Is the BMW 3 Series “E46” a Classic Car Yet?

The E46 was BMW’s code for its 1999 through 2005 3 series cars. This was the fourth generation of the brand’s sporty 3 Series sedans. You might not think of a 2000s car as a classic, but some collectors are already seeking out the BMW E46, as evidenced by the rising prices of the desirable M3 trim.

Is the E46 the ultimate 3 series BMW?

Many BMW fans consider the E46 to be the ultimate 3 series BMW. It was a nimble sports car with a powerful I6 engine–a formula that the brand would return to with later 3 series cars. While the automatic version has aged poorly, the manual transmission E46 drives well, even by modern standards.

Black BMW E46 classic sports sedan.
BMW E46 | Simom Caban via Unsplash

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The BMW 3 series is officially classified as a “compact executive car.” This model has included sedan, coupe, convertible, and even hatchback variations. The German manufacturer first debuted the 3 series way back in 1975. And of course BMW still makes the beloved 3 series today.

The top performance trim of the BMW 3 series is the M3. The 1999-2005 3 Series (the BMW E46) featured either an I4 or I6 engine. The M3 version’s I6 was a 3.2-liter I6 that made up to 355 horsepower. That’s a lot of ponies for a car that weighed in around 3,000 pounds.

Is the BMW E46 a Radwood-era car?

The E46 is almost never a Radwood era classic. Radwood meets include the 1980s and 1990s. BMW introduced the E46 to the North America market in 1999, so you’d have to hunt for a first model year example if you wanted to take it to Radwood meets.

BMW E46 and new 3 Series | Tim Meyer via Unsplash

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Some older collectors don’t even consider Radwood-era cars classics. These traditionalists consider classic cars 1970s and earlier. But as time passes, the definition of a classic car must evolve to catch up.

While the 2000 through 2005 BMW E46 will never be allowed in a Radwood classic car meet, the 2000s collector car scene is slowly growing. Someday there will be a Radwood-equivalent event for the E46 and its contemporaries.

BMW E46 prices are on the rise

BMW E46 | Tim Meyer via Unsplash

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While many don’t consider the BMW E46 a classic car, enough collectors want one that their prices are climbing. Perhaps some seek them as a driveable 3 Series. But as the M3 prices go sky-high, it is hard to argue that they are a cheap alternative to a new BMW.

In fact, my colleague Chase Bierenkoven reported by a BMW E46 M3 which sold for $85,000 on the auction website Bring a Trailer this year. That’s a lot of money. In fact, its’ more than a brand new BMW M4. I think its safe to say that at least some BMW E46 cars are considered classics by enough collectors to drive up the prices.

But there may still be deals to be had. Next, see our buyer’s guide to the M3 trim of the E46.

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