I have owned one of these cars for over 2 years now and am reasonably pleased with it. The advantages are many but there are some disadvantages.
The car is, as you expect from BMW, a luxury. The styling is top and the performance is very good. The BMW has always been a prestige car in my opinion which is part of the reason I picked one. The model I chose is I feel among the best for looks. BMW really do know how to put a Coupe together.
Now with all BMW's it a a Rear Wheel drive and this was all new to me but you don't really notice any difference until the winter comes that is! Driving the car on icey roads is nothing short of scary. Its best not to bother driving it when its icey or snowing for your own safety.
The benfits of a rear wheel drive car are improved acceleration along with an improvement in handling due to the fact that the front wheels are solely doing the steering.
The weight distribution across the car improves greatly across the car when rear wheel drive system is utilised and thus improves braking.
The disadvantages of the rear wheel drive come from the long drive shaft required to transfer power to the back wheels. This introduces more complex, moving parts that can potentially go wrong. The space this drive shaft takes up can also be alot more than front wheel drive method.
Personally the car suits me just fine I don't use the car for commuting and only for pleasure which in my opinion is all it should be used for. For me it is a luxury the MPG will not suit someone doing large distances so i'd advise against this if looking for a commuter car etc. I average about 25mpg around town which is poor. On long runs usually around 35-40.
The problems I have encountered have quite a few. The main problem being the Engine breathers blocking up resulting in a costly fix £500+. Also had problems with the front suspension and brake calipers.
Given the problems I can't endorse the car fully but can you tell you it is a pleasure to drive when all is well.
Engine: Firstly,i have to say that the model i refer to is the pre facelift generation,so engine performance is not 170bhp,it is 150.Yet,i find the engine awesome.When you hear 6 cylinder and 2 litre you expect more power and torque,but it doesn't really matter.The engine feels really nice.It sounds beautifully,there is torque everywhere and power is enough to move swiftly,not to mention how smooth the engine is and how reliable it has been.It isn't an engine for a sportscar,but it is almost ideal for cruising and covering long distances comfortably.9/10 Transmission: 5 speed gearbox here.I won't moan about only 5 gears,because remember it was designed back in 1997.The engine feels firm,and always ready for some snap gear changes.Gear knob traveling distances are short,and that means you can't possibly hear that awful grinding sound frequently.The clutch is a bit heavy,but not too much and you can operate it with ease. 9/10 Ride & Chassis: Like all BMWs,RWD is present here,and it works in a great manner.The car feels really sporty and steady.Oversteer isn't easy to occur,like older 3 series models.In fact,you have to try to oversteer.Most of the time,the car stays neutral and never understeers.However,be aware that when driving in wet roads,you should attempt driving fast.Traction control works,but it is nowhere near contemporary systems,and if you ask for it,you may get into trouble,like snap oversteer-which is difficult to control.I can't say the car is really comfortable.I've traveled in a 316i E90 and is way better in terms of comfort.At least,noise isn't annoying. 8/10 Practically: Errr...not really.Space at the back is not enough for tall or heavy passengers.A 3d passenger isn't welcome to say the leasy.There are places to put some stuff into,but not lots of them.Still,boot space is enough.6/10 Quality: Great.Interior plastics are really good and the way all pecies are put together can't be criticized.Not much else to say 10/10 Running costs: Fuel economy with modern standards is average,but 37 mpg isn't so bad.Service costs and labours are exorbitant and for this reason 5/10.
The BMW 320 CI is a great car if you want heads turning, or want people to think you have money without forking out a huge amount of money.
You can pick up a good condition, high mileage (above 100 thousand miles) early E46 for GBP 4000.
With GBP 5000, you would pick up the same car but with about 70 thousand miles. ou will find that most cars will have been looked after and have a fully 'BMW garage' stamped service book.
There are plenty to choose from to you can be picky. Always buy with full history if possible.
The E46 could now be up to 10 years old. You will find rust bubbles coming through on the arches, these could be upto £200 to get repaired. Maybe use that as a bargainning tool?
The other problems i and friends have had is drive shafts and wheels bearing. Will cost you a few hundred pounds each problam at a local dealer. When on a test drive make sure someone sits in the back and listens for any grinding or crunching. Especially under hard acceleration. These cars tend to have sat in the 'fast' lane of the motorway and raced away from the lights.