BMW 3 Series

BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series is a entry-level luxury car/compact executive car manufactured by the German automaker BMW since May 1975. It was the successor to the 2002 coupe, and has now been produced in five different incarnations and a no less than five different bodystyles. The 3 Series is BMW's best selling automobile, accounting for nearly 40% of all automobiles sold by the company in 2005.

The 3 Series is the best selling foreign luxury sedan in the United States — 98,000 vehicles were sold in 2005.

Social and marketing significance

Being an accessible prestige-badge car, the 3 Series' reputation grew from its humble beginnings, winning numerous awards and honors throughout the automotive world. By the early 21st century, the E46 3 Series was the best-selling car of its segment (premium middle class cars),as commonplace in Asia and America as in Europe, while maintaining its prestigious brand and image.

The 3 series has also maintained BMW's racing heritage. The M version of the 3 series, M3, debuted in the 1980s as an industry first "track ready" luxury sports car (FIA Group A racing). Marketed as a daily driver and a track ready race car, the M3 grew in popularity quickly; this has furthered the 3 series brand awareness as a class-leading "sport sedan".


In 1968, an article appeared in Car and Driver praising the BMW 2002 for its European style and driving characteristics. Historically, BMW got its start in the American market in New York City when Austrian born importer Max Hoffman began selling imported BMWs.

Max Hoffman, often referred to as the "father" of the import car business, was a famous New York Car Dealer/Importer who is largely responsible for the US sports car resurgence of the 40's and 50's. He imported sports cars to the US and made them available after WW II. Hoffman helped sponsor amateur sports car racing in the US and encouraged the European manufacturers to respond to the emerging US sports car market. Hoffman influenced BMW product marketing (as well as other German made cars )in the US for many years.

The success of the 2002 led to the founding of BMW North America in 1975. And shortly thereafter a new model was introduced that furthered this concept of performance and practicality – the BMW 3 Series. This new model was a direct descendant of the 2002. The 3 series is the most successful of BMW models, a trend that will likely continue well into the future.

3 Series vehicles can be largely differentiated by the underlying platform:

E21, 1975-1983

The E21 line was produced from May 2, 1975 (1977 in the USA) through 1983. Originally a replacement for the 2002 coupe, the first 3-Series was a 2-door model only. The New Class sedans would be replaced by the 5 Series. A factory authorised cabrio version was built by Baur.


  • for Europe
    • 1981-1983 315 - 1.6 L M41 I4,
    • 1975-1979 316 - 1.6 L M41 I4,
    • 1980-1983 316 - 1.8 L M10B18 I4,
    • 1975-1980 318 - 1.8 L M42 I4,
    • 1979-1983 318i - 1.8 L M42 I4,
    • 1975-1979 320/4 - 2.0 L M64 I4,
    • 1975-1979 320i - 2.0 L M10B20 I4,
    • 1979-1982 320/6 - 2.0 L M20B20 I6,
    • 1978-1982 323i - 2.3 L M20B23 I6,
  • for the rest of world
    • 1976-1979 320i - 2.0 L M43/1 I4,
    • 1980-1983 320i - 1.8 L M42 I4,

E30, 1982-1994

The E30 was sold from 1982 through 1991 in sedan form, through 1993 in convertible form. The E30's introductory price of US$18,210 was nearly double that of the E21 just 7 years earlier, but the availability of a six cylinder engine and 4-door body style (in 1984) earned sales. The torquey "eta" six in the 325e produced 121 hp (90 kW), but met the strict emission standards of the time. The E30 was the most powerful compact BMW offered in the United States since the 2002 Tii.

The lineup was joined in 1985 by the high-output 325i and 325is. Though the engine displacement was reduced to 2.5 L, output was up to 168 hp (125 kW) as the company focused on performance rather than economy. The rev limit for the new motor was raised from 5000 rpm to 6500 rpm, as a shorter stroke was employed with the new motor.

The 325is was an upgrade from the standard 325i, as some new features were added to the car as standard. These included the full electrics package, BMW sports seats, black roof-liner, BMW M-technic II body kit, BMW 14 inch BBS wheels and a Close Ratio gearbox. Other features also found on the 325is were options, however over time, some have been mistaken for standard features. These options include a Limited Slip Differential (LSD), leather interior, sunroof and BMW 15 inch BBS wheels. Options differed on vehicles produced in the United States.

An all wheel drive version, the 325ix, joined the lineup for 1986. The four-cylinder 318 was dropped in 1985, but was brought back with a new, 1.8L DOHC motor (M42B18) for 1991.

In 1989, BMW introduced the touring version of the E30. It was very popular during its production up to 1994. It was available with a 1.6, 1.8, 2.0 or 2.5 liter engine. The 325ix touring was equipped with 4WD.

The most powerful American BMW E30 in 1989 came in the form of the M3. It used a 192 hp (143 kW) S14 straight-4 with a 4-valve head adapted from the M88 six and Bosch fuel injection.


