BMW's 330xi is just one model-variant in a long line of compact executive cars known as the 3 Series. What started life as a fuel efficient two-door saloon in 1975 has slowly evolved into a group of internationally acclaimed vehicles. In 1998, the BMW released the fourth generation of the 3 series worldwide called the E46. Since then, the company made many minor changes to their model-variants before discontinuing the E46 in 2006 for the next generation in the 3 Series. Today, the sixth generation, the F30 rules the streets as high-powered sedans, GT hatchbacks, coupes, and convertibles. Here's a look into the history of the E46 model variants and their changing details:
1999: Introducing the BMW E46
As the 20th century ended, it had become clear that the previous generation of the 3 Series had also come to the end. Many were wondering how BMW could possibly top the E36, when the company introduced the 323i and 238i four-door sedan variants. The E46 announced that it was different from the E36 with an exterior that had been reshaped to improve aerodynamics and increase its aggressive look. It had wider wheel arches, rounded roofline, and quad headlights with cut outs below the lenses.
Underneath the hood, the 328i variant had a 2.8-liter fuel-injection engine that could go up to 193 hp at 5,500 rpm and 206 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. It's fellow debutante, the 323i, had a smaller 2.5-liter engine that produced 170 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque. Furthermore, the E46 had a very flexible automotive computer system to power the entire in-car entertainment and navigation systems. Even today, this system can still be updated with the latest BMW technologies.
2000: Expanding the E46 line
BMW upheld its tradition of introducing model-variants one at a time. A year after introducing the fourth generation, it first presented the 323Ci and 328Ci coupe variants powered by petrol engines. Within that year, a 323Ci convertible and a 323i wagon also joined the E46 family.
2001: Engine changes and the 330xi
BMW originally called the variants with 2.5-liter engines as 323s instead of 325s because the company wanted to increase the spread between them and the 328 variants. In 2001, it modified the 2.5-liter engine so that it could now run up to 184 hp. To celebrate, BMW officially renamed the 323s into 325s. Furthermore, it discontinued the 328s and introduced the 330 variants with their 3.0-liter engines that could go up to 225 hp.
BMW brought back their all-wheel drive option to the 3 Series with the 330xi. It had been 10 years since the last 3 Series AWD. The 330xi sedan had a permanent front/rear 38:62 torque split aided by the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) to manage wheel spin and oversteer/understeer. It was very well received for being able to handle sever winter climates.
2002: Appearance upgrades and the M3
BMW revised the front fascia of the E46 and added new taillights. It also introduced the M3 coupe to the line-up with its 3.2-liter inline-6 engine that ran up to 333 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque.
2003: E46 enhancements
The company added a DVD-based navigation system option to the E46 along with other enhancements to the interior. The 325s got front-center armrests while the sedan and wagon model-variants got rear-center headrests. The 330 sedans had improved six-speed manual engine options with firmer suspension and 235 hp.
2004: The last E46 variant
BMW presented a compact as their last E46 variant which was the first thing that they replaced with the 1 Series that same year. Slowly, the company phased out the E46 saloons for the next generation of 3 Series cars called the E90.