The BMW E46 might be old but it remains an excellent car to this day. Some consider it the last true 3-series thanks to its performance heritage, NA inline-6 engine, and relatively small size. However, as the E46 is an old car it could use a bit of an extra edge. Among the best upgrades include a set of E46 coilovers. It's a great mod whether you're looking for better handling, lowering, or simply want to refresh old suspension. In this guide, we discuss some of the best E46 coilovers, lowering, handling, price, and more.
*Note - this guide does not directly apply to the BMW E46 XI or M3 models. AWD and M3 models use different fitment. However, many of the basic concepts of E46 coilovers do apply to all models. Fitment and exact results vary on the XI AWD and M3 models, though.
E46 Coilovers - The Basics
Before jumping into the bulk of this article it's important to discuss some of the basics. What are coilovers? Why are they different from shocks and struts? What are coil springs and how do they tie into coilovers? Suspension mods can understandably be a little confusing. There are a lot of various parts and sometimes part names are used interchangeably.
As such, let's jump in and clear up a few basic topics about coilovers. Afterwards, we move onto some more in-depth topics and what to look for in E46 coilovers kits. Together this info will provide a good starting point to choose the coilovers that best meet your goals and budget.
Shocks, Struts, & Coilovers - What's The Difference?
All of these center around shock absorbers or shocks for short. A shock is essentially a hydraulic pump that uses fluids and/or gas to dampen impacts. When it's mounted by itself it's known as simply a shock.
Then there are coil springs - a topic we discuss in just a moment. The coil spring can be mounted on the shock via a shock spring collar. It's then known as a strut. Some also refers to struts as coilovers, which is not totally incorrect. It's a spring coiling around the shock.
True coilovers are like struts, but add in height adjustability. The shocks are threaded to allow for the coil spring collar to move up or down. In other words, you can mount the coil spring at different heights to change the ride height.
BMW E46 Coil Springs
Coil springs are likely the most important part of E46 suspension upgrades. Springs are actually what hold the entire weight of the vehicle - not the shocks. As such, they play a large role in handling in many different situations.
E46 springs control body roll while cornering, braking, and accelerating. Coil springs also prevent the suspension from bottoming out on the bump stops. There's a lot that goes into choosing the right coil springs for your E46 coilovers kit. It's a topic we cover in greater depth in a few sections.
Benefits of E46 Coilovers Upgrade
BME E46 coilovers offer a lot of possibilities. It's not all about one thing when it comes to coilovers. Some benefits of E46 coilovers include:
- Adjustable ride height
- Adjustable shocks
- Better handling, braking, acceleration
- Improved ride quality & comfort
- Replace old, worn suspension
It's unlikely you'll get all of these benefits from a single set of coilovers. That's why it's important to understand your goals before buying. If you're looking to stance your E46 or want aggressive coilovers for track days then you're probably not going to see improvements to comfort. Spring rates play a large role in this topic, and it's up next.
There are some minor exceptions to the rules, though. Higher-end E46 coilovers typically feature adjustable shocks. This allows you to adjust to a more aggressive setup for track and then switch right back to conservative damping for street use.
3-Series Coil Spring Rates
We briefly mentioned that coil springs are debatably the most important part of E46 coilovers and suspension upgrades. When choosing the right springs you'll want to consider spring rates. In the US, spring rates often appear as 400 lbs/in, for example. This indicates it requires 400 pounds of force to compress the spring 1". With the metric system you'll likely see kg/mm.
A higher number means a more aggressive, stiffer spring. However, stiffer does NOT always mean better handling. That's especially true on typical public roads where they're often not smooth. Too stiff a spring can unsettle the chassis over bumps and irregularities in the road. It can also lead to a very uncomfortable ride.
Stiff springs are good for track purpose and smooth roads, though. This is because a stiffer spring minimizes body roll and weight transfer. There are also progressive springs for some E46 coilovers. They're generally good for comfort but aren't the best for all-out handling or performance.
E46 Coilovers - Damping Adjustments
Next up is shock damping adjustments found on some coilovers. Rebound and compression damping are two common ways to adjust shocks. Rather than getting too technical here we'll stick with a few general rules of thumb.
Unless you're looking for more aggressive street or track then damping adjustable coilovers may be overkill. That's especially true if you would plan on simply setting it and forgetting it. It still won't hurt to have the adjustable options in the future, but you'll be paying more for these coilover kits.
Anyways, the purpose of damping adjustments is similar to spring rates. You can set the shocks to be stiffer for use on tracks or smooth surfaces, and then re-adjust them to a softer setting for street. It's the best of both worlds for those who drive their E46 on the streets but also like to do a bit of tracking.
