2001 BMW 318i (E46): owner review

  • Doors and Seats


    4 doors, 5 seats

  • Engine


    1.9i, 4 cyl.

  • Engine Power


    87kW, 180Nm

  • Fuel


    Petrol (91) 7L/100KM

  • Manufacturer



  • Transmission


    4 Spd Auto

  • Warranty


    2 Yr, Unltd KMs

  • Ancap Safety




It takes corners so well, it feels like you’re still going straight.

Owner: Josh N

  • Excellent handling
  • Great on fuel
  • Comfortable ride
  • Looks awesome
  • Ridiculously fun to drive

  • Plastic cooling systems are prone to early failure and expensive when they do
  • 318 model can feel quite gutless
  • The interior isn’t particularly durable
  • Parts costs are high

As a spritely 17, soon to be 18-year-old on a newfound high after finishing Year 11 and getting ready to endeavour on his final educational journey, I figured a new set of wheels was something I could get interested in.

The result of this (mostly impulse, in retrospect) decision ended up sitting in my driveway as this wonderful piece of German engineering, the BMW 318i. If someone asked me how I felt at that moment, I don’t think I’d be able to speak.

Mine came sporting a set of really tidy 18-inch PDW rims that the previous owner had fitted (usually 17-inch rims as was standard on the Executive). As well as a terrible baby shade in the back window, which was quickly removed and thrown in the bin, as children aren’t exactly a part of my ‘five-year plan’.

It also came with a fuel pump that wasn’t particularly happy (unbeknownst to all of us, including the original owner), and decided to die on the first day I owned the car. A somewhat unwarranted bad omen, admittedly. Shout-out to the original owner who was an absolute legend and paid us the price of the pump, which was fitted rather easily and hasn’t had any issues since.

I wasn’t particularly pleased with this, as I was unable to drive the car over the weekend and had to stick with my trusty old 2005 Honda Civic until the pump came through. But once we replaced that, it was ready for some wicked fun motoring.

The 318i is, to put it bluntly, slow as.

With an absolutely blistering 87 raw German kilowatts and 180Nm from the Beemer’s 1.9-litre four-cylinder (M43TUB19 for the BMW nerds), mated to a four-speed GM 4L30 ‘Slush-O-Matic’, it can definitely take some ‘rather aggressive’ throttle input to get it to plod along at a decent clip. However, once you get it going, the mid-range power and torque delivery are alright for the little power it has. And it’s a reasonably peppy motor when you’re up around the 2500–4500rpm range, which because of the four-speed’s gearing ratios can be somewhat difficult to exploit.

One upside of this lack of power is excellent fuel economy. I can easily make the 62L tank last for 700km-plus no problem. I’ve even had close to 850km at one time. Official figures sit around 8L/100km, but I’d say it’s better than that, and it all depends on your driving style at the end of the day.

The styling of the 3 Series, in general, is absolutely beautiful in my honest opinion, especially in M3 and 330ci guise, but with some rims and mild lowering, the 318i and other similar-looking models can be really smart-looking machines too. Sure, it’s not a design from Pininfarina, but it is certainly not an ugly duckling either.

The interior is reasonably well built and good-looking, but it can be quite annoying to work with, as lots of the plastics like to snap with a tad too much upward force. It’s got the general BMW trim issues: the headliner is sagging quite a fair bit, and there are a couple of pieces that have either completely fallen apart or are missing entirely. But all the electrics work well, and the sound system is quite nice (especially with my addition of a subwoofer).

It came with an aftermarket Pioneer head unit that has Bluetooth connectivity and works quite well. It’s never given me any serious drama before, but the stock system is fairly basic from memory, and doesn’t contain many of the mod-cons that we take for granted in 2022. It even still had a tape deck built-in, even though I believe we were well into the CD age in 2001, but I digress.

The car has been, honestly, very reliable for me too. I’ve not really put a whole lot into the car to keep it going, just general maintenance and a few hundred for changing some coolant pipes (which is an issue on every single BMW E46 ever, and you can’t tell me it isn’t), as well as a new PCV valve and the aforementioned fuel pump. It still needs a bit of work, but overall it runs very well and it just keeps ticking nine months and 12,000km later.

If you are in the market, get one that has an immaculate (or near to) service history, and if it’s got over 125,000km on the clock, make sure most of the cooling system has been refreshed. I’ve also heard that wheel bearings (especially front ones) are an issue, and mine are on their way out and will be replaced soon.

I’d do your research before attacking something like this, but that’s really the go with any car. Parts are quite expensive, as to be expected, but the E46 is a reasonably common car and they aren’t extremely difficult to come by.

The gem of this car, and the reason I put up with everything that it’s chucked at me, is simply the handling and ride.

This car is the single best handling vehicle I’ve ever driven, by a lot. It doesn’t just rip around corners, it eats corners. I’ve gone around corners before thinking that I’m going to completely bin it and that this will be my undoing, but it just holds on so well, even with not-so-great rubber from a brand I’m not entirely familiar with. These will be replaced soon with a set of really nice tyres, which will complement the sheer handling prowess this car has.

I’ve had many times where I’m quite far behind someone in the hills and I’m able to take the corners much faster. And just on that alone, while sticking to the speed limit diligently (as you always should, of course), I manage to catch up behind them and need to back off a bit. That might also be because people read 80km/h signs as 60km/h here in Adelaide, but that’s a whole different story for a whole different day. It just attacks corners so well, and it’s incredibly well sorted. It’s almost uncanny.

The ride quality is very good, too, but I can see people who are expecting a floaty car going elsewhere, as it can be quite firm over really hard bumps. I’m young with a back in somewhat decent condition, so it doesn’t bother me one bit, and in a lot of ways it is incredibly supple. It does have a little bit of body roll and anti-roll bars would be a welcome addition, but it doesn’t affect the sheer grip and comfort this car offers.

For a $50,000 when new compact executive car from 20 years ago, it’s just ridiculously good to drive.

However, if you’re really looking at one, I’d personally try to find a 325, 328 or 330 model with the six-cylinder engine instead, as the power would match the chassis much better, and you wouldn’t have to struggle as much up hills.

Make sure you check for cooling system issues (usually slow leaks) and wheel bearings letting go, but overall they’re generally reliable. They don’t usually let you down in any significant way, unless they’re treated poorly and not maintained by you or the previous owner.

Owner: Josh N

2001 BMW 318i (E46): owner review-0

Owner’s Rating

2001 BMW 3 Series 318i Executive Sedan

7.6/ 10

Technology & Connectivity

Budget Direct

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