The BMW E46 is a car that benefits a lot from cosmetic modifications. While there isn’t anything wrong with the E46’s styling, in fact, quite the opposite, subtle appearance changes can really make your E46 stand out in the crowd. Wheels are one way to freshen up the look of your E46 and potentially gain some performance too.
The E46 chassis uses a 5x120 bolt pattern, which happens to be a very common spec in the US. While there are other considerations to take into account like wheel width and diameter, there are a ton of E46 wheels on the market. That includes both OEM and aftermarket options.
In addition to introducing a welcome aesthetic change to your E46, new wheels can allow for more tire choices as well, depending on what your build is meant for. Oftentimes, stock 205/55/16s won’t cut it in terms of rear tire grip, especially if you have an E46 running more-than-stock power. Different wheels can solve this problem by allowing you to fit wider tires to your E46.
E46 Wheels - Considerations
There are a couple of things that you have to keep in mind while looking for new wheels for your E46. Most of them have to do with sizing and weight.
E46 Wheels - Sizing
Sizing is important because it would be more than a bummer to buy new wheels only for them not to fit. Improperly sized wheels can also cause annoying vibrations or an uncomfortable ride, it's best to get it right the first time.
The main things that you have to look out for are the width and diameter of the wheel. If your selected wheel's diameter is too high, you might run into clearance issues with the inside of the fender. The same can be said if the wheel is too wide. We’ll outline some of the most common dimensions a bit later.
E46 Wheels - Weight
Weight is also another important characteristic. Typically, this doesn’t matter so much if you don’t do any performance driving. With that being said, even a casual driver can recognize the performance enhancement from lighter wheels. Because wheels count as both rotational and unsprung weight, reducing their weight can have some of the most dramatic effects.
Performance benefits from lighter wheels come in the form of better handling characteristics, faster braking, and marginally better gas mileage. The lighter the wheels the better. Once again, it might not be the reason that the majority of enthusiasts choose to swap wheels, but it is another important reason.
Square vs Staggered Setups
Another consideration that you’ll need to make a decision on is whether you want to run a square or staggered setup. A square setup is one where the wheels are the same width and diameter at all four corners.
A staggered setup, on the other hand, is where the front two wheels have different specifications than the wheels on the back. In general, staggered setups are only truly needed when an E46 needs the extra rear tire grip. In other words, if you don’t take your E46 to the track, you aren’t likely to need to run a staggered setup. Staggered setups maximize front and rear grip and wear your tires out faster as a result. They also cannot be rotated front to back like a square setup. You’ll be going through tires much faster.
Square setups are much more tire-budget friendly, as they allow you to rotate your tires both side to side, but also front to rear. While you might sacrifice a small amount of grip during performance driving, square setups often have better handling balance.
E46 Wheel Fitment Guide
BMW made wheel fitment pretty easy with the E46 chassis. That is mainly due to the fact that E46 sedans, coupes, convertibles, and wagons all share the same fitment specs. The only E46 to fall outside of the standard E46 wheel specifications is the M3. Not surprising. We’ll just focus on non-M specifications in this guide.
To make the guide a bit easier to read, we’ll split the wheel dimensions into square and staggered setups. Offset is another extremely important factor in selecting new wheels, especially if you intend on running wider wheels than stock. Offset is in reference to where your wheel hub is mounted in relation to the wheel's centerline. Offset is represented as a number prefaced by the abbreviation “ET.”
Square E46 Wheels Setup
Listed below are some of the most commonly fitted squared wheel/tire setups for an E46. Most of the setups listed below are a direct fit to the E46 chassis, but some require some rolled fenders. This is also entirely dependent on your suspension setup. The specifications listed here are based on the suspension characteristics of an E46 with stock (or comparable ride height) suspension.
If you are running a modified suspension setup or your ride height is significantly lower than stock, some of these setups might require wheel spacers or might not fit at all.
- Front & Rear: 17x8.5” ET40
- Direct Fit with 235/40R17, 235/45/R17 tires
- Front & Rear: 18x8.5" ET35 or ET38
- Direct fit with 235/45/R18 tires
- Fits with 245/35/R18 tires with spacer
- Front & Rear: 17x9” ET30
- 245/45/R17 is the most popular tire choice
- May require front spacers
- Requires fender roll and 2 degrees of negative camber
- Front & Rear 18x9" ET30 or ET31
- 245/35R18 is the most popular tire choice
- May require front spacers
- Requires fender roll and 2 degrees of negative camber
- Front & Rear: 17x9" ET42
- Direct fit with 245/40R17 tires
- May require front spacers
Staggered E46 Wheels Setup
Staggered setups are typically a bit more finicky than square setups. Since the rear tire width on staggered setups are usually a lot more aggressive than stock, the rears often require spacers. A fender roll is pretty much required if you want to comfortably fit some wide rubber in the back without rubbing.
