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Feb 15, 2017
History of BMW 3-Series

BMW 3 Series Generation to Generation Overview According to the Production Codes

BMW has produced hundreds of models and model Series in past 100 years but the list of legends and evergreen models is very short where BMW 3 Series in the relatively new products took the first position on scales, fan base and sales.

BMW 3 Series was initially introduced as a luxury car but you will be amazed that the BMW 3 Series was the only class so far that was being offered in number of body styles from saloon to convertible and coupes.

Since its launch in second quarter of the year 1975, it is flying high and still shining very bright on the horizons of the sales. It was introduced as a successor to the 2 Series and so far it seen its six generations and seventh generation is also due in 2020 and will probably be called G20 Series.

Initially, the BMW 3 Series was introduced in 2 door saloon and afterwards the expansion continued and BMW 3 Series was blessed with 4 doors saloons, 2 doors converted into coupes and convertibles and there were 5 door station wagons and estates were introduced and for the small families and individuals there were 5 door hatchbacks being offered.

The legendary BMW 3 Series has something for everyone. Once the convertible coupes were using the BMW 3 Series badge but later on BMW decided to give the convertibles their own identity and they were pushed under the 4 Series badge, therefore the convertibles and coupes are not the part of BMW 3 Series anymore.

BMW 3 Series enjoyes around one third sales portion of BMW’s annual total sales and it is the best-selling BMW across the globe especially in the UK and Europe. Not only that it is a sales giant but it has a great production line and throughout its history, it has won several awards as well.

The BMW 3 Series has also been introduced with the M performance treatment and it was first applied on the E30 Series and was introduced in 1998 under the M3’s badge. Let’s go through the generations of BMW 3 Series and check what generation of BMW 3 Series you have or drove in the past.

BMW 3 Series E21, First generation, 1975–1981

The first generation of the BMW 3 Series was introduced in 1975 with the compact luxury vehicle and was initially offered as a 2-door saloon to replace the 02 Series. This generation was in action and was being sold in the UK and Europe till 1981. At launch, all models were fitted with four-cylinder engines and all engines were using carbureted fuel delivery system.

However in the late 75, fuel injected models were introduced and in 1977, BMW 3 Series was introduced with 6-cylinder engines to give it a power boost. From 1978 to 1981, BMW 3 Series cabriolet body style was offered.

The first generation of BMW 3 Series was powered by a bunch of BMW 3 Series engines where the smallest engine was 1.5-litre M10, it was a 4 cylinder engine followed by same family of engines with 1.6-litre M10, 1.8-litre M10, and 2.0-litre M10, 4 cylinder engines and 2.0-litre M10 4 cylinder and 2.3-litre M10 engines. You can say that an engine for everyone. In 1982, the BMW 3 Series E21 generation was declared retired and was replaced by the second generation of E30 3 Series.

BMW 3 Series E30, Second Generation, 1982–1991

At the start, the BMW 3 Series E30 was manufactured as a 2-door saloon body style. In preceding years, BMW added the 4-door saloons, convertible, estate and touring body styles into the E30 Series. A range of BMW engines was introduced including both 4-cylinder and straight-6 engines to power the BMW 3 Series E30 models.

A diesel engine was introduced in the 3 Series for the first-time. The E30 was the first Series to regularly introduce the BMW M performance cars and the BMW M3 title was first applied on the E30 Series and was introduced in 1998. There were high revving S14 engines introduced on the E30 Series with 4 cylinders.

These engines were capable of producing 235bhp of power in the final generation. The E30 was also the first Series that has used the all-wheel drive technology. The 325ix was the first model to get benefit of the technology. In the late 1990, the saloon version was replaced with the new generation saloon but the cabriolet version was replaced in 1993.

After the E21 GENERATION of the BMW 3 Series in 1982, the E30 was fitted with the M10 straight-four and the M20 straight-six engines. Over the invention of new technologies, the M10 was substituted with the M40 and M42 engine family, the M20 engines also received several advancements and the high revving S14 engines were make known to in the M3 cars.

BMW 3 Series was the initial family car that has used a six-cylinder diesel later; originally the diesel engine was a naturally aspirated unit. There were eight different transmissions were offered in the E30 Series out of which there were three automatic and five manual were offered.

BMW 3 Series E36, Third generation, 1992–1998

The BMW 3 Series E36 was manufactured in saloon, coupe, convertible, estate and touring body styles along with hatchback or Compact body styles for the individuals. BMW 3 Series compact or hatchback was introduced in 1994 for the European countries and the UK but it was introduced to the United States in 1994. The hatchback started from 318i or 318ti.

These versions were very famous in the Europe and the UK.  It was a real failure in the U.S. and North America even the BMW factory was producing its own E3 cars at that tie in the states. The touring estates were not introduced to the states, however from 1995, the touring estate models were offered to the Europe and the UK.

The BMW 3 Series E36 was introduced with the first sequential manual transmission or SMG and these gearboxes were first debuted in the E36 M3. The E3 has laid a strong foundation for the coming generations and it has proven itself a real success in the Europe and the UK.

