Monday, April 9, 2012

Used Car Review - BMW 3-Series (1999-2005)

For this week, Myk Belmonte revisits the classics from Deutsche land. The ones that you see parked in golf courses, country clubs, 5 star hotels, and posh subdivisions. Old as it may be but this classic is a good used car proposition, thanks to depreciation.

1999-2005 BMW 3-Series

It was the fuel crisis of 1973 that BMW prompted to introduce the 3-Series in its E21 chassis. Initially the replacement model for the aging New Class model series (this includes the 1602 and 2002 variants), the 3-Series was well received and worthy of the replacement. A trivia tidbit, the E21 was showcased by BMW's Board of Management in the Munich Olympic Stadium for public appraisal. It possessed BMW's famed "kidney" grille standing out proud and shares some design cues with it's bigger brother, the E12 5-Series. The E21 series was strictly a two door model.

Three generations after, plus a plethora of unfortunate events that happened worldwide, the E46 3-Series was introduced in 1998 with production shouldering on until 2005. Body styles available include a coupe, convertible, sedan (called as the saloon), and wagon (dubbed as touring by BMW salesmen). There's even a sports variant named as the M3. The E46 was critically acclaimed by different automotive journalists and award giving bodies with sales numbers dictate this - 561,249 E46 units sold worldwide in 2002 alone.

Locally, the E46 3 Series was introduced in 1999 through Asian Carmakers Corporation. With the distributorship rights passed on to BMW Philippines in the millennium year (this lasted up to 2008, where all operations were reverted back to ACC the following year). Initially, three variants were available (a 1.8 and 2.5 engine configurations) but thanks to a mid-life cycle in 2001, more trim lines came in (in fact, an entry in car chart stated that five variants were made for sale in the Philippines). This generation continued on until 2005, with the E90 series taking on the duty. From 1999-2003, BMW assembled these units locally; with the succeeding units being CBUs from Germany.

Value and Costs
With a multitude of variants and trim lines, the E46 3 Series would have varying prices given the state of condition, number of standard equipment, and mileage. Prices in the used car market would range between P610,000-P900,000. Beware of imported units from Japan and heaven knows where, these vehicles might have tampered odometers and worn out trims due to their climate conditions. Do have an eagle eye and enough patience to check the state of these imports, otherwise stay away from these.

Do take note that maintenance costs of a Beemer is not similar to your Japanese sub-compact or compact. Prices of maintaining it at the casa and prices of spare parts are four times more pricey but do remember, BMW parts last four times longer. Areas of concern do include the suspension bits, which could be attributed to the road conditions in the Philippines; the traction control system; the automatic transmission, especially if the previous owner neglects to replenish the "lifetime ATF" during regular intervals; the oil pan and valve-cover gaskets; the gear selector switch; the combined engine and auxiliary fan motor; and the power window lifter-mechanisms. The steering rack seals - that can leak - could be a major liability on high-mileage units.

Exterior and Interior
Car enthusiast or not, the E46 3 Series possess a timeless design and an appealing stance. If you have sharp eyes, you will notice that it has some styling cues from the E36 it replaced. You can recognize the vehicle from a stance, even without the blue and white logo. The Minor Model Change in 2001 changed the 'half-moon' lower headlamp trim to a more exposed scallop design, but this design cue didn't made it's appearance until 2003. M Sport variants have the M-Tech body kit and badge as standard equipment.

Staying true to it's driver-oriented attachment, controls and function buttons are geared and angled towards the driver. For newbie or noob drivers and owners, the small buttons might be daunting at first, but you'll get used to it. Front seats are comfortable and supportive but rear room is not good for people with above average height, with them facing leg and headroom nibbles. Executive trims do have wood paneling while Sport lines have aluminum accents.

A 1.8-liter I4, a 1.9-liter I4, a 2.0-liter I4, and a 2.5 I6 engine were made options to consumers for their E46's. The M43B19 1,895cc with 105hp at 5,300rpm and 165Nm at 2,500rpm was the base model from 1999-2001. The facelift in 2001 had the M43B19 replaced in favor of the N42B18 1,796cc that has 118hp at  5,500rpm and 180Nm at 3,900. Other choices include a N42B20 1,995cc which carries 143hp at 6,000rpm and 200Nm at 3,750rpm and a M54B25 2,494cc that possess 192hp at 6,000rpm and 245Nm at 3,500rpm. The M43B19 didn't offer that exhilarating experience of a BMW, no thanks to a standard 105hp. The N42B18 and N42B20 engines have 4-cylinders that are lighter on their feet and have precise steering and accurate handling, thanks to their light bodies (although it may seem underpowered for some, no thanks to the body weight). But for sheer driving pleasure, the E46 with a M54B25 engine is the icing of the cake. It may be sluggish at first (no thanks to the extra weight added by the engine), but put some force on the pedal and it acts sports car fast. All engines do exhibit good utilization of their power bands and provide the necessary acceleration. If possible, use the full automatic mode since the steptronic mode has delays especially at higher gears.

Driving Impressions
The E46 (and all 3 Series of all generations) is the genuine drivers car. The suspension setting is balanced and aluminum components were built for the suspension (thereby reduces unnecessary weight). Steering precision is excellent, with maneuvering an easy task around petite blockages, unless the road surface is severely damaged. Give it a push towards high revs, and the engine comes to life. With these descriptions mentioned, don't waste your time being driven and get behind the driver's seat - you'll waste a portion of your lives and that experience (that a few can get) is wasted.

There is such saying that "di purket luma, panget. At di purket bago, maganda". True car enthusiasts will be able to appreciate that adage and the E46 3 Series is well appreciated - those with interest towards cars or not. It could go toe to toe with the current E90 series and can out sprint some modern ones. The best of Germany - apart from their beers and sausages - can be had for less than a million bucks or a little. Just remember to get yourself involved behind the wheel and don't get chauffeured - or Manong Jimmy will get to enjoy more of it than you.

The Good:
  • Enjoyable driving experience
  • Logically placed controls
  • Multitude of variants available
The Bad :
  • Rear seating is tight
  • 1.9 engine is the antithesis of excitement
  • Car can be a disaster if not well maintained by previous owner
The Pick: M-Sport variant (whether with the 2.0 or 2.5 engine)

Engines: 1,895cc M43B19 (1999-2001), 1,796cc N42B18 (2001-2005), 1,995cc N42B20 I4, and 2,494cc M54B25 I6 gasoline
Power: 105hp @ 5,300rpm (1.9), 118hp @ 5,500rpm (1.8), 143hp @ 6,000rpm (2.0), 192hp @ 6,000rpm (2.5)
Torque: 165Nm @ 2,500rpm (1.9), 180Nm @ 3,900 (1.8), 200Nm @ 3,750 (2.0), 245Nm @ 3,500rpm (2.5)
Fuel Consumption: 5-8km/L (city), 8-12km/L (highway) (*estimated and varies)
Transmission: 4-speed automatic (4 cylinder variants), 5-speed automatic (6 cylinder variants), 5-speed manual
Suspension: Front independent McPherson strut, rear multilink

Price (New): P1.900,000-P2,700,000 (range from 1999-2005)
Price (Now): P610,000-P900,000
Rivals: Mercedes Benz C Class, Audi A4, Volvo S40
On Sale: 1999-early 2005

Prestige Cars Makati - 892-8127
Autohaus BMW - 638-0734
Autozentrum BMW - 772-6021

Photos courtesy of

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