- Front: 17x8.5" ET40 with 235/40-17 tires
Rear: 17x9" ET42 with 255/40-17 tires
- Direct fit with listed tires
- xDrive models must use 225/45-17 front and 255/40-17 rear.
- Front: 18x8.5" ET35 or ET38 with 225/40-18 tires
Rear: 18x9" ET42 with 245/35-18 tires
- Direct fit with listed tires
- 235/40-18 front and 255/35-18 rear tires can also be used as a direct fit.
- xDrive models must use 225/40-18 front and 255/35-18 rear.
- Front: 18x8.5" ET35 with 235/40-18 tires
- Rear: 18x9.5" ET43/45 with 265/35-18 tires
- Requires rear fender roll.
Our Suggestion For Best E46 Wheels
Obviously, wheel choice is subjective which makes it such a diverse modification. While it is said that objectivity is important in articles like this, I’m saying screw that. Below are some of the coolest wheels that you can fit to your E46 with the specs listed above.
There is a very good blend of OEM and aftermarket options available for the E46, and a few of each will be included in this list. It is always beneficial to purchase new wheels from a reputable manufacturer. While some aftermarket E46 wheels might look really good, build quality is also an extremely important factor. Those that go for a cheapo wheel option and hit a deep pothole would agree with me.
1) BMW Style 225 E46 Wheels
Price New: $646.76 per wheel
Purchase Here: ECSTuning.com
Kicking off the list strong is a nice set of BMW Style 255 wheels. This particular style was featured on first-gen M-Sport X1s and E90 3-Series. The split 10-spoke design is a classic from BMW’s M division and fits an E46 just fine. While Style 225s look tantalizingly aggressive, their weight is their downfall. Due to the fact that they are 19s, Style 225s will likely add weight rather than subtract weight. If you aren’t as concerned with performance as you are with styling, these might be a good choice for you.
The most common spec for E46s running Style 225s are as follows: Front - 19x8 ET37, 235/35 Rear - 19x9 ET39, 245/35. Most E46 owners running this spec recommend a fender roll to improve clearance. Since this is an OEM BMW wheel that came on a few models, there are a pretty good number of them floating around for second-hand purchase. If you can’t find any used examples, they are still sold new from BMW.
Some people favor a smaller wheel with larger tire sidewalls. If you fall into that camp, these are not the right wheel for you. Since the Style 225s are 19” in diameter, they require a pretty low-profile tire in order to fit properly. That also makes them slightly less comfortable over rough surfaces or poorly paved roads. They look dang good though.
2) APEX ARC-8 E46 Wheels
Price New: $304.00 - $314.00 per wheel
Purchase Here: Apexraceparts.com
Unlike the Style 225 wheels listed above, the APEX ARC-8s not only look sweet, but they have performance benefits as well. APEX claims that their wheels are a minimum of 10 lbs lighter than OEM options, making them a solid choice for those looking for some additional performance.
The ARC-8 comes in a wide range of widths and diameters, meaning that you can customize your fitment based on your preferred appearance. AEPEX manufactures the ARC-8 in sizes ranging from 17” x 8” all the way to 19” x 8.5.” The ARC-8 is made specifically for BMW fitment, meaning that you won’t have to worry about hub-centric spacers or adjusting your camber.
The ARC-8 comes in 4 different finish colors and three different face profiles for additional customization. The face profile choices range in intensity from flat to noticeably concave. It’s more of a style preference than anything, but it is cool to have a few extra options. In terms of price and quality, it is hard to beat APEX in terms of aftermarket performance wheels.
3) BMW Style 5 E46 Wheels
Price New: N/A
Purchase Here: N/A
BMW Style 5s are an undeniable classic. They are the BMW OEM equivalent of BBS’s highly touted BBS RC 090 model and look great on almost anything that you put them on. Style 5s are most commonly sourced from E39 5-Series and E38 7-Series and are a great fit on the E46. Since the E39, E38, and E46 all share the same bolt pattern, Style 5s will bolt right up. With that being said, the hub bore on E39s and E38s is wider, meaning that you’ll have to use a hub-centric spacer to mount them on your E46. Luckily they are inexpensive and easy to install.
