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.
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.
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.