Fancy a modern drop-top that delivers brisk performance motoring and luxury? The E46-generation 330Ci Cabriolet could be just the thing...
Model code: E46
Engine code: M54B30
Firing order: 1-5-3-6-2-4
Years of manufacture: 2000-2003 and 2003-2005/6 (facelift)
Engine line-up: 2.0-litre, 2.2-litre, 2,5-litre and 3.0-litre; all inline six-cylinders. In South Africa, only the 3.0-litre was offered
Where was it built: Germany
What you can expect to pay for a good-condition example: up to R150 000
The E46-generation BMW 3 Series remains a firm favourite in South Africa. In its vast line-up it offered anything from fairly basic (but fun to drive) sedans to stylish family transport in the shape of the Touring station wagon, and then a near-sports car experience in the shape of the legendary M3 (read a comprehensive Buyer's Guide on that, here). The subject of this article, however, is the beautiful 3 Series Convertible, which can be had for very reasonable money these days.
The E46 Convertible range was launched in 2000, but in 2003 it received an update which ran until 2006. Globally the Convertible was offered with four petrol engines (318Ci, 320Ci, 325Ci and a 330Ci) and even a turbodiesel derivative in the shape of the 320Cd. Both five-speed automatic transmissions and five-speed manuals were offered, with the option of a six-speed manual in the 330Ci and 320Cd.
In South Africa the 330Ci was the only Convertible model available. Its 3.0-litre, inline six-cylinder engine developed 170 kW at 5 900 rpm and 300 Nm at 3 500 rpm. A manual example was tested by CAR Magazine in September 2003, and it achieved a top speed of 245kph and a 0-100kph time of 7.6 seconds, so it certainly has grunt. It's quite thirsty, though, so expect to achieve around 11.5L/100km.
Being a 2005 model-year example, this car features the updated front and rear headlights, front wings and bumpers. It was also the last 3 Series Convertible to be fitted with a classic soft top before the brand switched to folding hard-tops from the E92 generation onwards. (Interestingly, BMW is switching back to soft-tops for the upcoming 4 Series Convertible).
This model is equipped with the M Sport package. This package included the sports suspension, seats, front and rear bumper as well as the aluminium-look black cube trim in the cabin, "M" door sills and the M3's three-spoke steering wheel.
This 330Ci's current owner has had it for the past eight-and-a-half years, but his history with the car started much earlier: “I worked at BMW at the time and sold it in October 2005 to the first owner, and subsequently bought it from the person who bought the first owner’s house.”
So, technically, he is the third owner, but the second owner didn’t own it for a long time. “When I bought the car it had 45 000km on the odo, and since then I’ve added another 115 000km.”
What stands out for the owner is the way the car rides and handles. “The combination of the ride quality, chassis and rigidity is fantastic. The ease of use of the car and the sound from the engine are other elements of the 330Ci that speak to me. The doors are heavy and the car feels like a quality product, too.” He admits that he doesn’t often drive with the roof down, but when he does, it is usually in the evenings.
The longest trip the owner has done with the car has been to Kimberley and back from Cape Town, a return journey of no less than 2 000km.
“I bought it for R150 000 and as part of the deal the previous owner did the suspension bushes, repaired scratches on the rims and completed a major service. The tyres were old, so I fitted a new set. Subsequently I have fitted another two sets of tyres over the years.
“The power steering seems to be problematic, a concern echoed by other owners. It can either be the motor or the pump that could give some issues. About a year into my ownership, the cooling system started to give trouble. It was the plastic expansion bottle that started to crack. I replaced that as well as the thermostat.
“I have it serviced at BMW Auto Atlantic although it has also been to SMG once.”
He admits that it is now actually time to have the suspension bushes done again. Thankfully the engine is fitted with a timing chain, so there are no big bills every few years to replace a cambelt.
“It is still fitted with the same cloth roof the car came with. This is quite impressive as it is parked outside every day. It also doesn’t leak during the rainy season.”
What should potential buyers look out for?
“Things only really go wrong every third or fourth year. So you only need to put, I would say, around R5 000 to R10 000 aside every year for when these significant parts need to be replaced, excluding the annual service.
“Tyres are around R7 000 for all four corners and it does need some top-up oil now and then.” Apart from that, he admits that the car has been running faultlessly.
He cautions that before you buy a car, the condition of the power steering, cooling and suspension systems are the three most significant areas you have to pay careful attention to.
“I think a lot of these cars have been abused, so make sure that is not the case before a potential purchase. Also make sure the car has been used regularly and hasn’t been standing for long periods of time. And check if the differential seals don’t need replacement,” he concludes.
Finally, as is the case with most period BMW engines using the VANOS variable valve timing system, note that these components can fail as they age and are rather costly to sort out. Ask the seller for as much maintenance/repair history and look for invoices related to recent (in the past 40 000km) replacement of VANOS parts. If that hasn't happened, you may well be in for a fairly expensive ownership journey.