BMW 3 Series

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BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series - from the old to the new
AssemblyLeipzig, Germany
Munich, Germany
Regensburg, Germany
Rosslyn, South Africa
Cairo, Egypt
Kaliningrad, Russia
Shenyang, China
PredecessorBMW 2002
ClassCompact executive car
ManualsService Manual

The BMW 3 Series is an entry-level luxury car/compact executive car manufactured by the German automaker BMW since May 1975. Successor to the 2002 coupe, it has been produced in five different generations and in no less than five different body styles. It is BMW's best selling automobile, accounting for nearly 40% of the company's auto sales in 2005.

Social and marketing significance

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 honors. [1] Three decades later, the 3 Series' E46 was the best-selling of its class,[2]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 1988.[3] Marketed as a daily driver and a track ready race car, M3's popularity as a sports sedan raised customer awareness of the 3 series brand.


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

E21, 1975-1983

Early BMW 3 Series
Body style(s)2-door coupe
2-door convertible
LayoutFR layout
PlatformBMW E21
Main article: BMW 3 Series (E21)

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. The series was superseded by the BMW E30 platform.

The cockpit design of the E21 marked the introduction of a new design concept, 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: with 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 two litre version of the M20 engine. The 323i model was introduced, featuring 2.3 litres and 143 bhp (107 kW; 145 PS) , empowering this car with a top speed of approximately 190 km/h (118 mph). 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 90 bhp (67 kW; 91 PS) carburetor engine in the 316, while addition of Bosch K Jetronic fuel injection to the 1.8 litre engine raised the 318i to 105 bhp (78 kW; 106 PS).

Since there was now also room for a new entry-level model, the 315 powered by a 75 bhp (56 kW; 76 PS) 1.6 litre M10 engine made its appearance in 1981.

E30, 1982-1992

BMW E30 coupe
Body style(s)2-door coupe
2-door convertible
4-door sedan
5-door station wagon
LayoutFront engine, rear-wheel drive / All-wheel drive
PlatformBMW E30
RelatedBMW M3
Main article: BMW 3 Series (E30)

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 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 liter engine and also 2.4 liter turbo diesel. 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.

E36, 1991-1998

E36 BMW 3 Series
Body style(s)2-door coupe
2-door convertible
3-door hatchback
4-door sedan
5-door station wagon
LayoutFront engine, rear-wheel drive
PlatformBMW E36
RelatedBMW M3
Main article: BMW 3 Series (E36)

The E36 automobile platform was the basis for the 1991-2000 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.

The 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.

E46, 1999-2004

BMW E46 sedan
Body style(s)2-door coupe
2-door convertible
3-door hatchback
4-door sedan
5-door station wagon
LayoutFront engine, rear-wheel drive / All-wheel drive
PlatformBMW 3 Series (E46)
RelatedBMW M3
Main article: BMW 3 Series (E46)
2002 E46 Sedan Facelift
2002 E46 Sedan Facelift

The E46 automobile platform is the fourth generation of BMW's 3 Series entry-level luxury car / compact executive car. The sedan was introduced in 1998 and replaced the E36 sedan the same year. The touring and coupé models appeared in 1999 with BMW's newly designed steptronic transmissions (available in all 3 series models), and the convertible and M3 later in 2000. The E46 Compact, a 3-door hatchback, was revealed in 2001 to be sold in European and Australian markets.

XDrive was introduced as an option for model year 2001.

In 2000, the E46 lineup received an engine boost when the new M54 engines appeared for Model Year 2001 cars; with the new 3.0 L 330 replacing the 328, BMW renamed the 2.5 L car the 325. 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 6 speed manual or SMG transmission. 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 trunk. The exterior of the M3 had wider fenders and "M styled" bumpers, side skirts, mirrors, a protruding hood, spoiler, and the new tradition of M marked grills on the front fenders 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 sedan underwent a facelift in 2002, which included re-designed headlights, new bumpers and a stiffer chassis. Also, the 316i and 318i models received new, more powerful engines. Then in 2004 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 1 Series was launched in September 2004. In mid-2005 the E46 sedans 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 coupé, convertible and M3 until the E92 coupé and E93 convertible was revealed in late 2006. The new M3 coupé 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 platform, it was chosen for Car and Driver Magazine's "10 Best Cars" every year of its production. See Car and Driver Ten Best.

E90/91/92/93, 2005-present

E90 BMW 3-Series
Body style(s)2-door coupe
2-door convertible
4-door sedan
5-door station wagon
LayoutFront engine, rear-wheel drive / all-wheel drive
PlatformBMW 3 Series (E90)
RelatedBMW M3
Main article: BMW 3 Series (E90)
2008 E90 Sedan Facelift
2008 E90 Sedan Facelift

The E90 is the currently available generation, which debuted for the 2006 model year, and is available as the sedan (E90), wagon (E91), coupe (E92), and coupe cabriolet (E93). It is completely re-engineered from the E46, including changes to engines, transmission, the passenger compartment, suspension technology, as well as a host of High-Tech features and options. The coupé/cabriolet body is now its own design and no longer derived from the sedan minus two doors unlike its predecessors, being longer and narrower than its E90 counterpart. The lineup received a mid-generational facelift for the 2009 model year.

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 300 bhp (224 kW; 304 PS) and 300 lb·ft (410 N·m) 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 vehicles were sold and it was the seventh most popular car in Britain. [1]

For the US market, the 2006 model year 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). The 2007 model year introduced the 3-series coupe and with it two updated engines for the new 328i and 335i models, which marked an increase in power over previous offerings and became available for the 3-series sedan as well. Canada also received a 323i sedan which has a detuned 2.5 L gasoline-injected inline-six producing 200 hp (149 kW); the 323i lacks features/options available to more expensive 3 Series models such as Xenon headlamps, fog lights, automatic climate control, and power-adjustable seats.

Future models

The next full revision of the 3 Series is expected in 2012. Updates are reported to include hybrid drivetrain technology.[5]


The 3 Series has been on Car and Driver magazine's annual Ten Best list 18 times, from 1992 through 2009, making it the longest running entry in the list [2]. 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[who?] 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 (33 lb) 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 15 kilograms (33 lb).[6] 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.


External links