The BMW 3 Series is a range of compact executive cars available since 1975. As the successor to the BMW 02 series, including the popular 2002 model, the 3 Series is one of BMW’s most popular offerings, now in its seventh generation of design.
BMW 3 Series Design and Introduction
The first BMW 3 Series (E21) was introduced in 1975 at the Munich Olympic Stadium. The design featured a BMW trademark kidney-shaped grille and Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar. In an effort to show how the 3 Series is a driver-focused vehicle, the center console and dashboard were angled toward the driver for increased visibility and a driver-first mentality that has stretched many decades. Many engine options were available in the first generation 3 Series, including a 1.6L inline-4 engine producing up to 90 PS and 91 lb ft of torque, a 1.8L inline-4 with 105 PS, and a 2.3L fuel-injected inline-6 with 143 PS and 140 lb ft of torque.
Second and Third Generation Changes
The second generation 3 Series (E30) was released in 1982, including both coupe and convertible body styles, plus an all-new 5-door wagon variant. It was under development since 1976, under Claus Luthe’s leadership with Boyke Boyer handling the exterior design. One of the biggest updates was a revised suspension engineering which was used to correct the reported oversteer. A variety of 4 and 6-cylinder engines were available, including a 1.8L inline-4 with up to 111 horsepower and 119 lb ft of torque, a 2.7L staight-6 with 148 horsepower and 151 lb ft of torque. And a 2.5L straight-4 used in the M3 Sport Evo with 235 horsepower and 177 lb ft of torque. When 1990 rolled around, the third generation 3 Series (E36) was released, which added a hatchback variant to the extensive lineup. Driver, passenger, and side impact airbags were available, plus ABS braking and stability control to top out the safety features. The all-wheel drive option was dropped, while a multi-link rear suspension was a significant upgrade for the E36, which received much acclaim and made it on Car and Driver magazine’s 10 Best list for the entire production run. The engines included a variety of 4 and 6-cylinder offerings, with the most powerful being the M3 Euro Spec 6-cylinder engine with 321 horsepower and 258 lb ft of torque. 5 and 6-speed manual transmissions were available, along with 4 and 5-speed automatic options.
Fourth and Fifth Generation Updates
The fourth generation BMW 3 Series (E46) was released in 1997, after being in design since 1993. BMW wishes to keep the aggressive styling, but add more aerodynamic features to 3 Series style. They used a 70% more rigid body shell and increased aluminum materials to achieve a better weight distribution, and also reintroduced the all-wheel drive x-series as an option for the 3 Series lineup. A CAN bus system was used in this generation for the first time, along with a variety of engine options including a 1.8L, 1.9L, 2.0L, and 3.2L. The most powerful was the M3 CSL’s 3.2L inline-6 that produced 355 horsepower and 273 lb ft of torque. In 2004, the fifth generation 3 Series (E90/E91/E92/E93) was released. It was a larger and higher performing vehicle as compared to the outgoing E46, and also received a wide array of cosmetic changes to complement the new updates. Engine choices still included a wide variety of straight-4 and straight-6 options, but in 2008, the M3 took on an oversized V8 engine for the first time, with a whopping 414 horsepower and 300 lb ft of torque. Other 3 Series offerings ranged anywhere from 121 horsepower to 302 horsepower.
Sixth Generation Release
The sixth generation (F30/F31/F34/F35) was released in 2011, which dropped the coupe and convertible options which were now given the 4 Series nameplate. The sedan, wagon, and fastback remained 3 Series offerings. BMW introduced forced induction turbochargers for the first time in this generation of 3 Series, boosting lower-trim levels to 134 horsepower and giving the larger models upwards of 322 horsepower in the non-M variants. The M3 CS, first available in 2018, featured the most powerful straight-6 engine with 453 horsepower and 440 lb ft of torque.
Seventh Generation Features
The current, seventh generation 3 Series (G20) was released as a 2019 model year, in the sedan and wagon versions. A flat, covered underbody reduces drag, which a 50:50 weight distribution is still achieved. iDrive 6.0 is fitted as standard with a Live Cockpit Professional available on the iDrive 7.0 upgrade. A digital key system allows drivers to use NFC communication to control the door locks, while a wireless charging tray and options parking assistant system are available options. The G20 has a variety of engine options, including turbocharged 2.0L inline-4 with up to 248 horsepower and a turbocharged inline-6 3.0L with 456 horsepower in the Alpina B3.