Project 46: Tuned

Project 46 is an on-going series that demonstrates common fixes and preventative maintenance tips, as performed on our own E46 330Ci. Click here to read our introduction to the series, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, and here for the last instalment.

When the E46 330Ci was released in the late 1990s, the car received glowing reviews from all over the world. It took the highly respected E36 3 Series platform and developed it even further, creating a stiffer, better handling, and an overall more comfortable vehicle.

In the time that we’ve had the 330Ci, we’ve fixed some of the basic issues that tend to plague that era of 3 Series. In doing so, it’s really brought the car back to a good, factory baseline. In getting to that point, though, it made its weaknesses more obvious to us.

The E46 seems to straddle the line between the pointed, connected feeling that is commonly favoured in older cars, and the sturdy, strong, and insulated feeling of modern vehicles. After replacing the control/castor arms and bushes and matching the car with a decent set of Hankook tyres, Project 46 now turns in with a beautifully neutral balance right down the chassis. The thick-rimmed M Sport steering wheel gives a surprising amount of weight through corners (especially when compared to cars of today).

The driveline is one of the more modern aspects of the 330Ci. The torquey 3.0 litre straight-six mated to a low ratio five-speed automatic transmission means the car will do almost anything asked of it with very little effort. It’s certainly got some power in reserves, and the gearbox tends to get its predictions right most of the time. Our biggest complaint comes with the drive-by-wire throttle, which provides some pretty poor throttle response. It’s one of the only downfalls of such a sweet driveline. With the restored suspension now allowing the driver to turn the car into corners quickly and with confidence, the hesitant throttle makes it quite difficult to drive the car out smoothly from the apex.

With those things in mind, we put a call in to John Robinson at Tigersoft Performance to see what he could do for us. We’ve known JR through the BMW community for nearly a decade. Around four years ago he walked away from his long career at IBM and opened Tigersoft, which among other things is an authorised reseller of Superchips UK products. Unlike most grease-monkeys that buy a laptop and call themselves a tuner, JR has extensive experience with writing software code and dealing with computer hardware. Superchips UK began in the late 1970s, remapping early fuel injected BMWs, and have been at the forefront of the industry ever since. Together, Tigersoft is probably the best placed BMW tuner in the country.

There are probably chip-tuning companies out there claiming more power from the 330Ci than the Superchips software, but we weren’t chasing every last horse from the motor -- in fact, for us, it wasn’t about power at all. The 330 has perfectly adequate power. What we wanted to achieve was, firstly, improving the driveability by sharpening the throttle response and smoothing out the flat-spots, and secondly, lowering the fuel consumption numbers wherever possible. We also wanted to achieve that with a tuning company that has modified hundreds (if not, thousands) of 330s throughout the world, as we wanted a tune that didn’t compromise the reliability of the engine for the sake of a few more kilowatts on a dyno.

JR told us to bring the E46 down to the Tigersoft workshop one afternoon. It was as simple as plugging his laptop into the universal diagnostics port under the steering wheel and downloading the original factory software from the car’s computer. Once that was done, he simply sent the file off to the boffins at Superships UK HQ. On a normal day, he would have received an automated email back from Superchips with the modified file (at any time of the day or night). Unfortunately on this particular day the system was down, so we decided to bring the car back again later.

A couple of weeks later we were back at Tigersoft for our tune. The process to upload the Superchips file back into the car took less than fifteen minutes, and we were on our way.

The difference was immediately noticeable. As mentioned above, the stock 330Ci tends to have a slight delay from when you apply pressure to the throttle, after which it supplies a surge of torque (as if the computer is trying do its best to catch up). That delay was almost completely eliminated with the tune, and the surge on take-off just turned into a fat, linear torque curve that now pushes the car down the road without any of the previous flat-spots.

In what was already a fairly brisk car, the tune made the car smoother and really enhanced that feeling of effortlessness. It felt like the car was given 10% more of everything (and the claimed numbers from Superchips certainly back this up). Of course, it’s worth mentioning that if you’re looking for turbo-like performance, you’re going to come away disappointed -- but if you’re looking for just that little extra from your car, then this could be exactly what you need.

It’s still early days, but we noticed the fuel economy numbers already beginning to fall on our way back to Clickable HQ. It seems counterintuitive, but because the car has more power and more torque at lower RPMs, the motor isn’t working as hard to do the same job as it did before. That equates to better fuel economy. Of course, your fuel economy is always going to depend on how and where you drive the car, and whether you’re enjoying the extra performance that comes with the upgrade. But we’re no longer trying to drive through the flat-spots, so our right foot is a little lighter when accelerating to the speed limit.

For $599, it’s an excellent upgrade for enthusiasts looking for something a bit more. The only difference is that you’re required to use 98 octane fuel all of the time, but as you’re also getting better fuel economy, it extra cost tends to balance itself out.

New Mechanical Repairs:

Nothing this month!

Total Cost of Repairs: $2505

New Non-Essentials:

Superchips Tune - $545

Total Cost of Additions: $607

Total Cost To Date: $3112

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