In addition to being a good-looking OEM option, they are also lighter than a lot of other options. Style 5s typically weigh around 21 lbs, which doesn’t make them the lightest but also not the heaviest. The signature multi-spoke weave is a classic look that’ll never go out of style. For that reason, they are a common choice for BMW show cars and those looking to flaunt a bit.
The most common tire size for E39 sourced Style 5s is 205/40R17, with 215/40R17s also working with rolled fenders and spacers. The most common consensus is that 205s are the way to go if you don’t want to mess with fender modification. With that being said, 205s are relatively small tires. If you are looking for additional grip, these might not be for you.
Since Style 5s are out of production at this point, you’ll have to source a used set. Since they are in such high demand, it can be challenging to find a set in good condition.
4) OZ Ultraleggera E46 Wheels
Price New: $341.47 per wheel
Purchase Here: Tirerack.com
OZ has a very solid record as far as lightweight performance wheels go. The Ultraleggera is a great example of one. The split 6 spoke OZ Ultralegerra is one of the lightest options on our list at just 17.6 lbs. It is also one of the best looking. In my opinion, multi split-spoke wheels suit the E46 perfectly.
This is a wheel where you’d feel a noticeable increase in handling performance. Most Ultraleggera owners claim that their steering feels significantly lighter than in stock form without losing any road feel. They also claim that their ride is smoother with the lighter wheels equipped. Since the OZs remove so much unsprung weight, they absorb a lot more vibrations, not allowing them to reach the cabin.
OZ Ultras aren’t just light, they’re strong too. While they are forged rather than cast, they are still made of some very high-quality materials. The aluminum, silicon, and magnesium construction ensure that the Ultras can take some abuse during performance driving. They also come in 7 colors, allowing some variety in terms of wheel color.
5) BMW Style 32 E46 Wheels
Price New: $147.55 per wheel
Purchase Here: Ecstuning.com
The Style 32 is another BMW classic design. It was originally fitted to the E46 and E39 chassis, so there isn’t any concern with proper fitment. They’re a direct plug-and-play. Like the Style 5, the Style 32 was manufactured by BBS for BMW. That’s an easy way to guarantee their quality. Unlike the Style 5s, Style 32s are one-piece E46 wheels, meaning that the face of the wheels does not split from the barrel.
Style 32s have a very intriguing way of accentuating the E46’s body lines in a favorable way. The 15-spoke design is really well balanced and delicate, yet also more aggressive than most stock options. If you are going for an OEM+ look, Style 32s are a great choice. Their appearance pops even more when a slightly lowered performance suspension is introduced.
Style 32s are available in both 17” x 8” and 17” x 9” configurations with both an ET20 and ET26 offset. A staggered setup is most common, with owners running 8” in the front and 9” in the rear. The most common tire mounted to this setup is 235/45R17 on the front and 255/40R17 on the rears. Owners claim that this Style 32 setup not only looks tantalizingly aggressive but also handles like a dream.
Best E46 Wheels Summary
Choosing new wheels for your E46 is one of the most enjoyable modifications that you can do. Not only do you improve the appearance of your BMW, but you can also improve the handling. In most cases, it is a win-win. With that being said, it is extremely important to pick the right wheels for your needs.
Pay close attention to wheel specifications when hunting for E46 wheels. Even if the wheel diameter and width are in spec for an E46 but the offset is too aggressive, you’ll have a hard time fitting them correctly. In quite a few cases, fender modifications are required to fit larger wheels to an E46. Rolling your fenders is the best option to create a bit more clearance. While some enthusiasts opt to roll their fenders with what they have laying around the house, it is always better to have it done by a professional.
In some cases, if the new wheel has too shallow of an offset, wheel spacers might be a necessity for proper fitment. If you do need spacers, buy some from a reputable manufacturer like H&R or BMW themselves. Poorly fitting, or poor quality, wheel spacers can be a safety hazard.
There are quality E46 wheel options from both OEM and aftermarket avenues. At the end of the day it really just depends on the look that you are going for. As stated earlier, the lighter the wheels the better. Removing unsprung weight from the equation will have an immediate effect on your E46’s handling. Overall, choose the wheel that you think looks the best, fits the best, and weighs the least.
If you liked this guide and are looking for other E46 mod guides, check out our BMW E46 Coilover Guide. As always, safe driving!