E46 BMW 3 Series: The best looking 3?

3-Series | October 21st, 2015 by 22
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The E46 BMW 3 Series is widely considered to be the best looking 3 Series of all time, and many will say it’s the best …

The E46 BMW 3 Series is widely considered to be the best looking 3 Series of all time, and many will say it’s the best 3 Series of all time. But it all starts with the design, which is timeless. The E46 first debuted in 1999, or 16 years ago, and it still looks good today.

The design is simple and tasteful. Its simplicity allows it to stand the test of time and look great in any era. In these early sketches of the E46’s design by Erik Goplen, you can see the evolution of the design from early sketch to final product. You can tell that Goplen was going for something very aerodynamic looking, with the top and right sketch having very low rooflines and more pointed front ends. But even in those extreme designs, you can see the E46 coming to life.

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In the orange sketch, in the middle, you can really see the final design of the E46 and just looking at the original sketch helps to admire its looks. It’s so simple and elegant, especially in comparison to the very busy style of design by car companies today, especially BMWs. The new F80 M3 is so extreme and there’s so much going on that you end up missing the more simplistic design of the past. The E46 is that simple design.

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The design is also very well balanced. The front end and the rear end work really well together. It looks purposeful yet beautiful. It also looks very rear-driven, which is a good thing in a BMW. The pre-facelift headlights aren’t as good looking as the facelift’s, but even the original face of the E46 was good looking. It looked like what a BMW is supposed to look like. It’s the quintessential BMW design.

The fact that the E46 was as transcendent in how it drove as in how it looked didn’t hurt either. The E46 was an astonishing package, one that was great to look at and great to drive. It doesn’t matter which iteration you choose, sedan, coupe, wagon, M3, they all look good. Well, maybe not the strange hatchback version, but aside from that, they’re all great. If you’re a fan of the E46, like most of us BMW fans are, these original sketches of the car are very cool and help you see the design through its early stages. Thank you, Mr. Goplen.

22 responses to “E46 BMW 3 Series: The best looking 3?”

  1. CDspeed says:

    Admittedly it’s still one of my favorites, I had 2000 328Ci, and in 2002 I traded that for an M3. Not that I’ve ever seen a 3-Series I didn’t like, but the E46 still looks great to me.

  2. jitorres4 says:

    E46, like E39 and E38… Great era in BMW design.

  3. Kingsley Mpofu says:

    The g string!

  4. Rob K says:

    Yep, love this design. Hard to say the best looking one of all time though. I get bored with designs over time. That being said, this one has never really aged for me. Good stuff!

  5. jason bourne says:

    This is probably the last 3-Series iteration before it got bloated and turned into a 5-Series wannabe.

    The 2-Series is now the new 3-Series of yesteryear.

  6. Julien says:

    I agree … what a classic design … I wish they’d continue to use it with small subtle touches like the 911 evolutions …

  7. Matt Stokes says:

    Nope, it looked good, but M-sport LCI E90 looked better as a saloon, and as a coupe I prefer an M-sport E36. I also preferred by E36 to my E46 to drive, though they weren’t really a comparable spec to be fair.

  8. PF says:

    Can somebody tell me what bmw style are those wheels? Thanks!

  9. iNoob says:

    Do you really think the facelift looks better than the preface? Really? Nope. Prefacelift ftw

    • Rob K says:

      To each his own. I think the facelift was successful in modernizing the design. I prefer the smoother front bumper, wider grills and headlight modification that the facelift provides.

    • Matt Stokes says:

      I agree, I remember when the LCI was first unveiled, thinking it was a step backwards. The detailing suited the shaping on the pre-LCI – whereas when they facelifted it, it just made it look like an old car they were trying to drag into a newer era. At the time I was interested in the Cd models, as a diesel coupe was a relatively new thing.. but it just looked terrible – like an attactive model that had been punched in both eyes!

  10. Mike Vella says:

    Best is subjective, but I agree that the E46 is very timeless.

  11. Stephen Garrett says:

    For me, it’s a toss up between it and the E90.

  12. TheBingoBalls says:

    The E46 for me because there’ nothing I don’t like on the pre-LCI or LCI. The E90 would be at the top if they didn’t have those god-awful rear taillights on the pre-LCI. The only thing you could improve that look was to put on the backlines.

    • maxnix says:

      Ignoring the early CS Coupé, I do like the E46 for its detailing, but prefer the E92 and E90 for its visual svelteness.

  13. […] isn’t uncommon to see an E46 BMW 3 Series on the road these days. The E46 was one of BWMs most popular models and one of the brand’s […]

  14. […] Of course, the same thing was said about the E90 and how it was worse in every possible way than the legendary E46. Nevertheless, the media and fans have not been kind to BMW and its venerable 3 Series over these […]

  15. […] Of course, the same thing was said about the E90 and how it was worse in every possible way than the legendary E46. Nevertheless, the media and fans have not been kind to BMW and its venerable 3 Series over these […]

  16. Mike Fortini says:

    I have to strongly disagree about the post face lift being more attractive. Styling is subjective, but I think the previous face lift E46 has more balance and flow. The post face-lift looks like they added mascara to the headlights as they imposed a more effeminate looking front end. I’m glad they still kept the pre face-lift look on the M3 all the way through. That is a handsome vehicle and probably one of my all time favorites in the styling dept. The new 3 series bears little resemblance to the E46 and have lost their soul. BMW has become so mass produced and mass marketed, the brand has lost its luster.

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