With so many funky new designs coming from BMW, along with new powertrains and technologies, it can be easy to forget that BMW used to make some of the simplest, most handsome, most engaging little cars on the road. The nice thing about those cars is that can still be had. So if you fancy yourself an older, simpler BMW, there are plenty on the used market (although, the used market is admittedly a bit insane at the moment, in terms of record-high prices). One such car is the E46 BMW 3 Series, which can not only be had for very cheap but epitomizes all of the aforementioned qualities we all remember from BMWs of yore.
I actually recently just bought myself an E46 3 Series. Nothing fancy, don’t worry. I don’t have Matt Farah money and can’t buy a museum-quality E46 M3 from EAG and have it shipped a thousand miles to my house. No, just a standard little BMW 325i sedan with a humble automatic gearbox.
Mock the latter all you want (I do), I needed to replace my manual daily with an automatic, as my better half couldn’t (nay, wouldn’t) drive a stick, which made life a bit difficult whenever she needed my car. And since I barely put 5,000 miles on my previous car in two years — I’m in press cars so often, I rarely drive my own car further than a few miles down the road (I know, champagne problems) — I wanted something cheap and fun. Hence the E46 3 Series.
It’d been a while since I’d last driven an E46 of any kind, years in fact, prior to test driving my car. So while I knew it was among the best driving BMWs of all, I’d forgotten truly how good it still is. Even when stacked up against modern cars, it feels light, delicate, fluid, and balance. Sure, its steering is considerably slower than the hyper-fast racks of modern sport sedans, and I genuinely forgot how heavy the steering weight is, but there’s a sense of engagement that even modern cars could learn from.
Best of all, my car was cheap. Like, cheap. Let’s just say I’ve spent more on a computer than I did on this car. And yet, even after 164,000 miles, it still feels tight, its engine is silky smooth, starts up beautifully into a silky smooth idle, and steers every bit as well as our nostalgia told us it did. It’s also comfortable, has great seats (my car has the ZSP package with thicker sport seats) and its interior still looks great today.
What got me in the headspace to talk about the very cheap E46 I just bought? Autocar just recently wrote about how the E46 3 Series Touring is one of the better cheap cars you can buy, which naturally made me quite happy about my purchase.
If you’re looking for a cheap daily driver of any kind, I can’t recommend the E46 enough. It’s such a solid overall package and it honestly doesn’t matter which model, trim level, or body style you get. They’re all great. And yet they can also be had for under $3,000 US.