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BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series is a compact executive car manufactured by the German automaker BMW since May 1975. Successor to the BMW New Class, it has been produced in six different generations and in five different body styles. It is BMW's best-selling model, accounting for around 30% of the BMW brand's annual total sales (excluding motorbikes).[1]



BMW 3 Series from the old to the new, through E90
BMW 3 Series from the old to the new, through E90
E46, E36, E30
E46, E36, E30
BMW released its E21 in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis, attracting customers seeking both prestige and economy, nearly doubling BMW's worldwide auto sales figures in three years, and winning numerous automotive world awards and honours. The 3 series has also maintained BMW's racing heritage. The M version of the 3 series, M3, debuted in 1988.[2]

There have been six generations; their respective chassis codes are:

  • BMW E21 (1975 1983) 3 Series
  • BMW E30 (1983 1991) 3 Series
  • BMW E36 (1991 2000) 3 Series
  • BMW E46 (1998 2006) 3 Series
  • BMW E90 (2005 2011/EUR, 2006 2011/US) 3 Series saloon
    • BMW E91 (2005 2011/EUR, 2006 2011/US) 3 Series Touring (Sports Wagon)
    • BMW E92 (2007 2011) 3 Series Coup
    • BMW E93 (2007 2011) 3 Series Convertible
  • BMW F30 (2012 ) 3 Series saloon
    • BMW F31 (2012 ) 3 Series Touring (Sports Wagon)

E21, First generation, 1975 1983

The two-door saloon model only. A factory authorised cabrio version was also built by Baur. The series was superseded by the BMW E30 series.

The cockpit design of the E21 marked the introduction of a new design concept for BMW, with the center console angled towards the driver. This feature has become part of BMW s interior design philosophy for many years. As a sign of passive safety, all edges and control elements within the interior were rounded off and padded.

At the E21's release, three models were available: 316 (1.6-litre), 318 (1.8-litre) and 320 (2.0-litre) versions of the BMW M10 four-cylinder engine. To draw clear visual distinction within the new model series, the 320 models came with dual headlights, while the 316 and 318 had single round headlights.

At the 1977 Frankfurt Motor Show, BMW unveiled its new variants of the E21, featuring the new six-cylinder M20 engines. The four-cylinder 320 model was replaced with the 320/6, featuring a 2.0-litre version of the M20 engine. The 323i model was introduced, featuring 2.3 litres and . The braking system was also upgraded, with the 323i featuring disc brakes on all wheels.

For the 1979/80 model year, the four-cylinder models were upgraded: the 1.8-litre power unit was revised and entered the market as a carburetor engine in the 316, while addition of Bosch K Jetronic fuel injection to the 1.8-litre engine raised the 318i to .

Since there was now also room for a new entry-level model, the 315 powered by a 1.6-litre M10 engine made its appearance in 1981.

E30, Second generation, 1982 1991

The E30 was sold from 1982 through 1991 in saloon form, through 1993 in convertible form. The E30's introductory price was nearly double that of the E21 just seven years earlier, but the availability of a six-cylinder engine and four-door body style (in 1984) earned sales. The torquey "eta" six in the 325e produced 121 hp (90 kW) and of torque, 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 augmented 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) but torque dropped to as the company focused on performance rather than economy. The rev limit for the new motor was raised from 5,000 rpm to 6,500 rpm.

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, black roof-liner , BMW "is" body kit, BMW 14 inch BBS "Basketweave" 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 25% Limited Slip Differential, M Sport suspension with Bilstein struts, M-Sport II Steering wheel, BMW sports seats, leather interior, sunroof and BMW 15 inch BBS wheels. Options differed on vehicles produced in the United States.

In 1987 a left hand drive only all-wheel drive version, the 325ix, joined the lineup with a touring version being introduced in late 1987. The 1.8L four-cylinder was dropped in 1985, but was brought back with a new, 1.8 L DOHC motor (M42B18) for 1991.

At the end of 1987, 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-litre engine and also 2.4-litre turbo diesel.

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

A so-called 'run-off model' of the E30 318 was produced in 1990[3] that featured BMW's new 16-valve 136bhp 1.8 engine from the upcoming E36 range that was to replace the E30. This newer engined E30 was named the 318is and came as standard with Recaro interior, black headlining and M-Tech suspension. It was not offered as a four-door model or as a convertible.

E36, Third generation, 1990 1999

The E36 was introduced in 1990 as the successor to the E30. It was eventually superseded by the E46 starting in 1999 for saloons, and 2000 for coup s and cabriolets.

The E36 experienced enormous success in the market. It laid strong foundations for the success that the E46 experienced in subsequent years.

