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  #1  
Old 06-02-2003, 08:45 PM
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JST JST is offline
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My E36 v. E46 thoughts (very long)

OK, so here are some impressions of the E46 M3 from a dyed-in-the-wool E36 owner.

You may recall, if you spend too much time here, that I took a couple of brief test drives of the E46 M3 over the past couple of months, and came away underwhelmed both times. My primary complaints were familiar, and broke little new ground: Not enough performance difference, too expensive, too little steering and road feel, sluggish throttle response, etc.

So, I ended up with one because…

It’s hard to say what the tipping point was, but it had a lot to do with a couple of long roadtrips I took in the E36 convertible. I realized that it was just not a car that I derived any pleasure from on long highway drives. It was too loud, primarily, and with the car stuffed full of luggage you can’t put the top down anyway. So I started looking at options.

My price range was 45-55, though the upper number would really have been a stretch. I looked (and drove) a 540i 6 speed, and looked at (but didn’t drive) a ’00 M5 (and considered some other M5s for sale). In the end, though, the 540 was too far in the other direction. Too big, too loafy, not taut enough. The M5 (at least from the passenger seat) felt better, but it too was much more car than I need, and very expensive.

Which brought me back to the E46 M3. As with Goldilocks, it sits right in the middle. The E36 M3 I’ve got was too loud and too small to be a trip car. The 540 was too big and too soft to be a canyon carver. The E46 is somewhere in between.

After about 500 miles, I can also give a better comparison of the E46 and E36. The bottom line is that these two cars are more similar than they are different. The E46 is quieter, more isolated, faster, and has a much more solid platform, but the DNA is the same. They behave fairly similarly.

That said, the E46 clearly has capabilities that the E36 just doesn’t have. At city speeds, the difference in acceleration is not that perceptible. Sure, the E46 may be quicker, but the E36 feels nearly as fast, and that’s what really matters. But get the E46 on the highway, and suddenly you can find the extra 90 hp. The E46 just walks and talks from 70ish on up, and you can go from “see you in court” to “come with me while we impound your car” in less time than it took to read this sentence. The E46 actually has a bit more engine and exhaust noise, and the mechanical sounds from all those valves and chains and cams thrashing about is pretty cool. Thumbs way down on the coffee-can sound-alike exhaust note, though, which intrudes on practicality too much for the raspy fart-tip sound it produces at WOT.

The handling is also pretty impressive, comparatively. Again, at lower speeds, the difference is not obvious. But on freeway off-ramps (or on a wet autocross course) the E46 digs in and lets you do things comfortably that the E36 feels nervous doing. And that’s even with Konis on the E36. Believe it or not, body roll on the E46 is also less than on the E36, or at least that’s my perception. The difference between the E46 coupe and the E36 convertible in terms of chassis rigidity is like the difference between uncooked and cooked vermicelli, but even against the E36 sedan the extra stiffness of the E46 is noticeable.

The E46 offers a number of minor improvements v. the E36. The seats, for example, are more supportive, and the steering wheel is thicker and smaller. OTOH, the E36 has a better shifter, with less notchiness and a shorter throw. The mirrors on the E36 are smaller, but shaped better and so more useful (especially the inside mirror—the oval mirror in the E46 is a triumph of form over function).

I’m not going to dwell on the isolation piece. It’s there, and you either deal with it or you don’t. You either get used to it, or you don’t. At highway speeds, it’s nice—yesterday I drove out to Dulles first in the E36 and then in the E46, and while the drive in the E36 was a bit wearing, I could have done it three or four more times in the E46. However, the E46 is big and fast enough that it feels like its idling until you get it above 50 or so; you best be sure that your favorite twisty road has a high speed limit (or a dearth of constabulary), because the limits on the E46 are so high that navigating most curvy roads at legal speeds is sort of a yawner.

There are a lot of other random observations. Despite being bigger, the E46 has less underhood space. The ZKW ellipsoid headlights are better than the bi Xenons. Auto leveling is weird and distracting until you get used to it, and even then it inspires a vague sense of nausea as the light cutoff does things slightly out of phase with the car’s movements. Steering wheel controls are nice to have. There’s more, but I’ve already gone on too long.
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  #2  
Old 06-02-2003, 09:34 PM
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Re: My E36 v. E46 thoughts (very long)

Quote:
Originally posted by JST
The E46 just walks and talks from 70ish on up, and you can go from ?see you in court? to ?come with me while we impound your car? in less time than it took to read this sentence.


Great write up.
  #3  
Old 06-03-2003, 03:09 PM
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toshweir27 toshweir27 is offline
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Thanks JST
Excellent!
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  #4  
Old 06-03-2003, 05:54 PM
Mystikal Mystikal is offline
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Re: My E36 v. E46 thoughts (very long)

Quote:
Originally posted by JST
The ZKW ellipsoid headlights are better than the bi Xenons. Auto leveling is weird and distracting until you get used to it, and even then it inspires a vague sense of nausea as the light cutoff does things slightly out of phase with the car’s movements.
I find that VERY surprising. BTW, I took my fogs out on the weekend to change the bulbs, and noticed they are stamped ZKW on the back. Are they an OEM supplier too? Are ZKW's just the Euro standard spec lamps?