The E36 was the first Series that was started appearing in the top automotive magazines and the lists of top 10 best cars etc. it was the actual period when the era of success was started for the BMW 3 Series and it has gained the altitude.

On the engines page, initially, the 4-cylinder engines were introduced in the BMW 3 Series E36, these engines were acquired from the E30 Series but now with the M40 SOHC engine technology and on the M42, DOHC engine technology was introduced. In 1993, the M40 engines family was swapped by the M43 SOHC engines. In 1996, the M42 engines were again swapped by the M44 DOHC engines.

Initially, as a powerful source of the energy, the BMW 3 Series M50 engines were used. The M50TU VANOS was added to the engine lineup in 1993, which was especially designed for the higher torque ratings but with the previous peak power because it was left unchanged.

In 1994, the M52 engine were also taken over by the M50TU, introduced in the 328i model and replaced in the 325i and the introduction of a new 323i model. The BMW 3 Series 322i was also powered by a 2.5 litre version of the M52 engine.

The 3.0 litre L S50 engine was introduced in 1992 in the BMW M3 but in 1995, its power generation capability was amplified to 3.2 L and a single VANOS was also fitted to the exhaust camshaft. Initially, in the E36 325td saloons, the straight-6 M51 turbo engine was offered.

The 325tds saloon was fitted with an intercooler to its M51 engines. In 1994, the 318tds model was announced and introduced soon after with the 4-cylinder M41 turbo engines and intercooled engines. Again, the diesel powered E36 325td saloon was not introduced in the U.S. because the diesel engines were proved a real failure.

E46, Fourth Generation, 1998–2005

The fourth generation of the 3 Series was introduced in 1998 under the production code of E46. The E46 Series was included saloons, coupes and convertibles along with the hatchbacks and wagons, a full range of vehicles and body styles.

The 3 Series E46 was then blessed with the ultra advance xDrive technology, it was introduced after an absence of around two decades. The xDrive was introduced in the 3 Series 325i and 330i saloon and estates and these models were renamed as 325i-xdrive and 330i-xdrive.

The all new E46 was introduced as a performance benchmark for the currently available cars of its class. It was the second generation that was enjoying the universal success and achieved a record of top sales in the history of the 3 Series and it was the year 2002, when 561,249 3 Series vehicles were sold globally.

The leading rivals during the E46 production period were the Audi A4, Alfa Romeo 156, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, followed by Saab 9-3, Toyota Altezza, and the Volvo S60. The power version of the 3 Series E46, M3 was offered with the BMW S54 straight-six engine.

The M3 was introduced in 2001 and was offered in two body styles for the first time, coupé and convertible body styles were introduced. The 6-speed “SMG-II” sequential manual transmission was introduced on the E46 and it was available with a 6-speed manual configuration.

The Fifth Generation 3 Series E90/E92/E93 M3 2005–2013

Just like the previous generations of the 3 Series, the fifth-generation 3 Series was introduced in all available body types including the saloon, estate, coupe and cabriolet styles and it was first generation when separate production odes were used to differentiate the different versions.

This generation is largely based on the entry level luxury cars, and was in action till 2013. There were different body styles in the range where 4 door saloon under E90 production code, estate was marketed as touring and production code was E91. Coupe was marketed under E92 code and the cabriolet was given E93 production code.

As the every version has different production code and the entire Series is largely named as E9X SERIES to describe the fifth generation. First 3 Series turbocharged petrol engine was introduced in the fifth generation and 335i was the first car that used this engine. The fifth generation was also the first generation that was offered with low profile run flat tyres in the UK and the Europe.

BMW S65 v8 engines were introduced on the E90, E92, E93 and the M3 versions. These engines were claimed as the most updated engines in the class and were released in 2007 in the 3 Series saloon, coupe and cabriolet versions.

The Sixth generation, F30 and F31 2012 – present

The F30 and F31 have been manufactured in the saloon, station wagon and 5-door fastback or the Gran Turismo body styles. In Chinese auto markets a long wheelbase saloon was also introduced and was remained very successful. For the F30 and F31 Series, the 2 door coupe and convertible models were torn apart from the 3 Series production line and produced and sold as the BMW 4 Series in the UK and Europe markets.

Since the introduction of the sixth generation of the 3 Series, there were several different things introduced such as the five-door wide body car available. The F30, F31 was the first generation in the history of the 3 Series when the entire 3 Series range was offered with the turbocharged engines.

A plug-in hybrid drive train was first introduced on the 3 Series in 2016; the 3 Series 330e plug-in hybrid drive train model remained very successful. Also in 2016, a 3-cylinder engine was introduced in the 3 Series for the first time.

The M3 type designated F80, the first time, an M3 has been used an isolated model description and it was released in 2014 and the S55 twin-turbo straight-6 engines were offered in these cars to generate a real punch of power. Next generation of the 3 Series is due in 2018 and it will be called G20.

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