The E36 employed the "Z-axle" multilink suspension in the rear which had been proven in the Z1. VANOS variable valve timing was introduced on the DOHC I6 (inline 6-cylinder) engines in 1993.

The four-door E36 was produced from early 1990, initially for sale in Europe only, and was introduced to other worldwide markets up to a year later. The coupe version was produced from 1991, with the Cabriolet version following in 1992. The three-door hatchback Compact was introduced in 1994 and was moderately popular in Europe. The Compact was identical to the regular E36 saloon 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. BMW developed several prototype five-door versions of the Compact model, but these never entered production. The "Touring" estate also began production in 1994, but was never 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 328i line. Another 2.5 L engine, the M52B25, was reintroduced in 1995 but the cars were sold as 323 rather than 325.

E46, Fourth generation, 1998-2006

The E46 was introduced in 1998, with the saloon version replacing that of the E36 the same year. The initial inline-six engines available were the 2.5 L 323 and 2.8 L 328 (the 323 badge did not match engine displacement but it was numbered as such to increase the spread between both models). The touring and coup models appeared in 1999 with BMW's newly designed steptronic manumatic transmission, and the convertible and M3 later in 2000. The E46 Compact, a three-door hatchback, was revealed in 2001 to be sold in European and Australian markets. xDrive all-wheel drive was introduced as an option in 2001 for left hand drive markets only due to clashes between the running gear and steering rack.

2002 E46 saloon Facelift
2002 E46 saloon Facelift
In 2000, the E46 lineup received an engine boost when the new M54 engines appeared for Model Year 2001 cars replacing the M52TU engines; with the new 3.0 L 330 replacing the 328, and the 2.5 L 325 replaced the 323. Additionally a 2.2 L engine was introduced in the 320i. Outside of the engine and exhaust upgrades, there were few cosmetic changes, the most noticeable being the 330 receiving silver accents on the front fascia.

Also in 2000, the E46 lineup expanded to include the new (model year) 2001 M3 Coupe. The M3 only came in a coupe and convertible (model year 2002) platform, with either a six-speed manual or SMG. Unlike its predecessor, the E46 M3 shared very few parts with the standard 3 series. The exteriors of the two cars only shared the doors, roof, and boot. The exterior of the M3 had wider bumpers and "M styled" bumpers, side skirts, mirrors, a protruding bonnet, spoiler, and the new tradition of M marked grills on the front bumpers and four exhaust pipes. The interior of the M3 was accented with an M steering wheel, seats, rear view mirror, and instrument cluster.

The first major overhaul occurred when the E46 saloon underwent a facelift from September 2001, which included re-designed headlights, new bumpers and a stiffer chassis. Also, the 316i and 318i models received new, more powerful engines. Then from March 2003 the coupe and convertible had a facelift which included new headlights, new front wings and bumpers, new selections in exterior colour, and redesigned sidemarker lights and LED tail lights. The M3s got a much more mild facelift that same year, with the inclusion of the updated boot and LED tail lights from the coupe/convertible.

Despite being introduced last, the E46 compact was the first to be replaced when the 1 Series was launched in September 2004. In mid-2005 the E46 saloons were phased out with the introduction of the new E90 saloons. The E46 touring was also replaced later that year with E91. The E46 remained in production as coup , convertible and M3 until the E92 coup and E93 convertible was revealed in late 2006. The new M3 coup concept was later unveiled in March 2007 during Geneva Motor Show.

The E46 experienced enormous success in all markets and was widely considered the performance benchmark of its class. The record year for the E46 was 2002, when 561,249 vehicles were sold worldwide.[4]

As a credit to the E46 series, it was chosen for Car and Driver Magazine's "10 Best Cars" every year of its production. See Car and Driver Ten Best.

E90, Fifth generation, 2005 2012

Facelift BMW 320i (E91), Europe

The E90 debuted as a saloon (E90) and touring (E91) in March 2005 for the 2006 model year, while the coup (E92) and a retractable hard-top convertible (E93) went on sale in August 2006 for the 2007 model year. It was completely re-engineered from the E46, including changes to engines, transmission, the passenger compartment, suspension technology, as well as the addition of a host of high-tech features and options. The coup /cabriolet body was now its own design and no longer derived from the sedan/wagon (unlike its predecessors), and was slightly longer and narrower with 2+2 seating compared to the saloon and touring which retained the rear three-passenger bench. The retractable hard-top convertible, meanwhile, was a first for the 3 Series.

