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The History and Evolution of the BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series is one of the automaker's finest endeavors, reaching the status of most popular in the brand's line since the history began in 1975. It was well-received by discriminating consumers who have not wavered in providing a consistent demand for each succeeding generation throughout its history. May of 2015 brought the sixth generation of the Series 3 as a powerful testimony of its longevity and the company's ability to apply the necessary modifications and upgrades to satisfy the cravings of BMW fans around the world.

The Original 3 Series

The first ever BMW 3 Series birthed a new generation of sporting compact vehicles. It took the place of the also popular BMW 2002 Coupe, which was no small feat, but it well accomplished its task. The 1975 E21 was released in North America and production commenced in 1976 with the first models rolling off the line in the form of the 1977 model. Also known as the 320i, this was the only version that was created for the American market during the era. It featured a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine. It was a 2 door Sedan that took up a little more space on the road than the recently decommissioned BMW 02. With a total length of 171.5 inches, 63.4 inches in width, 54.3 inches in height, and a wheelbase of 100.9 inches, it fit the bill as the replacement for the popular 02.

The First Generation: BMW 3 Series E21 (320i)

The 2.0 liter cranked out 110 horse power and achieved efficiency through its Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injectors for the inline 4. The car was an immediate sensation in the United States, winning accolades including European car magazine's "the world's best sedan," in its class. The first 3 Series released in the US was rear wheel drive with the classic BMW facade. International sales soar, The worldwide market for the first generation of the 3 series had peaked by 1983, reaching all time highs with a record of 1.4 million units sold worldwide. Variants of the Series 3 included the 316, 318, 320 and the 320i).

The Second Generation: 1983 BMW 3 Series E30, 320i

The E30 launched in 1983 and the version had a very successful run through 1991 in the United States. The second generation became a rage throughout the world. The first to arrive was the BMW 318i E30. It was powered by a 1.8 liter fuel injected 4 cylinder that generated 101 horse power. The speed for the time was admirable moving from 0 to 60 in 11.6 seconds. BMW was at the head of the pack with innovations and classic styling. The price tag of the new version came out as double of its predecessor, but there was very good reason. Modifications that tweaked the aerodynamics and strengthened the body significantly came at a cost but were well worth the effort and expense. Although it retained similar aesthetics and styling, the successor was far better built for strength and agility.

BMW 3 Series History E30 325e

On the heels of the 318i, came the BMW325e in 1986. This vehicle was a larger model that held a bolder presence. It was equipped with a 2.7 liter inline 6 cylinder that cranked 121 horse power and zipped from zero to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds. This version was a 2 door sedan with antilock four wheel disc brakes, as a sports version called the 325es, and it featured a front spoiler. The 4 door 325e variant received upgrades including a four speed transmission.

The BMW 325i/is

The 325i/is variants were other lineups that were released to North American between 1987-1991. The retooled engines delivered 168 horse power with 164 lb ft of torque, going from 0 to 60 in a mere 7.4 seconds.

The Third Generation: BMW 3 Series E36

From 1991 through 1999 BMW shipped their 3 Series E36 models to the United states with a reinvented 4 door saloon that would become the flagship body type of the lineup. This was a generation in which a number of sophisticated enhancements and important changes were made. This is the version that laid the foundation for the generations that would follow. The 325i E36 assumed the exterior design in a dolphin shape with a more proportionate body and the 50/50 weight distribution that became the signature of the BMW automaker. For the third generation, a 3.0 liter engine featuring DOHC 24 valve, 6 cylinder, was prepped with an aluminum head and centrally placed in the auto, with the exception of the entry level models. The output reached a new high of 189 horse power and screamed from 0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds. The E36 hit the United States market in 1991, presented as the 1992 model. It was followed in 1993 and 1994 by the Coupe and the Convertible models, respectively. The variants produced during this time frame included the:n318i, 318is, 318ic, 318ti, 323i, 323is, 323ic, 325i, 325is, 325ic, 328i, 328is, and 328ic.

Improvements in design and technology for thee E36, third generation involved a chassis upgrade to a new Z axle rear suspension. The result was a smoother ride, better handling on rough roads and enhanced tire traction.

The Fourth Generation: BMW 3 Series E46

The fourth generation o the BMW 3 Series was released to the United States in 1998 and it continued through 2006. The new 328i featured a slightly larger body with about an inch more than the E36 model. They were powered by a 2.8 liter inline 6 cylinder offering 193 horse power with 206 lb ft of torque. The sedan version rolled out in 1999

BMW 3 Series History E46 328i

During 1998 to 2006, came the BMW E46 generation for the US market. By this time, the 3 Series had become a well-received popular model in the United States and worldwide. The 323i featured a smaller 2.5 liter inline 6 that brought 170 horse power with 181 lb ft of torque. These new engines were made of a lighter material. The block was aluminum which helped to reduce the weight of the vehicle. In addition to this, enhancements to the dual resonance intakecoupe models and Double Vanos variable valve timing system were made. In 2000, BMW added new variants. The 323Ci and the 328Ci, offering coupe models and the 323Ci in a convertible as well as the 3 Series Wagon. While the engine in the wagon variant remained unchanged, both the 328 and 323 received upgrades in power.

