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BMW E46 Three Series - Convertibles

Like the touring the cabriolet was available early in the development of the E46, there was no three year wait this time. The plastic rear window style roof was retained as were many other E36 convertible features. But the chassis was stiffened further than the E36 resulting in a 20% improvement and even less scuttle shake before. This car had class leading handling as a result.


BMW E46 cabriolet

2003 cabriolet with sport pack and 18" alloys.

This stiff chassis comes at a cost however, the extra material and weight of the roof and it's hydraulic mechanism adds around 160kg over the weight of the coupe. As a result a 325Ci cabriolet weighs 1615kg, even more than a touring. For this reason you really do want a six cylinder model unless it's just a town car.

In this model the roof is hydraulically operated by a pump in the boot. It supplies pressure to a valve pack and various hydraulic cylinders for the different actions of the roof mechanism. It's generally a reliable system and takes around 15 seconds to open or close. Buyers should check carefully for signs of water leaks and for traces of oil on the cover next to the rear headrests. Oil here means leaking bow cylinders which isn't an expensive job but one that should be tackled as soon as possible.


BMW E46 cabriolet

318Ci with electrically operated sports seats.

The other area to check are the batwings. These live just behind the rear side windows and hold the roof lining in place inside the car. If they move out of position the roof or windows won't close properly. If the roof won't operate at all remember you need to press the brake pedal (it's a safety feature) so check the brake light switch actually works.

If the roof ever fails there are manual controls behind the centre bolster of the back seat below the ski hatch. These are activated by turning with the allen key from the cars tool kit.

Buyers should check the roof carefully for water leaks as a complete roof replacement is not a cheap thing. If the leak is between the roof and windscreen try some petroleum jelly smeared between the two. It's a good idea to feed rubber seals annually with something like BMW's Gummi Plfledge. Rear windows can rip, crack or go milky with age. Light abrasive cleaners or even specially formulated acetone based solvents can help renew them and if used with patience the results can be impressive. The window itself isn't expensive and is zipped in place, it takes around an hour to change if you know what you're doing. The roof should be re-proofed at least once a year but that's no harder than washing it.


BMW E46 cabriolet

What could be better on a nice day?

The Roll Over Protection System (ROPS) pioneered on the E36 was carried forwards to the new car but made to look a bit more aesthetically pleasing. In the event of a roll spring loaded metal loops are released and fire through panels at the back of the rear headrests. The new system was thus concealed under the head rests. These cars had much stronger A pillars than other E46s and combined with the extra strong chassis were a tough old beast in an accident.

One of the biggest problems with convertibles is the lack of space in the boot. The tray needed to hold the roof when it's stowed massively eats into the luggage space. The E46 cleverly gets round this by having a collapsible storage tray. When the roof is up the tray can be closed to give a normal boot height.


BMW E46 cabriolet

Cabriolet rear seat, headrests contain roll over protection hoops.

As with the E36 a mesh wind deflector can be placed over the back seats then folded up behind the front head rests. This does a good job of limiting the buffeting with the roof down but has the disadvantage of making the car a two seater, at least there won't be any back seat drivers!

Cabriolets can be had for an excellent price as there is a bit of oversupply in the used market at the moment. They were really expensive new and many have been well looked after as a result. Soft tops are more likely to have been garaged by previous owners and this all helps to keep them in good condition. They're pretty water tight but if you live somewhere like Scotland you really should consider a car cover in the winter if you don't have access to a garage or car port.


BMW E46 cabriolet

A 2006 318Ci, one of the last E46s made.