March 20, 2020 by Joshua

BATTLE! BMW E46 VS BMW E36, which is the Best Budget Drift Car under $5k?

Now that the market price for an E46 BMW 330 is comparable to an E36 328, we thought we’d take a deeper look into each chassis.

Does the E46 BMW 3-series make a good drift car? How does it compare to the E36?

You would think that given the E46 is the evolution of the E36, it would make for a better drift car, but that’s not necessarily true…

The E46 did get a 3.0 liter engine in the top of the range 330 models, the M54B30, that produces 225hp and 214 ft/lb of torque (235hp & 222ft/lb of torque for ZHP models) in the US. While the E36 328 had the 2.8 liter M52B28 that produced 190hp and 207 ft/lb of torque. When you factor in the curb weight of the two cars, around 3,200lbs for the E46 and roughly 3,050lbs for the E36, the horsepower to weight ratio is only marginally better for the E46 and the torque to weight ratio is actually better for the E36!

E36 vs E46 tuning

If you’re like us, 200hp & tq in a 3000lb+ car just isn’t going to cut it for long. Yes, for those of us without significant driver mods, we could stand to go to the track at least half a dozen times before worrying about modifying the engine for more power but if you’re reading this, we know you want more power!

This also may be the most significant advantage that the E36 has over the E46…

Unlike the E36’s iron block M52, the E46’s M54 has an aluminum block which means it’s more susceptible to overheating issues, and the E46 has a CAN bus system that significantly complicates things if you want to continue to use the factory gauges and ecu. Unfortunately for the E46, there just far fewer “plug and play” tuning options out there. Both of these issues add up to significantly more expensive forced induction setups for the E46 which limits the tuning potential if you’re on a limited budget (who isn’t).

Limited Slip Differential Options

One of the most important aspects of getting a car to do drifty things is making sure the rear differential locks up to produce copious amounts of controllable oversteer.

While there’s always the option to weld the rear differential in both models, for the sake of this article we are going to assume that this is your only car and you have to be able to drive your car daily or at least back and forth to the track, otherwise JUST WELD YOUR DIFF!

Some 328’s came from the factory with LSDs! As did the M3 (and the M3 had a better gear ratio of 3.15), which is a direct bolt-in to the 328. Both factory units are clutch-type LSDs with only 25% lockup but it’s possible/easy to add a couple more clutch plates to make the LSDs lockup fully. So if your 328 didn’t come with a factory LSD, you can easily spend sub $1k and have a factory, bolt-in LSD with full lockup potential.

The only model (in the US anyway) of the e46 that got a factory LSD is the M3. You cannot simply swap that diff into a 330. You would have to swap the entire subframe, axles, etc. Or you can buy a KAAZ or similar for north of $1k. We have read online that if you’re willing to try and have the skills and patience to do the research and piece it together, in theory, you can swap in a LSD from the E36 but this is a less tried and true method with some rather inconclusive builds in forums and websites.

Given the cost and availability, the E36 is the clear winner in terms of LSD options.

E36 VS E46 which is better for a budget drift car? (final verdict)

If you’ve read the whole article, this should come as no surprise but we’d say the e36 328 is a far superior budget drift car to the E46 330. The E36 328 is slightly less expensive, has a better torque to weight ratio, has easier and less expensive tuning potential (especially with forced induction), and has factory LSD options.

Even though the e36 is a superior budget drift car, you certainly can drift an e46 but the only way we’d recommend doing that is if you want to it to be a dedicated drift car and you are able to both strip a ton of weigh out of it and can weld or have access to a welder and weld the diff!



4 years ago

e36 328's never came with LSDs. Only pre 96 winter package 325i's. After 1995 no non M vehicles came with an LSD.

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