In any case, very, very well written review.
  #5  
Old 06-03-2003, 07:32 PM
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JST JST is offline
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Re: Re: My E36 v. E46 thoughts (very long)

Quote:
Originally posted by Mystikal
I find that VERY surprising. BTW, I took my fogs out on the weekend to change the bulbs, and noticed they are stamped ZKW on the back. Are they an OEM supplier too? Are ZKW's just the Euro standard spec lamps?

In any case, very, very well written review.
Yes, ZKW is an OE supplier of lights. My foglights were made by ZKW, too.

The Xenons might be brighter (though it's hard to tell since they're so much bluer), but the ZKWs had a better beam pattern. The ZKWs had a flat cutoff across the mid-beam, with a pronounced kick-up on the right that illuminates the curb. The Xenons also have a nice cutoff, but they are missing the kick-up on the right side, meaning you don't get the same light thrown on the curb/ditch. It doesn't seem like a big deal until you're in a rural area trying to spot deer.
  #6  
Old 06-03-2003, 07:54 PM
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alee alee is offline
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Great write-up!

Have you tried adjusting the right xenon down maybe a half turn on the knob? You might be able to clean up the pattern a little bit and get the illumination you want.
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  #7  
Old 06-03-2003, 08:23 PM
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JST JST is offline
A sudden sense of liberty
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Quote:
Originally posted by alee
Great write-up!

Have you tried adjusting the right xenon down maybe a half turn on the knob? You might be able to clean up the pattern a little bit and get the illumination you want.
No. I'll give that a shot.
  #8  
Old 06-04-2003, 04:30 PM
JPinTO JPinTO is offline
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Thanks for the writeup. Very entertaining and informative read.
  #9  
Old 06-04-2003, 04:55 PM
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somehow I missed this post completely over the last few days...nice writeup!

Didn't TD say he'd have driven yours by now?

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  #10  
Old 06-04-2003, 05:07 PM
TD
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Quote:
Originally posted by atyclb
somehow I missed this post completely over the last few days...nice writeup!

Didn't TD say he'd have driven yours by now?

And I did.

  #11  
Old 06-04-2003, 05:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by TD
And I did.

wow, and you've STILL got a big smile on your face from it!

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  #12  
Old 06-04-2003, 05:14 PM
TD
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Quote:
Originally posted by atyclb
wow, and you've STILL got a big smile on your face from it!

I wouldn't go reading all of that into the smile.
  #13  
Old 06-04-2003, 05:17 PM
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Kaz Kaz is offline
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Re: Re: Re: My E36 v. E46 thoughts (very long)

Quote:
Originally posted by JST
[...]the ZKWs had a better beam pattern. The ZKWs had a flat cutoff across the mid-beam, with a pronounced kick-up on the right that illuminates the curb. The Xenons also have a nice cutoff, but they are missing the kick-up on the right side, meaning you don't get the same light thrown on the curb/ditch. It doesn't seem like a big deal until you're in a rural area trying to spot deer.
I haven't noticed the lack of 'kick-up' on bi-zenons, but its self-leveling is definitely more 'bobbly' and annoying than in pre-bi-xenons (like mine). My 01 monoxenons(?) definitely have that 'kick-up' and is one of my favorite features of the lights. No problems with unlit side-of-highway signs.

Maybe these two are the tradeoffs to having xenons available in high-beam mode, a function I really don't miss.
  #14  
Old 06-04-2003, 06:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by TD
I wouldn't go reading all of that into the smile.
i was just kidding.

so, let's get this thing over with already

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  #15  
Old 06-04-2003, 06:56 PM
TD
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Quote:
Originally posted by atyclb
i was just kidding.

so, let's get this thing over with already

Well, ****. I just spend 20+ minutes typing up my review and the f*cking site timed out while posting.



I can't retype it all right now. Sorry.
  #16  
Old 06-04-2003, 07:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by TD
Well, ****. I just spend 20+ minutes typing up my review and the f*cking site timed out while posting.



I can't retype it all right now. Sorry.
For future reference...when a post doesn't "take" almost immediately, I select all, copy and past to a text editor...particularly for longer posts.
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  #17  
Old 06-04-2003, 07:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by TD
Well, ****. I just spend 20+ minutes typing up my review and the f*cking site timed out while posting.



I can't retype it all right now. Sorry.
I hate it when that happens.
  #18  
Old 06-04-2003, 07:07 PM
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Originally posted by Plaz
I hate it when that happens.
I hate it more when it happens to me than when it happens to TD.
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  #19  
Old 06-04-2003, 07:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Clyde@work
I hate it more when it happens to me than when it happens to TD.
Naturally.

