premium Package is ordered.
* A new interior trim will be made available on all 3 Series. SA 426 or Aluminum "Brushed Columns" trim will be available as a no cost option when the Premium Package is ordered. If the Premium Package is ordered and SA 426 is not specified, the car will be equipped with Myrtle Wood trim (as before)
* Cars equipped with Navigation are now pre-wired for Sirius
* SMG or Sequential Manual Gearbox available in conjunction with the sport package (not available in conjunction with the Performance Package or all-wheel drive models).
* Performance package now available on coupes and convertibles, as well as with the automatic transmission and the premium package (on all 330s).
* The climate control head unit has a new control button layout (temp, fan and recirculate control buttons) for simpler operation and ease of use.
* The rain sensor and automatic headlight control standard for all Sedans and Sports Wagons. These features were previously only available with the Premium Package (ZPP).
* Automatic STEPTRONIC transmission will be available in conjunction with the Performance Package.
* New Sport Package wheel for 325i Sedan and Sports Wagon. Styling 119 replaces Styling 96.
* New base wheel for the 330i/330xi Sedan and 325xi Sedan/Sports Wagon when equipped with the Sport Package. New wheel replaces Styling 73.
* Titanium exterior trim on the front grille and headlights is no longer different for 330i and 330xi Sedans. (The headlights are black and the front spoiler is a combination of black and body color.)
* Coupes and convertibles receive a face lift with a new front grille (larger "BMW kidneys"), revised lower bumper design and front/rear light redesign including LED tail lights, repositioned side turn signal lights and clear front corners on sport package cars.
* The Xenon headlight package was upgraded to the Adaptive Xenon package for coupes/convertibles only.
* 325i and 325iT: Styling 119 (17 x 8) with performance tires replaces Styling 96 when the sport package (ZSP) is ordered.
* 330i/330xi get a new base wheels. 325xiT and 330xiT get new Sport Package wheels.
* Styling 137 (17 x 7) with all-season tires replaces Styling 73, also known as the Radial spoke.
* Lumbar seat support added to the premium package on the 325.
* CD shuttle became MP3 compatible
* Performance package 330s get a perforated leather steering wheel instead of alcantara.
* Sedans discontinued.
* LCMs now support "comfort blinker" function (triple flash). Must be activated by dealer