Modification Modification
Car: BMW | 3 Series | E46 | M Sport | Coupe
Engine: M52 | 0 | Inline 6 | N/A | Petrol

E46 320 Ci Modifications

The E46 Coupe is a car I had not really taken much notice of until my father bought one. I have never been fan of BMW and its associated image, and I'm still not. However being a car enthusiast I decided it was stupid to let both mine and other peoples preconceptions of the brand get in the way of me enjoying a car for what it really is, so I got one.

The car is very nice to drive. Handling is good given its size & mass and road holding is excellent. It feels sure footed at all times. Coupe's have lowered 'sport' suspension which is supple yet effective, but what really strikes you is the ride which really is exceptional given its ability. In fact, it's smoother than the 3BG Passat and current Mercedes C Class, while at the same time being leaps ahead in terms of cornering ability. Some feat.

A couple of areas of the car let it down in my opinion. The engine is not especially smooth at low RPM and I've since learned that this is a typical BMW trait however, this can be easily over looked and it's not likely that the average user would notice. The other factor is general build quality; while the mechanicals are fine, the attention to detail and build strength of the trim and associated fastenings is poor. Audi is in a different league here. Having said this, providing you get a well looked after, low mileage example it's a great car.

During this project it has been interesting for me to note the difference in design philosophy between BMW and Audi, the latter seem to really focus on individual component quality but share similar components across the range. What surprised me about the Coupe is how individual the components are as despite looking like a modified saloon nearly 90% of the car is unique, right from the indicators & lights to the instrument cluster itself.

But of course, standard is boring...


Black front indicators

Black front indicators

As my car was post MY2001 it had clear front indicators which in themselves are a big improvement over the earlier orange version however; the headlights have a black internal shroud and so are very dark compared to the usual chrome finished headlights, and because of this clear indicators tend to stand out somewhat.

Smoked front indicators

To compliment the headlights more and give the car a more purposeful look I traced some black indicators to match the headlights. There are a lot of smoked indicators on the market but I waited to find some that matched the exact style of the headlights.

LED rear lights

LED rear light clusters

LED rear clusters became available for MY2004. They look awesome, both illuminated and not! The OEM versions require a new Light Control Module (LCM) in some cases, or a re-code at least.

I settled on some exact replicas with a resistor pack built in to prevent the light out warning coming on. They are a direct replacement for the standard rear clusters. The reverse light/rear fog unit is also slightly different on LED equipped cars, so I purchased a set of those to match.

Shark fin aerial installed

OEM GSM Phone prep retrofit

Phone preparation makes mobile phone usage in the car much more convenient, it brings the benefit of built in charging, better reception and hands free operation. The whole kit can be purchased from BMW and the part number is 84 64 0 153 221 'BMW Bluetooth Retrofit Kit'.

The OEM phone prep consists of the following: • Antenna cable • Bluetooth antenna • Cable adapter • Charging electronics • Frame for microphone • Hands-free microphone • Headlining cover • Hex bolts and nuts • Insert for phone console • Microphone cover • Misc. brackets • Mobile phone eject box • Retrofit wiring harness • Shark fin mobile phone antenna.

GSM Aerial kit

The actual kit comes with detailed instructions so I won't repeat them here. The GSM aerial is the shark fin type and is a really nice cosmetic touch, quite complimentary to the MV2 alloy wheels. This comes in a separate box and requires a gasket and adhesive pad for fitment (right).

Grommet for GSM aerial lead

The aerial comes primed and to paint it I used an aerosol can with which a perfectly respectable result can be attained.

The trickiest part of the whole installation is getting the aerial cable behind the rear window seal. The cable is covered in adhesive to keep it in place and this makes fitting very time consuming.

Phone cradle

The GSM cable passes through an existing hole in the boot recess (above left).

The kit can be used with a number of phones but the correct cradle must be purchased for your particular model (right).

OEM MV2 wheels

OEM 'MV2' 18" Wheels

My car came with the 18" M V spoke wheels which are very nice. OEM wheels are 8J with 225/45/18 front and 8.5J with 255/35/18 rear. There are a lot of replica wheels on the market but the genuine articles can be identified by BMW casting marks on the inside of the wheels and also by the rear wheels, which are slightly dished.

OEM M V Alloy wheels

I waned a set of the later MV2's as they just have the edge over the M V's that were on my car (right). Another reason i wanted to change is the fact the M V's are an absolute swine to clean, dirt collects in the spoke recess and it makes cleaning the car a lengthy process. I obtained a set of second hand genuine MV 2's from eBay.

Smoked repeaters fitted

Smoked crystal side repeaters

As my car was post MY2001 it had clear side repeaters as apposed to the earlier orange. These look fine but I wanted to give the car a more individual look. My car is Orient blue which is a very dark shade, so I chose some crystal clear smoked repeaters (AutoArt part number BW-E4698-SR-MRS).

