The E36 automobile platform was the basis for the 1990-2000 BMW 3 Series entry-level luxury car / compact executive car. It was the successor to the BMW E30 and was eventually replaced by the BMW E46 in 1999. The 4 door models were discontinued for 1999. Replacing it was the all-new E46. The 2 door E36 was still made for the 1999 year. So in 1999 you could only choose between a 2 door E36 and a 4 door E46. In 2000, the E36 was officially discontinued. The E36 was introduced in late 1990 (1991 model) for Europe and as a 1992 model for US and Canada.
E36 experienced enormous success in the market. It laid strong foundations for the success that the BMW E46 experienced in subsequent years.
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, in the United States 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 very popular in Europe, but it was not very 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, but was not offered in the United States.
The 2.5 L M50B25 used in the 325 models was replaced in 1996 with the 2.8 L M52B28, creating the 328 line. Another 2.5 L engine, the M52B25, was reintroduced for 1998 but the cars were sold as 323 rather than 325.
The 4-door 3 Series models were replaced after 1998 in the US, while the 2-door models lasted through 1999.
Each model is followed by its particular engine code.
BMW made an entry level version of the E36 called the BMW Compact, a three-door hatchback. This platform is often referred to as the E36/5. In the United States/Canada market the car was sold as the 318ti and was equipped with a 1.8 L, 139 bhp M44B19 engine and was priced at USD23,000 in 1995. In 1996 the 1.8 liter engine was replaced with 1.9L putting out and of torque. Ostensibly due to slow US sales of the E36/5 Compact, the E46 Compact was not sold in the United States.
Even though the BMW factory was producing its own E36 convertibles, the Baur "Top Cabriolet" conversion was still available, possibly out of respect for the long association of the two firms.
Among BMW enthusiasts, the E36 platform is considered one of the best BMW designs of the past 20 years. Sales figures for 3 Series coupes, sedans, and convertibles were at all time highs in North America and Europe. BMW achieved a strong market identity and presence due to the E36's high quality and "really fun to drive" character. The car is however criticised by some for departing from the previous E30 model, which was lighter, smaller, and considered to be more of a pure-bred sports car by enthusiasts.