   * 1982-1987 316 - 1.6 L M98 I4, 90 hp (66 kW)
   * 1982-1990 316 1.8 - 1.8 L M10B18 I4, 90 hp (66 kW)
   * 1987-1993 316i - 1.6 L M40B16 I4, 102 hp (75 kW)
   * 1982-1987 318i - 1.8 L M10B18 I4, 105 hp (77 kW)
   * 1987-1993 318i - 1.8 L M40B18 I4, 115 hp (85 kW)
   * 1989-1991 318is - 1.8 L M42B18 I4, 136 hp (100 kW)
   * 1982-1985 320i - 2.0 L M20B20 I6, 125 hp (92 kW)
   * 1985-1991 320i - 2.0 L M20B20 I6, 129 hp (95 kW)
   * 1988-1990 320is - 2.0 L S14 I4, 192 hp (141 kW)
   * 1982-1986 323i - 2.3 L M20B23 I6, 150 hp (110 kW)
   * 1985-1991 325i - 2.5 L M20B25 I6, 170 hp (125 kW)
   * 1986-1991 325iX - 2.5 L M20B25 I6, 170 hp (125 kW)
   * 1986-1988 M3 - 2.3 L S14 I4, 200 hp (147 kW)
   * 1989-1991 M3 Evo - 2.5 L S14 I4, 215 hp (158 kW)
   * 1985-1991 324d - 2.4 L M21 I6, 86 hp (63 kW)
   * 1987-1991 324td - 2.4 L M21 I6, 115 hp (85 kW)

Other markets:

   * 1984-1985 318i - 1.8 L M10B18 I4, 101 hp (75 kW) - North America
   * 1991 318iS - 1.8 L M42B18 I4, 134 hp (100 kW) - North America
   * 1984-1991 325e - 2.7 L M20B27 I6, 121 hp (90 kW) - North America
   * 1986-1991 325es - 2.7 L M20B27 I6, 121 hp (90 kW) - North America
   * 1987-1991 325i/is - 2.5 L M20B25 I6, 168 hp (125 kW) - North America
   * 1988-1991 325ix - 2.5 L M20B25 I6, 168 hp (125 kW) - North America
   * 1988-1991 M3 - 2.3 L S14 I4, 192 hp (143 kW) - North America
   * 1984-1990 333i - 3.2 L M30 I6, 197 hp (145 kW) - South Africa
   * 1989-1991 325iS - 2.7 L, 197 hp (145 kW) - South Africa
   * 1991-1992 325iS - 2.7 L, 210 hp (155 kW) - South Africa

E36, 1991-1998

Also known as the "Dolphin shape." The E36 was sold from 1991 through 1999. It employed the "Z-axle" multilink suspension in the rear which had been proven in the Z1. DOHC engines were used across the range, with VANOS variable valve timing introduced in 1993.

The four-door E36 was sold from Autumn, 1991 but the E30 coupes were retained until well into 1992. The E36 convertible was delayed until 1994. The hatchback 318ti Compact was introduced in 1995, was not very popular in Europe and even less successful in North America. The BMW Compact was identical to the regular E36 sedan from front bumper to A-Pillar. Everything else was unique, namely its rear semi-trailing arm suspension, based on the old E30, instead of the Z-Axle Multilink employed in all other E36's. The Z3 and M Coupe have similar rear suspension setups as well. The "Touring" station wagon was sold in Europe from 1995.

The 2.5 L M50B25 used in the 325i models was replaced in 1996 with the 2.8 L M52B28, creating the 328i line. A less powerful 2.5 L engine, the M52B25 was sold as 323i rather than 325i.

The 4-door 3 Series models were replaced after 1998 in the US, while the 2-door models lasted through 1999.


E46, 1999-2006

The E46 chassis began to replace the E36 specification for 1998. Only the 4-door sedans were updated that year. The E36 coupé and touring models lasted one more year until the E46 replacements arrived for model year 2000. The 2.8 L cars were called 328 while 2.5 L cars got the confusing 323 name. The new M54 engines appeared for 2001; with the new 3.0 L 330 replacing the 328, BMW renamed the 2.5 L car the 325. Also in 2001, the compact 3-door version appeared on the European market, but it was replaced in 2004 by the 1 series. During the second half of 2005 the E46 sedan and touring were phased out in favour of the new E90. The E46 coupé and convertible remained in production well into 2006. The E46 Coupe & Convertible used a "Ci," standing for coupe/injection, instead of just "i". The E46 all-wheel-drive (AWD) cars used the "xi" designation to show the cars included BMW's xDrive system


  • Europe and other markets
  • 1998-2001 320d - 1951 cc,
  • 2001-2006 320d - 1995 cc,
  • 1998-2003 330d - 2926 cc,
  • 2003-2006 330d - 2993 cc,
  • US-only models
    • 1999-2000 323i - 2.5 L M52B25 T,
    • 1999-2000 328i - 2.8 L M52B28 T,
    • 2001-2006 325i - 2.5 L M54B25,
    • 2003-2005 325i - 2.5 L M56B25,
    • 2001-2006 330i - 3.0 L M54B30,
    • 2003-2006 330i performance pkg - 3.0 L M54B30,
    • 2001-2006 M3 - 3.2 L S54B32,

E90/91/92/93, 2006-present

The E90 is the new body style available from MY2006 to present, and is available as the sport sedan (E90), sport wagon (E91), sport coupe (E92), and sport coupe convertible (E93). The E90 series is completely re-engineered from the E46, including changes to motor choices, transmission, the passenger compartment comfort, suspension technology, as well as a host of High-Tech features and options.

