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      01-18-2023, 08:23 AM   #1
CamasM3e93
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e39 528i versus e46 330i

Iím planning to add an older manual trans bmw to the fleet, in part to provide some mileage relief on my e90 m3 but also to experience some of those peak bmw years. Right now Iím thinking another sedan but Iíve been toying with a z3/z4 roadster.

Locally Iíve got a clean title, black on black 2000 528i with M package and 167k miles and a couple maintenance items known, available from a dealer nearby. They want $3800 for the car. Iíve driven another e39 before and wasnít crazy about recirculating ball steering feel but that model line has a lot going for it and Iím inclined to take a second look.

On the other side of the metro area is a 2003 clean title e46 330i sedan with premium package. Car has 95k miles . Itís had an extensive list of preventative maintenance and some upgrades to wheels, suspension and reinforcement of strut mounts . Itís gray on gray leather which Iím not crazy about but I happen to have a Fox red leather kit I could get myself into trouble with. Seems like an easy decision for the e46 but they want a few grand over book value, around 8k.

Which way would you go? The more expensive, well sorted e46 or the cheaper maintenance project 528i? (I do most of my own work)
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      01-18-2023, 08:36 AM   #2
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I would go for the 2003. Maybe get them down on the price a bit. The other car is going to be shot, you'll pass what you spend on the other. The paint alone looks like garbage, ever price a new one of those, yikes! On the 2003 when they say well taken care of I believe it, this will save you heartache and money by going that route. Easy engine and car to work on as well.
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      01-18-2023, 09:04 AM   #3
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That's a pretty significant price delta. I've never been a huge fan of the E39, but in this case that'd be the one I go for.
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      01-18-2023, 11:09 AM   #4
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Much as I like the E39 and like a project, the lower mileage and extensive maintenance on the E46 may make up for the price difference. If you can negotiate the E46 down, no contest for me: E46. But that's me (and, apparently, Our03z4). If the E39 was in a more compelling color combo or paint was in better shape ...
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      01-18-2023, 11:12 AM   #5
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I would take the e46 between these two.

On a different note, I had thought the M5 e39 had recirculating ball steering, while the non-M5 e39's had R&P? Anyone else know?
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      01-18-2023, 01:34 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ppointer View Post
I would take the e46 between these two.

On a different note, I had thought the M5 e39 had recirculating ball steering, while the non-M5 e39's had R&P? Anyone else know?
All of the V8s have recirculating ball steering, I can't recall if the six cylinder cars do too. It's been a while since I've been that up and close on an E39.
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      01-18-2023, 04:00 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chihuahua View Post
All of the V8s have recirculating ball steering, I can't recall if the six cylinder cars do too. It's been a while since I've been that up and close on an E39.
Ah, thank you for that!!
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      01-18-2023, 04:27 PM   #8
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Well-sorted E46.

I SO hated the E39 M5ís crappy steering rack that I found myself constantly reaching for my ZHP keys when I had both. Wound up dumping the M5 after a year. Such a great car with one very bad flaw.
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      01-18-2023, 11:09 PM   #9
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I would go with the E46 in general but the price seems high to me on that one. It seems more like the price of an e90.... I highly recommend against the E46 325i. I had his and her e46s for a while and both the wife and I disliked the 325. The 330i with the higher trim and bigger engine was just a much better car.

The M54 3.0 should also be better than the M52TU with more power and a lighter car.

The E46 will probably need a vanos rebuild. I did that on my 2001 330i because it had a serious power lag due to bad seals not engaging the vanos on the low end.

The oil separators often fail on the M54 so it is best to change them. I would remove the intake and change all vac lines while doing it. There is one oil sep line that is really a PITA with the intake on IIRC. Note these have injectors in the intake so it is more work to remove the intake than on a direct injected e90....

Control arm bushings fail quickly on the E46. I would just get the meyle HDs with their bushings. I put powerflex bushings on my E46s and just hated them. They start sweaking after a short time and I never found a lube that helped it...

I would also put in the upgraded disa fix. German auto solutions made the first and the price wasn't bad. It seems there are copycat cheap versions now.

Overall the E46 is easier to work on in many ways but the cars are just getting a bit old now.

Last edited by rbryantaz; 01-20-2023 at 10:22 AM..
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      01-19-2023, 09:05 AM   #10
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Neighbor recently sold his zhp in similar condition for $8500 in Northern Nevada. E46 prices are wild right now.

If you can hold out to drive a Z3, you will not be disappointed.
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      01-20-2023, 07:14 AM   #11
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Z3/Z4 roadster with 3.0L M54 or N52 and 6 speed manual. If you must have another sedan even though you already have one, a 2003 E39 530i 6 speed manual.
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      01-20-2023, 12:24 PM   #12
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Patience is the key here. I’d hold out for a Z3 with a 3.0. Miles tend to be lower and not as abused as other models from what I’ve seen. But, of the two you shared I go with negotiating a lower price on the E46. Have fun making the purchase!
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      01-20-2023, 09:09 PM   #13
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Six-cylinder E39s all had rack-and-pinion steering.
BTW, that one has leather, not leatherette, and the shift knob appears to be on backwards!!
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      01-21-2023, 07:10 AM   #14
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I have started looking at 128i’s as a potential spring time buy but if I found that e46 nearby in that condition, I would seriously consider it as an alternative. Even though it may be overpriced, if it’s been well maintained, it would be worth the premium for me. Less hassle to deal with during the initial honeymoon phase.
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      01-21-2023, 12:32 PM   #15
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Since your looking at both, the cost difference must not be a factor. As for the car hands down I'd go with the e46. Mileage and maintenance. I'm partial to the e46 though having owned 4 different models in the past, my 330i ZHP was my first, wish I had kept it. I still have my '01 Z3 3.0 roadster - it's a keeper, but if I were looking for that additional car to be a DD, between the Z3 and the e46 again here I would choose the e46.
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      01-26-2023, 09:45 AM   #16
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6 cylinder e39s are rack and pinion. V8 e39s had the crappy steering, though if you're coming from a modern EPS BMW (instead of a R&P BMW), even the V8 e39 steering feels pretty great.

IMO the e39 530i, with manual trans, is the best overall car BMW ever made... and maybe the best car ever made.

Sporty enough to be fun. Comfortable and practical enough to drive 4 people across the country. Simple enough to be easy to work on. Efficient enough to not be annoying. Full size spare. Good steering feel. Good chassis feel. Good engine sound and dynamics. Reliable. Has a dip stick and drain plugs on the diff and trans. Clear, simple gauges. Barely (~125 lbs, keeping other specs the same) heavier than an e46, but with a significantly stiffer chassis. Physical controls. Everything not driving related automated, everything driving related not automated.

It's just good at everything, and at that perfect point in car tech where it's not annoying yet.
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      01-26-2023, 09:59 AM   #17
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And it feels a lot more substantial and better made than an E36 or E46.
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      01-26-2023, 10:44 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pbonsalb View Post
And it feels a lot more substantial and better made than an E36 or E46.
Substantial yes.

Better made, no-- e46 and e36 feel pretty identical inside, unless you're talking about the full leather M5 (alcantara headliner/pillars, leather dash).

I do think both e46 and e39 have the best feeling interior quality of all BMW generations.
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