The BMW E46 325 and 330 models

BMW came out with a new 323i in 2001 that became known as the e325i with a 2.5 liter engine and an increased horsepower output of 184. The new 328i, received a different engine that sported a larger and much more powerful 3.0 liter engine with a 225 horse power output that the automakers called the 330i. This was endowed with an all wheel drive xDrive option and was offered in the four door sedan version for the 325x and the wagon model as thee 330xi.

The Fifth Generation: BMW 3 Series E90, E91, E92 and E93

The year 2006 brought a new fifth generation in the evolution of the BMW 3 Series lineage. A new look had begun to emerge in 2002, about the time that the E46 era had run its courses with a noticeable redesign in the tail lights sand the front. By 2006, BMW had announced its new generation and the BMW E90 3 Series Sedan was delivered to the United States along with a new E91 Sports wagon. The E92 3 Series Coupe and the E93 3 Series Convertible were the offspring that would move the brand forward into a new age with a new look and numerous new upgrades and innovations.

Cosmetic changes

The aesthetics underwent a revolution that gave the BMW 3 Series a more modern look with enhanced performance. A longer wheelbase that measured 1.4 inches longer than the E46, along with a 1.2 increase in the width of the tracks made it possible to offer drivers a more spacious interior and with it came a better sense of balance.

Upgrades to thee 325i and 330i

Each of these models received an upgrade in the power with a brand new 3.0 liter inline 6 cylinder engine. Coming in behind the 330i, the 325i was rated at a 215 horse power output, with the 330i achieving 255 hp. A three stage induction system was also added to each as a significant modification for upping performance. BMW was also keeping up with technology with the addition of Active Steering and the iDrive system to a more satisfying driving experience.

The BMW 335i E93 Hardtop Convertible

In 2007, BMW surprised and delighted with world with the Convertible E93, which was the very first retractable hardtop offered at the time. The sporty design and seamless operations were a big hit with BMW fans. BMW took advantage of the Twin Power Turbo technology developed in-house and chose the 335i model to debut the innovation. This gave the hardtop convertible an amazing 300 horse power and 300 pound feet of torque for a sporty and speedy new addition to the family that tore up the test track achieving zero to sixty miles per hour in 5 seconds. Fast acceleration was a hallmark of the new convertible. It had zip, style and sex appeal.

Changes for the BMW 328i and 335i

With their latest technology offering the opportunity for improvements, the new 328i and 335i were ready to assume the lead and allow their predecessors, the 325i and the the 330i to gracefully retire and make room for the new members of the lineage. The 328i was equipped with a 3.0 liter inline 6 that generated 230 horse power with 200 lb ft of torque. The 335i received the new Twin Power Turbo system that delivered a whopping 306 horse power with 300 lb ft of torque. The new 3 Series of this era was offered in Convertible Coupe or Sedan options. This would draw the BMW 3 Series fifth generation to a close, having paved the way for the birth of the new generation.

The Sixth Generation: BMW 3 Series F30, F31 and F34

The BMW 3 Series entered its sixth generation in 2012 with the introduction of it's first offspring into the United States market. The F30 featured an extended body over the E90 with an wider back track and front as well as an addition of 2 inches to the wheelbase. This gave the profile a larger appearance and more space was added to the interior for additional driver and passenger comfort. The trunk space was also enlarged by 20 liters along with widened door opening angles.

The F30 represented a revamp from what BMW owners were accustomed to. It received a new engine off 2.0 liter with 3 cylinders enhanced with Valvetronic variable valve and Precision Direct Injection. The new examples achieved a rating of 240 horse power and beat the outgoing E90 328i by 3 seconds with a zero to sixty mph achievement of just 5.6 seconds.

Why the reduction in horsepower?

The rationale for reducing horsepower amounted to a weight reduction along with improved fuel efficiency. Enhancements to the driving technologies kept the auto fast enough for satisfaction, but gave it a better fuel efficiency rating. From an aesthetic perspective, the new 3 Series F30 received a makeover that gave it a more sporty appearance with greater angle definition and a beefy facade. Upgrades to the interior gave it a premium quality, and the affordable price may have seemed like a contradiction, but no quality or luxury was sacrificed in the process.

The Most Recent BMW 3 Series

Today, the BMW 3 Series carries on the tradition of innovation and art in motion with the new 2018 and soon to be released 2019 models. A focus on comfort and efficiency along with exceptional handling and performance has kept the brand in a position of high desirability. It has been a long and successful road for the BMW 3 Series, but the saga has not yet made its final installation. New and innovative technology has become the standard mode of operation when it comes to upgrading new editions. With more than four decades in its history, the 3 Series continues to move forward with advancements and continued high sales. We anticipate seeing new generations emerge in the years to come.

Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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