Currently, four engine options are offered, two being part of the new 'N' series of BMW inline engines featuring a host of new technologies. Technological innovations such as lightweight magnesium/aluminum construction, electric water pump, Valvetronic (steplessly variable valve lift), and Double-VANOS steplessly variable valve timing all contribute to produce a lighter and more powerful motor than its predecessor, but yield a 15% increase in fuel economy. The E90 also marks BMW's return to Turbo Technology with the introduction of the E92 coupe. The N54 engine produces and torque.

The E90 series also marks another first for BMW -- a retractable hard top convertible.

Sales of the E90 have been very strong in Britain. In 2007, a record total of more than 58,000 examples were sold and it was the seventh most popular car in Britain.

For the US market, the MY 2006 325i and 330i are both powered by the same 3.0 L N52 engine, but the 330i features revised engine software and improved intake and exhaust systems to produce an additional 40 hp (255 vs. 215). MY2007 marks a motor change to increase the power from the motors, therefore a change to the badging of the vehicles. Canada also gets a 323i model which has a detuned 2.5 L gasoline-injected inline-six producing 200 hp (149 kW). The new 335i uses a twin-turbo powerplant, also seen on the 1 and 5 series models.

The 3-Series is manufactured at plants in South Africa and Germany, and is also assembled in Egypt for the local market only.

By late 2008 the 3 Series will have fresh new facelift on its sedan and touring. The differences from the current model are that the new sedan and touring will have L-shaped taillights similar in design to the newly launched 7-Series, and the headlights will have a more devilish look and more detail through its body parts and interiors.


  • 316i - 1.6 L I4,
  • 318i - 2.0 L I4, , from 2008
  • 320i - 2.0 L I4, , from 2008
  • 320si - 2.0 L I4, , production limited to 2600 units
  • 323i - 2.5 L I6, , exclusive for Australia, Canada and South Africa, from 2008
  • 325i - 2.5 L I6, , in US (and in Europe from 2008) 3.0 L I6
  • 328i - 3.0 L I6, , not available in Europe
  • 330i - 3.0 L I6, , in Coupé (and sedan from 2008)
  • 335i - 3.0 L twin-turbo I6,
  • M3 - 4.0 L V8,
  • 318d - 2.0 L turbo diesel I4, , from 2008
  • 320d - 2.0 L turbo diesel I4, , from 2008
  • 325d - 3.0 L turbo diesel I6,
  • 330d - 3.0 L turbo diesel I6, , from 2008
  • 335d - 3.0 L twin-turbo diesel I6, , from 2008


The 3 Series has been on Car and Driver magazine's annual Ten Best list 17 times, from 1992 through 2008, making it the longest running entry in the list The E90 was named "Best New Sports Sedan" in the 2006 Canadian Car of the Year awards. Also, it was awarded the World Car of the Year at the New York Auto Show in 2006.


The original E30 M3 is considered one of the most successful race cars ever, and is still competitive in several series.

The E36 320d won the 24 Hours Nürburgring in 1998, after the M3 had won in the previous years.

The World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) is one of the FIA's three World Championships (along with Formula One and the World Rally Championship). Andy Priaulx and BMW Team UK won the WTCC in 2005 in an E46 3-series, while the E90 3-series repeated this feat in 2006. The 3-Series' rear-wheel drive layout and design have both been attributed to its victory, though in Touring Car Racing, as almost every other motor sport, the skill driver and their team tactics are also important.

The 3-Series cars in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) and other touring car championships have been penalized under racing rules for being rear-wheel drive and thus having better grip than its front-wheel drive competitors. For example, the 320si has been penalized in the WTCC in previous seasons in order to keep the sport competitive with the rest of the grid (Ford Focus, Chevrolet Lacetti, SEAT Leon, Alfa Romeo 156). Despite these ballast weight penalties, the 320si's of the British, German and Italian/Spanish teams continually win races and points. However, in the middle of the 2002 European Touring Car Championship (ETCC) season, FIA changed the handicap rules to add an extra 15 kg ballast to front-wheel drive cars (such as the Alfa Romeo 156) and the ballast in rear-wheel drive cars (including BMW) was reduced by . Today, the WTCC series has a rolling start to eliminate the benefit of better grip that rear-wheel drive cars have from a standing start.

The BMW 3-Series is currently used in both the SCCA Pro Racing Speed World Challenge Touring Car Series and the Grand American Road Racing Association Series. In the final 2006 Grand Am standings, BMW finished second in the manufacturer's standings in both the Grand Sport and Street Tuner classes, while E46 BMWs prepared by Turner Motorsport won the driver's and team championships.


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