The 3 Series is symbolic of BMW's identity as a manufacturer of driver-focused cars
The 3 Series is symbolic of BMW's identity as a manufacturer of driver-focused cars|BMW
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History of the BMW 3 Series | Ready for time travel?

We take you through seven generations of one of the sportiest sedans of its kind – the BMW 3 Series

Suvrat Kothari, Correspondent, evo India

Suvrat Kothari, Correspondent, evo India

The history of the BMW 3 Series stretches across seven generations and 45 years. It’s one of the most admired driver focused sedans to come out of Germany and even today, enthusiasts drool over the earlier generation BMW M3 sedans for their raw and unapologetic performance. With every new generation, the 3 Series encapsulated the traits of the original while bettering and broadening its strengths. To fully understand one of our favourite driver-focused sedans, let’s delve deep into history to see how the Bimmer evolved.

E21 - First Generation – 1975 to 1983

It all began with this, the E21, paving way for an iconic series in the forthcoming years
It all began with this, the E21, paving way for an iconic series in the forthcoming yearsBMW

An era when Golden State Warriors won the 1975 NBA championship and The Godfather Part 2 smashed box-office collections. Meanwhile, the first ever BMW 3 Series was unveiled at Munich’s Olympic Stadium as a two-door sedan and its characteristics weren’t far from what we see in modern 3 Series sedans. From the day it was born, the 3 Series was unparalleled in terms of dynamic and sporty performance. Power figures ranged between 75-143hp across variants and only two-door sedan and convertible body styles were offered initially. Double-kidney grille, raised rear section and dashboard angled towards the driver were the symbolic design elements.

E30 – Second Generation – 1982 to 1994

My favourite generation of the BMW 3 Series
My favourite generation of the BMW 3 SeriesBMW

Now this was the era when video games like Pac-Man were the rage amongst children and Rocky Balboa was the gym freak’s poster model. E30 generation onwards, all BMW 3 Series sedans got twin headlamps as standard. BMW also introduced the high-performance M3 coupe in 1984. The whole idea was to introduce a racing sedan in a street version. The M3 produced 200hp from a high-revving naturally aspirated 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine. It raced to a 100kmph in just 6.7 seconds and hit a top whack of 235kmph. Enthusiasts lust after the E30 M3 even today.

E36 – Third Generation – 1990 to 2000

Old is gold. The third generation 3 Series looks stunning
Old is gold. The third generation 3 Series looks stunningBMW

Welcome to the age of Metallica and Eagles emerging as some of the top rock bands and families using modems to go online. BMW was building its brand name as one of the finest sports sedan manufacturers and the 3 Series now aligned towards being a coupe, with noticeably sloping A and C pillars. The E36 3 Series comprised of the widest range of body styles including the sedan, coupe, convertible, touring, compact and M3, the latter being offered as sedan, coupe and convertible. Power figures ranged from 99hp to a whopping 321hp in the E36 M3.

E46 – Fourth Generation – 1997 to 2006

The traditional 3 Series look is still admirable
The traditional 3 Series look is still admirable BMW

Titanic hit theatres in 1997 and millions shed tears in memory of the sunken cruise liner, deemed as unsinkable by its own designer. What a waste! What wasn’t a waste, however, was the fact that the standard 3 Series now borrowed the AWD system from the E30 on the 325xi, 330xi and 330xd models. The E46 3 Series produced a minimum of 105hp while maximum power in the M3 was bumped by 36hp to 360hp. Deemed as one of the sexiest, the fourth generation 3 Series saw 32 lakh buyers in its lifetime, becoming the highest selling 3 Series of all time.

E90 – Fifth Generation – 2005 to 2013

The fifth generation was a big step-up in terms of technology
The fifth generation was a big step-up in terms of technologyBMW

Facebook started becoming the talk of every town and teenage video-gamers devoured games like the GTA San Andreas. BMW meanwhile launched a car that went on to win the World Car of the Year award. It was favourite amongst critics, journalists and regular enthusiasts as well. The E90 was longer, taller and wider with aluminium being used generously in the body and suspension to keep the weight down. More upgrades in the chassis included independent front suspension and multi-link rear suspension. The M3 meanwhile featured a V8 engine for the first time, producing 420hp and 400Nm of torque via natural aspiration.

F30 – Sixth Generation – 2011 to 2018

Sixth generation 3 Series borrowed design cues from its bigger siblings
Sixth generation 3 Series borrowed design cues from its bigger siblingsBMW

Climate change starts killing polar bears and sea levels are rising. And the BMW 3 series is now electrified! A range of powertrains underwent hybridization (for international markets) and all engines were now turbo-charged. The 3 Series was redesigned to align with the 5 Series and the 7 Series and one of the striking details was the unison of the headlamps and kidney-grille. A new variant was introduced in the form of the 3 Series GT that added a coupe roofline and a longer wheelbase. In a major rebranding exercise, the M3 coupe and convertible were moved to the 4 series range, and the M3 was solely produced in the sedan body style.

G20 – Seventh Generation – 2018 onwards

The BMW 330i M Sport is a pure driver's car, much like its predecessors
The BMW 330i M Sport is a pure driver's car, much like its predecessorsBMW

‘’Alexa, book an Uber to evo India HQ”. Welcome to the age of artificial intelligence. The latest generation 3 Series meanwhile is ushering a new design language for BMW. It looks sharper and aggressive than before and the same can be said about the way it drives. We drove the 330i M Sport late last year and the Bimmer stays true to its sporty genes. It’s quick and we love the way the chassis is set-up allowing sporty handling. The 3 Series is a proper driver’s car compared to rivals like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A3 that focus more on comfort. With ‘Thrill of Driving’ being our motto, the 3 Series will always be our pick of the lot.

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