Used BMW 3-Series review: 2000-2005
March 31, 2011
- Safe and solid
- Maintenance costs
You only have to look around you in the traffic to know that older 3-Series BMWs like the E46 318i and 320i are increasingly popular choices with young drivers.
Many are handed down from parents when moving on to newer models, others bought by well-heeled elders believing the small BMW to be a better and safer choice than a Falcon or Commodore for the youngsters, while others are bought by kids who just think they’re cool.
The E46 3-Series was introduced in 2000 and built on the success of the E30 and E36 models that preceded it.
Sales increased with each new 3-Series to the extent that by the time the E46 came along the blue-and-white BMW badge was the one to have if you had ideas of moving up the ladder of success, or at least give the impression you were. Increasing new sales inevitably meant more used cars came on the market when those bought new were sold on so there was plenty to choose from and still are plenty on the market.
The E46 was built in South Africa and while the company insisted the quality was a match for the cars produced in Germany, the reality was that the quality was variable. The E46 was an attractive medium-sized four-door sedan with pretty lines and a nicely balanced shape. Buyers could choose between a four-cylinder model, the 318i, and a six-cylinder model, the 320i.
When launched the 318i had a rather lethargic 1.9-litre single overhead camshaft engine that produced 87 kW at 5500 revs and 180 Nm at 3900 revs. But in 2001 that was replaced by a 2.0-litre engine that put out 105 kW at 6000 revs and 200 Nm at 3750 revs, which thanks to its larger capacity and variable valve timing was a much better performer.
The 320i had a smooth revving 2.2-litre six, the sort that BMW is renowned for, and that produced 125 kW at 6250 revs and 210 Nm at 3500 revs. At first buyers of the 318i could only choose between a four-speed auto and five-speed manual, but from 2001 their choices were a five-speed auto or a five-speed manual. Those buying the 320i could have a five-speed auto or a five-speed manual.
Final drive on all models was through the rear wheels. All models also had independent suspension front and rear, braking was by discs all round, and the steering was by power rack-and-pinion.
Inside, the cabin was typically German with emphasis more on function rather than form. The fit and finish of the trim was generally good, the plastics of a high standard, and all controls were nicely laid out for easy use. The cabin was quite roomy for four adults, but five was a squeeze.
All had plenty of fruit with auto climate controlled air, remote central locking, power mirrors and windows, and CD sound systems.
IN THE SHOP
Like all older cars BMWs suffer problems as the kays climb, their prestige image doesn’t mean they’re immune to breakdowns, and when they do break down they can be expensive to repair.
Before you buy a used BMW you need to forge a relationship with a reliable and experienced specialist in the marque who can service them and affect any necessary repairs at a reasonable cost. Independent service agents usually charge much less than a dealer, and can supply replacement parts at a much lower cost.
Having taken the plunge and bought a BMW anticipate oil leaks from the engine, coolant leaks from the engine and radiator, crumbling plastic engine fittings, worn suspension bushes and regular brake pad and disc replacements.
The body, paint and trim generally stands up well. They don’t suffer from rust to any degree, the paint doesn’t fade and the cloth trim takes quite a pounding.
IN A CRASH
A package of front and side airbags, plus ABS antilock brakes, traction control, with standard electronic stability control from 2003 make the 3-Series an attractive choice for parents worried about the safety of their kids.
UNDER THE PUMP
The 318i and 320i both use regular unleaded and are E10 compatible. BMW claimed the 1.9-litre four-cylinder 318i would average 7.0 L/100 km, at the same time claimed the 2.0-litre version that replaced it would average 8.3 L/100 km. The 2.2-litre six-cylinder 320i would average 8.1 L/100 km.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Nigel Parsons has owned two E46 3-Series BMWs, and while he liked them he ultimately sold them because of the high cost of servicing as the kays climbed. Both had problems with their sunroofs when plastic hardware became brittle and broke, and both required new front brake discs on a far too regular basis.
"(I sold them) mainly because of servicing cost after the warranty ran out, it seems every service cost around $1000."
AT A GLANCE
Engines: 1.9-litre four-cylinder petrol; 87 kW/180 Nm, 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol; 105 kW/200 Nm, 2.2-litre six-cylinder petrol; 125 kW/210 Nm
Transmissions: Five-speed manual, four-speed auto or five-speed auto
Fuel: Regular unleaded or E10. 1.9-litre 7.0 L/100 km (official), 2.0-litre 8.5 L/100 km (official), 2.2-litre 8.1 L/100 km (official)
THE BOTTOM LINE
Safe and sound small car, but maintenance costs can climb substantially with high mileage.