Smoked repeaters in their box

The repeaters come with new orange bulbs which are required if your car has the earlier orange repeaters that use clear bulbs. Fitting is simple and takes under 5 minutes for both sides. The repeaters use the OEM bulb holders and are held in place by a spring tab on the leading edge which can be compressed using a knife or similar object. Use a piece of cloth behind the knife to protect the paint work.

Clear crystal repeaters fitted

Clear crystal side repeaters

The smoked crystal repeaters were a little severe for the car, they were just too dark so I replaced them with some clear crystal versions. Fitting is as per the smoked versions.

Wheel bolt caps

Wheel bolt caps

Surprisingly the wheel bolts do not come with covers, and over time they rust and look unsightly. I purchased a set of bolt covers which simply push on and tidy up the bolts.


Instrument cluster rings

Instrument cluster rings

330's and M3's both have silver instrument cluster rings. These are a nice finishing touch to the interior and they lift the relatively plain instrument cluster.

Rings in their packaging

Rather than mess around having another instrument cluster recoded to my car I purchased a set of cluster rings (right) and fitted them to my dials. This involves removing & disassembling the instrument cluster and carefully gluing the rings in place around each dial.

OEM Black Cube fitted

OEM 'Black cube' trim

MY2003 bought many changes to the 'Sport' pack.The interior belt line trim is one of these differences and where the MY2001 'Sport' has a plethora of belt line trim options, the MY2003 'M sport' has one called 'Black cube'.

E46 320 Ci Modifications

My car was fitted with an incipid metallic blue trim, while it matched pretty well it did not look particularly good. I tried silver before finally settling on black cube. It is very hard to get second hand Black cube in good condition. The trim is anodised aluminium and it scratches very easily, so care must be taken when fitting it.

Cup holders and coin storage fitted

OEM Cup holders & coin storage

I find cup holders are pretty much a necessity and my car came without them, having just two storage trays in the centre console which, as it happens, also look pretty sterile.

Cup holders and coin storage

Fitting is incredibly simple, the old tray squeezes together at the top and pulls out. The Cup holder and coin storage tray snap together and push back in.

M Sport gear knob

OEM 'M Sport' gear knob

The gear knob is another M Sport extra. The standard gear knob that comes with the rest of the range is not very ergonomic and does not feel very nice at all in the hand; it's quite angular.

The M Sport gear knob is rounder and also a lot shorter, which makes it generally a lot more comfortable to use. Fitting takes no time at all and is simply a case of pulling off and the old gear knob and pushing on its replacement.

M Sport steering wheel

OEM 'M Sport' steering wheel

The steering wheel is another difference between the 'Sport' and 'M Sport' models; it is an M3 wheel but without the '///M' tri-colour stitching.

Standard steering wheel

It's all well and good having a car that drives well but it's the control interfaces that can really add to driving pleasure. The standard wheel looks nice but it is far too thin and something I really wasn't happy with and for this reason I upgraded to the M Sport wheel which is a much more comfortable design being a lot thicker than the standard wheel.

M Sport steering wheel

Fitting the M Sport wheel is a simple task requiring only a T20 Torx screwdriver and a 17mm socket. All in this takes around 10 minutes but remember to disconnect the battery first otherwise an airbag DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Code) will be logged and the airbag light will stay illuminated.

Restoration & maintenance

I did a few things to bring the car back up to as new condition; including Gunk and jet wash the engine bay, give the interior a good clean and shampoo the carpets, and on the exterior I had the front end re-sprayed as it was suffering from a few stone chips which really stood out on a dark colour such as this.

New & old pollen filters

Pollen filter replacement

In my experience the pollen filter is a much overlooked service item; this is the second car in this class I've had with full main dealer service history that has not had the filter changed (left).

Pollen filter replacement

A dirty filter leaves a slight musty smell when the fans are on but the A/C is off. It should be changed every 3 years in my opinion and is particularly easy to do on the E46. It's cover is released by turning 3 quick release fittings, and when free the filter can be swapped (right).

Spare set of Xenons

Replacement headlight covers

My headlights were stone chipped in several places and it did detract from the front of the car somewhat, to me anyway. As luck would have it I had a spare set of nearly new E46 coupe Xenon's (left).

The lights are modular in construction and can be disassembled and parts replaced as necessary, this meant I could simply swap the covers from the spare Xenon's with those on my car without the need to remove the headlights. A point of note is that when the front cover is off the inner shroud is exposed and can easily be unclipped, so it's very to remove it and spray it silver a la 330 should you want to do that.

The finished article

© Mark Stewart, Friday 19th May 2006
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