My current 2002 330i Sport is my 4th BMW and 34th car overall so I have some experience. This model of BMW - the E46 - is just plain solid. Yes, there are known issues such as window regulators and water pumps, but when you get past those annoyances and pay attention to the detail in the design of this car they fade into the background. It's easy to do regular maintenance on the car such as oil changes and brake replacements, in part because the parts are made with quality materials and still look like new after 10 years on the road. I think the E46 is possibly the last 3 series to have the classic BMW look and feel, and I have noticed the value of these cars going up in the used market.
I owned one of these for a very short 7 months before I got into an accident which totaled the car..): but let me just say, this was my first car as a college commuter student and I absolutely loved it! The gas mileage was wonderful; 35 on highway and about 25 or so in the city. Premium gas is better for the car, but I usually just alternated between premium and regular. Very sleek, attractive car. Everything worked wonderfully, never had any mechanical issues while owning it. My passenger window regulator did break after a few months, however I have heard that this is a fairly common issue in older bmws. I never had a chance to get it fixed, but century bmw said it would only be about $200 to fix. So not too bad! Despite all the rep bimmers get about being expensive cars, yes they can be but they do not break on you very often, especially the e46. I also feel that it's important to note the safety of this car...as I mentioned earlier I was in a head on collision which totaled the car. But I am so thankful that I was in a bmw because both driver/passenger airbags went off, the car "crashed" like it should..I didn't have a single scratch on me. Not even whiplash. Like I said, great first car especially for young drivers!!
I purchased this car(325XI w/Sport Package) after driving the WRX, Audi 1.8Q and 3.0Q and S60AWD. The car with the 17inch tires is a paragon of perfection, if you are keen on a wonderful tactile machine that communicates the road to you in ever so many ways, this is the automobile for you. None of the competition can match its lovely moves on the road. Throughly recommended, as also Kelly BMW in Columbus (Bill Reifsteck)!
I got this car after selling my 2000 Audi A4. It's pretty much perfect in every way. Despite what everyone says about it being expensive to maintain, it isn't. Sure, if you take it to the dealer for every little thing then yes, it's expensive. It gets decent MPG, it's quick, it's comfortable, it's nicely equipped, it's gorgeous. The only issues I've had is with the ABS, which every German car has problems with. Mine has now got 218,000 miles and still starts every time. Definitely glad I bought it.
I have owned my car for 1 year, 2 months now. I have Oriental Blue paint, black tinted windows, gray leather interior, and 17" optional rims. Automatic M/S transmission. Xenon headlights that light up the entire road. Excellent gas mileage. This car accelerates fast, looks good, sounds good, and has been very reliable with 126k miles. I bought this car with 116k miles. I changed the oil with a special Belgium imported synthetic oil 10k ago. The only expenses I have had are 4 new tires, control arm bushing, valve cover gasket, coolant hose, and fuel pump relay; all total cost under $1500 including tire price, parts, and shop labor. This car is definitely a keeper.