But, I have to admit a certain amount of anticipation given the context and history...

  #20  
Old 06-04-2003, 07:38 PM
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I'll give it another shot, but my thoughts aren't really organizing themselves as well this time around.

It's a fine car. In fact, it's an excellent car. But I was still left underwhelmed.

I know the engine is a masterpiece. And I know it really comes on above certain speeds. But I didn't hit those speeds during my drive as recent experiences involving the Virginia traffic court system is acting as a bit of a deterrent. At FAST speeds and through aggressive acceleration, the car did not feel measurably (by the butt dyno) faster than either my E36 M3 or the 330i ZHP. In fact, overall, it felt A LOT like the ZHP, only minus two doors. I expected the M3 to be MUCH faster than my car. Being driven by a normal person who is not testing for a magazine (read- no clutch dumps), I don't think that there's more than a couple tenths of a second real world difference 0-60 between the two cars. I don't. I do fully admit that the E36 will top out MUCH earlier and it's at these speeds that the E46 M3 really shines. Too bad we don't all live in Germany where we can hit these speeds regularly and legally. But I was hoenstly expecting A LOT more noticeable power, even at sane speeds, and it just wasn't there.

The E46 M3 and the 330i ZHP feel VERY similar in terms of suspension feel. They are both very isolated (compared to the E36) but are still very composed and communicative. But neither is harsh. I can tell that the handling capabilities of the E46 M3 will greatly exceed those of my E36 M3. And I agree with JST that the E46 M3 exhibited less body roll than my E36. But the E36 has a better shifter feel and overall feels more direct and connected. I was surprised at how tall the stick in the E46 M3 is. It's probably a solid two inches taller than the stick in the ZHP. It's like shifting a tree. Swapping out that knob and boot (it's one piece) for a regular boot and a much shorter knob would be my first mod.

Overall, the E46 M3 feels like a faster 330Ci with better steering and throttle feel. But it doesn't feel "special" to me. It doesn't feel like a street legal race car like the E30 M3 does. And it doesn't feel like a highly modified E36 like the E36 M3 does. It just feels like a stage 2 or stage 3 sport package for an E46 coupe. Driving sedately around town, the car feels like any E46, which is to say large and isolated. The car feels large and heavy. Even JST admits that.

All of that said, it is a very good car. Excellent, in fact. If I didn't have a different set of tastes and priorities in my driving experience, I'd gladly drive one and wear a huge grin every time. I certainly had no complaints about the car. But it strikes me that this car only truly feels special when pushed up nearer to it's limits. And those limits are VERY high. Much higher than those in my E36 M3. Which would be great on the autobahn or if I were a hrd-cord track junkie. But for the vast majority of my driving, the E36 M3 will be more fun to drive. Price, image, etc. aside, I'd rather drive my car. Honest.
  #21  
Old 06-04-2003, 07:50 PM
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I assume you didn't explore the 8,000 RPM limit?

While driving Stuka's car around, it is simply amazing what this engine can do between 4,500 RPM to 8,000 RPM. Even in the lower gears. One thing this car has in common with the E30 M3 is how much both engine LOVES to be pushed to the limit.
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  #22  
Old 06-04-2003, 07:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by The HACK
I assume you didn't explore the 8,000 RPM limit?

While driving Stuka's car around, it is simply amazing what this engine can do between 4,500 RPM to 8,000 RPM. Even in the lower gears. One thing this car has in common with the E30 M3 is how much both engine LOVES to be pushed to the limit.
I said that I didn't. And I said that I completely accept that it does. But that's also not how a sane person drives around town.

I acknowledge this trait but also emphasize that, considering how I drive, I can't really appreciate this trait all that often.
  #23  
Old 06-04-2003, 07:56 PM
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Great comments TD.

Now we just need to hear from atyclb regarding the e36.

  #24  
Old 06-04-2003, 08:03 PM
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I've driven a ESS-blown 330cic and a E46M3SMG, coincidentally on the same streets (but on different days) and despite the supposed similarity in BHP on paper, in feel, it's not even close. The blown car feels like a normal E46, but gets there (on the road and across the tach) faster, like it was being fast-forwarded I'm sure the SMG experience has a lot to do with it, but the M3 was more like a E46 being pushed from behind by a locomotive. The surroundings were all familiar but not the power delivery.

The most telling thing from the blower car drive was the fact that the final drive ratio seems to have a big impact on how the car feels. Despite the major increase in power over my wagon, which was very obvious in the way it pulled through the gears, it still didn't feel like it had quite the initial 'punch' that my car has.

Early on, I thought the low gearing was annoying and I entertained the thought of swapping it for someone's 3.15. Now, I don't think so.
  #25  
Old 06-04-2003, 08:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by SpaceMonkey
Now we just need to hear from atyclb regarding the e36.
Yes.

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