If this car was at school, it would be considered something of an over-confident, overachieving and subject to disdain by all of the other pupils. While this may be a slightly sweeping statement, the effects of time smooth off the scorn somewhat and the true quality of the E46 BMW becomes more evident with each passing year. Appreciated for its sophisticated engineering, subtle style and rewarding driving experience, it’s not a surprise that the BMW 330 Ci has become one of the most desirable E46 models if we conveniently put aside the somewhat bombastic M3.
This 2004 car has essentially been a car owned by the same family for much of its life and has a good documentation of service history and maintenance. Documented as the 3-litre 330Ci SE M sport trim model, which means in addition to the leather electric sports seats, multi-disc CD changer, headlamps washers, cruise control and parking sensors, you also get the upgraded suspension finished off with the distinctive 68M Sport Anthracite Grey alloys. With a beautifully presented exterior, clean engine with well below average miles and a tidy and original interior this example is also sold with a new service and MOT. It has to be said, a superb opportunity to invest in a car that has all of the right ingredients to become an all-time great.
The story starts in Stratstone BMW Harrogate where the car was believed to have been sold as a BMW demonstrator car to a lady in nearby Wetherby when the car was just a year old. While she owned it, it was apparently never really pushed to its full potential, which may have helped keep the running gear and condition in check. Averaging around 1000 miles a year, she passed it over to her daughter after 12 years of use. The daughter used it as a family run around for similarly low-stress duties but kept it maintained courtesy of the garage who are now placing the car on the market.
The car comes with BMW service stamps up to 2011. Subsequent services are not stamped in the book but have been maintained by the garage that took over the car. The car received new front bushes to resolve a steering vibration in 2017, followed by brake work and servicing. A new battery and alternator were installed in the following year and new front disc brakes fitted with additional brake parts renewal in 2019. There is paperwork supporting this work which adds up to 2K work of spending over the last 4 years.
With the given reputation of a brand known for their quality interiors the combination of leather, the durability of the high grade and hard-wearing materials can often be taken for granted, but this car hold tries to that reputation.
The driver seat is good, with a little wear on the bolster and squab of the seat, and some evidence of scuffing on the base but has no rips or repairs. Both sets of multi-function seat controls work. The back seat is tidy with minimal damage and all of the carpets and mats are good, with no issues of note. The headlining is decent with a few minor scuffs seen above the driver's seat. Both of the door cards are in good condition.
The first impression of the dashboard is positive with no signs of damage spotted. The top of the facia detailing is good although the softer touch plastics on the centre console do show signs of wear. The switches and dials look good with no immediate signs of fading icons. The main controls and instrument binnacle are all in good condition, including the electric windows and air conditioning which are both in functional working order.
The steering wheel, hand brake lever and gear stick have worn their years well with no damage to the stitching. The leather gaiters are in good condition too. The boot is tidy, with a couple of marks seen on the carpet floor but is dry and comes with the factory tool kit and space-saver wheel.
Structurally the car is in very good order, with no notable issues that need to be singled out. A well-known issue with the E46 is the mud traps which often build up to allow corrosion to develop, but this car has been largely spared of those woes. The outside of the arches, jacking points and engine bay all look solid. There are a couple of small blemishes at the lowest point of the near-side rear arch where it meets the sill and on the underside of the arch where it meets the rear bumper - these are manageable to locate and repair and constitutes the total sum of the external corrosion observed. The floor pan looks good, with minor surface corrosion developing at the rear off-side underneath the battery well.
The body has flush-fitting panels with even panel gaps throughout. There are a couple of minor dents, most noticeably just on the rear near-side lower section of the quarter panel where it meets the door. Likely to be a storage ding than anything serious and could easily be remedied by a specialist. The rest of the metalwork is very good, with plenty of evidence to support it has seen a charmed life.
There are no issues with the quality of the Titanium Silver paint finish. It has a typical deep metallic lustre which is consistent throughout the car. There is no evidence of overspray or poor repairs. There are a few typical age-related scuffs on the bumpers, with a few minor chips observed on the bonnet. The door edges are in generally good condition with minimal chip damage. The 330Ci has spent some time outside, as evidenced by the build-up of natural elements on the glass, rubber, and trim, but with work on the scuffs and chips, it wouldn't take much to get up to a high standard.
The glass is in good condition, with no laminate damage spotted. No chips or cracks were observed. The door and glass rubber is in good order with no significant damage and no evidence of water ingress observed. The 17” 68M Sport Anthracite Grey alloy wheels are in very presentable condition, with the odd scuff but no evidence of kerb damage. The tyres are all recent items and all display a healthy amount of tread.
As you slide into the ergonomically perfect cabin and turn the key, the engine fires up immediately. The revs settle, the engine finds its beat and ticks over with the smooth hum of the refined straight-six power plant. No issues with the warning lights were observed, with the engine runs very well with no rattles or hiccups with the exhaust not presenting any issues. The highly regarded M54 six-cylinder engine runs fine with no evidence of cooling issues - the engine fan remained off and there are no suggestions of fluid leaks. Another pleasing aspect of this car is the physically clean condition of the engine, which goes some way to fuel the already positive aspect of its running condition. The car is said to drive with no noticeable defects to the suspension or steering, with the typical expectation of confidence behind the engineering. The car breaks well with no juddering or noises. On the move, it's stable and that rewarding road-holding is still a thrillingly sharp experience. The auto gearbox functions well, with no slippage.
At what is now considered the low point of the cars value curve, the E46 starts heading upwards into the world of weekend-only use and pampered garages. The E46 in 330Ci form offers a genuinely emotional driving experience, where its familiarity often tends to dilute its talents. The stylish and sleek 2-door appearance, granite-like interior, and capable engine make it an ideal choice for individuals who prefer their cars to appear far more costly than they are. Obviously, the servicing and maintenance need to be the core of your spending budget, but considering the performance offered, the 330Ci is actually a bit of a steal. It will outdo a similar era Porsche Carrera S to 60mph yet offer the same accommodation as a 30 mpg family car. The E46 doesn’t need to compromise anything to shine, and this is why this example, particularly with one of the finest engines of the decade, is worth a punt.
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