Currently, twelve engine options are offered, two being part of the new 'N' series of BMW inline engines featuring a host of new technologies. The N52 naturally aspirated inline-six engine (powering the 323i, 325i/xi, 328i/xi, and 330i/xi) features technological innovations such as lightweight magnesium/aluminum construction, electric water pump, Valvetronic (steplessly variable valve lift), and Double-VANOS steplessly variable valve timing contribute to produce a lighter and more powerful motor than its predecessor, but yield a 15% increase in fuel economy. The introduction of the N54 twin turbo inline-6 engine, which produces and torque, marks BMW's return to petrol turbocharging and is found in 335i/xi trims.

Major features include Comfort Access, HID Xenon adaptive headlamps, Active Cruise Control, and Active Steering.

Sales of the E90 have been very strong. In 2007, a record total of more than 58,000 vehicles were sold and it was the seventh most popular car in the United Kingdom.[5] But E90 production ended in October 2011.

The saloon and touring (wagon) received more powerful engines in late 2006 for the 2007 model year, particularly the N54 twin turbo, the same engines available in the E92 coup and E93 convertible that debuted at a similar time. The sedan and wagon got a mid-generational facelift for the 2009 model year which comprised changes to the grille, headlights, bonnet, taillights and boot. In spring 2010, the refreshed coup and convertible were released as 2011 models, with the 335i/xi receiving the new N55 single turbo I6 (with a "TwinPower" twin scroll turbocharger), and a sportier 335is with a tuned N54 engine and an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual.

F30, Sixth generation, 2012

The sixth and current generation of the BMW 3 Series debuted on October 14, 2011 in Munich. The model arrived in showrooms in February 2012. Its exterior is influenced by the F01 7 Series and especially the F10 5 Series. The F30 represents a body style change for the saloon only, while the wagon, coup , and convertible body styles remain unchanged for the 2012 model year.

Technology currently available in the 7 Series and 5 Series is expected to feature in the 2012 3 Series, such as a lane departure warning system, night vision, a system to prevent the driver from falling asleep, and radar-based adaptive cruise control with collision-mitigating automatic braking.

The 2012 3 Series is powered by a new family of aluminum four-cylinder petrol engines ranging from 135 to 245 horsepower. These will include new technologies such as variable intake and exhaust-valve timing, sequential turbochargers, and direct fuel injection. A four-cylinder engine is one of two engine choices available on US-spec models (the last four-cylinder 3 series was the 1999 318ti with a engine).[6] The N52 3.0L naturally aspirated I6 was replaced by the N20 which increased power output ( in the outgoing engine vs. in the new 4-cylinder) and improved fuel economy. The other petrol engines will be four-cylinder turbocharged units displacing either 1.6 or 2.0 litres. High-performance diesels will also feature 2.0-litre twin turbo versions with a 323d, a 325d and a 335d 3.0-litre, inline 6 version. There will also be a hybrid version which augments the transmission with two electric motors and expected fuel savings of 20 percent, a similar powertrain that will be found in the upcoming X5 hybrid, developed in a joint venture with GM, Chrysler, and Daimler. [7]

M version

Awards and recognition

The 3 Series has been on Car and Driver magazine's annual Ten Best list 20 times, from 1992 through 2011, making it the longest running entry in the list.[8] In their December 2009 issue, Grassroots Motorsports magazine named the BMW 3 Series as the second-most important performance car built during the previous 25 years.

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. What Car? also awarded the E90 2006 "Car of the Year". The E90 was also awarded Japan's Import Car of the Year for 2005/06. BMW emerged as the brand winner at the International Engine of the Year Awards for 2007 with its award in the 2.5- to 3.0-litre segment won by the 3.0-litre twin turbo engine, which is found in the BMW 335i.[9] The BMW 320d EfficientDynamics Edition was nominated as finalist of the 2011 World Green Car of the Year, and the winner will be announced at the 2011 New York Auto Show.[10]


The E36 320d won the 24 Hours N rburgring 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 ETCC in 2004, and continued the winning form in WTCC in 2005 in an E46 3 Series, while the E90 3 Series repeated this feat in 2006 and 2007.

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 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 .[11] 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.

Andy Priaulx's BMW 320si (E90) during the 2006 World Touring Car Championship season.
Andy Priaulx's BMW 320si (E90) during the 2006 World Touring Car Championship season.

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.

Production and sales

Calendar year Total production US sales
1995 54,720[12]
1996 50,248
1997 337,800[13]
1998 376,900[13]
1999 454,000[13] 77,138[14]
2000 509,007[13] 89,681
2001 533,952[13] 103,227[15]
2002 561,249[13] 115,428
2003 528,358[13] 111,944[16]
2004 449,732[13] 106,549[17]
2005 434,342[13] 106,950[18]
2006 508,479[13] 120,180
2007 555,219[19] 142,490
2008 474,208[20] 112,464
2009 397,103[21] 90,960[22]
2010 399,009[23] 100,910
2011 94,371[24]


External links

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