BMW E46 Ride Height Adjustments
Ride height is another important topic with coilovers. Most coilovers will allow for about 1-2" of lowering over stock ride height. However, some coilovers mostly intended for stance may allow drops of 2.5-4". Extreme lowering usually isn't desirable for aggressive street or track use.
The important thing here is to look for E46 coilovers that meet your ride height goals. Aggressive handling coilovers typically won't offer as much lowering. If you want stance then you're likely best suited to modest street/stance kits.
Best BMW E46 Coilovers Kits
Alright, with the background info out of the way let's move onto the more exciting part. Throughout the rest of the article we discuss a few of the best BMW E46 coilovers. Keep in mind - this list is far from exhaustive. Tons of great options exist and we don't have time to cover them all.
That said, we are focusing on a few of our favorite coilovers for different goals and budgets. We believe these kits offer a great balance of price, quality, and performance.
1) E46 Raceland Coilovers
Tier: Entry Level Street & Stance
Buy Here: BMW E46 Raceland Coilovers
Raceland is somewhat of a controversial coilover company. Right off the bat you're likely wondering how coilovers this cheap could deliver quality results. To cut straight to the chase - Raceland E46 coilovers aren't going to deliver the best handling or ride quality around. However, they do exactly what they're meant to do.
Raceland coils are quality, entry-level coilovers at a great price. Many rant and rave about their positive experiences with the coilovers and Raceland's customer service. That's about all you can ask for at this price point, and Raceland absolutely delivers.
They have two different options for the E46; the Classic and Ultimo coilovers. Their Classic coilovers allow for 1-3" of lowering while the Ultimo adds an extra inch onto that. Stick with the Classic E46 coilovers kit unless you're looking for the extra lowering capability.
That's about all there is to Raceland. They're not the best performing coilovers around, but they deliver good quality and results for the price. If you're simply looking for stance, lowering, or a replacement for old suspension then look no further.
2) BMW E46 BC Racing Coilover Kits
Tier: Mid-High Level Street
BC Racing is one of the most popular E46 coilover kits around. This is a good price point for a quality set of coilovers that allow for damping adjustments. It's a mono-tube shock design with 30 levels of damping adjustability. The BC E46 coilovers also include adjustable camber plates with the option to add rear plates too.
For an extra ~$350 you can also upgrade to Swift Springs, which are often regarded as some of the best springs around. That brings the kit close to $1,400 so it might be getting too pricey for some. It's still a very good price for such a complete kit.
We wouldn't put BC Racing E46 coils quite as far up there as the next options. However, these E46 coilovers are really a good bet for mid-high tier street coilovers. If you're looking for great handling and adjustability then BC is a great choice. If you want something more aggressive then consider the next choices.
3) 3-Series TC Kline Coilovers
Tier: Aggressive Street & Track Use
Price: $2,411 - 3,281
Lowering: Up to 2"
The price of these TC Kline coilovers will scare many away immediately. Especially considering the price of these is about 40-50% of the cost of most E46's. However, these E46 coilovers are the real deal. We run the TC Kline coilovers on our E90 335i, and have nothing but excellent things to say.
Choose between the single adjustable kit for $2,411 or the double adjustable for $3,281. The kit includes camber plates and your choice of front & rear spring rates. Front springs range from 300-650 lbs/in while the rears are 400-700 lbs/in. Something around 300 front and 500 rear is likely a good bet for street use.
Ultimately, these coilovers are not cheap and they're similar price to the more popular KW V3 coilovers. That's another awesome top of the line choice. We decided to go with TC Kline since we have personal experience with them, and think they are an awesome setup for excellent handling.
BMW E46 Coilovers Summary
As of now, the BMW E46 is a 16-21 year old car. It still has so much to offer as an awesome all-around sporty, fun car. However, it is a bit lacking compared to modern standards. Worry not, though. Simple mods like E46 coilovers can take this 3-series to the next level.
Coilovers have a lot to offer whether you're looking for lowering, stance, handling, or simply replacing old suspension. However, it's important to know your goals before buying a set of E46 coilovers. Consider whether you need adjustable options, softer or stiffer springs, or a certain ride height.
Our favorite options include Raceland, BC Racing, and TC Kline E46 coilovers. Raceland is hard to beat for the price and quality if you just want a simple setup. Those who want more handling improvements should consider the BC Racing adjustable coilovers. Meanwhile, if you're looking for top of the line, excellent handling then we absolutely love TC Kline.
What's your experience with BMW E46 coilovers? Are you considering any?
Leave a comment and let us know!