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BMW 3 Series Through the Years

2016 BMW 3 series

BMW 3 Series Overview

To some, the BMW is just a status symbol. To enthusiasts, the BMW is a complete, immersive, and rewarding driving experience. To commemorate BMW’s 100th birthday, Carsforsale.com is taking a look at the history of the BMW 3 Series through the years, one of the company’s most popular and iconic cars. The BMW 3 Series is more than a single, simple vehicle model. This legendary performance car has spanned a huge range of models in nearly every body style. The 3 Series stays true to the driver-focused BMW approach, being praised for its performance above all else.

BMW 3 Series Through the Years

1st Generation (1975 – 1983)

BMW 3 Series, first generation 1975 - 1983

  • BMW created the 3 Series to replace the BMW 2002 during the oil crisis.
  • The first generation was only available as a 2 door sedan.
  • During 1977 model year, the BMW 3 Series was introduced to North America in the form of the 320i.
  • The first engines were 2.0L 4-cylinders, followed by a 1.8L 4-cylinder in 1980.
  • This car was an immediate success in the US.

2nd Generation (1984 – 1991)

BMW 3 Series, second generation 1983 - 1990

  • BMW optimized aerodynamics.
  • A 4 door sedan was available in 1985
  • The new 325e featured a 2.7L inline 6-cylinder engine.
  • The 4-cylinder 318i was dropped from the lineup.
  • In 1986, BMW introduced a station wagon (touring) model.
  • In 1987, the 325Ci convertible was introduced.
  • The 325ix model with AWD was introduced in 1988

3rd Generation (1992 – 1998)

3rd generation BMW 3 series

  • Exterior design shifted dramatically, as the BMW 3-Series grew larger and took on rounded sculpting and traditional, boxy headlamps.
  • The coupe model wasn’t available until 1993, and the convertible was delayed until 1994.
  • A 318ti hatchback model with a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine was sold in North America instead of a wagon, and was discontinued after the 1999 model year.
  • 5L 6-cylinder engines were replaced by 2.8L 6’s in the 325i and 325is. They were then referred to as 328i and 328is.

4th Generation (1999 – 2005)

4th generation wagon

  • This car continued to grow, as BMW increased the wheelbase and overall length.
  • 4-cylinder options were discontinued in the US.
  • The 2.8L engine made 193 hp and the 2.5L produced around 180 hp.
  • A wagon version of the 323i joined the US lineup.
  • Power was increased slightly across the lineup in 2001.
  • BMW made a few cosmetic changes in 2002, with an updated grille and different tail lamps.
  • 2003 offered DVD-based navigation.
  • Power moon roof was standard across the lineup by 2005.

5th Generation (2006 – 2011)

5th generation BMW 3 series

  • An exterior redesign offered more modern and rounded sculpting, revised fascia, new headlamps, and more.
  • In 2006, every model was powered by a 3.0L 6-cylinder engine producing either 215 hp or 255 hp, depending on the model.
  • In 2007, the BMW 3 Series offered its first retractable hardtop.
  • A twin-turbo 6-cylinder engine was added to the lineup in 2007, offering around 300 hp and 300 lb ft of torque. ‘
  • This car received a minor facelift in 2009.
  • BMW put a greater emphasis on fuel consumption and emissions throughout the generation

6th Generation (2012 –       )

2016 BMW 3 series

  • The low-shouldered 6th generation BMW 3 Series has a base 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder engine, producing 240 hp.
  • A 3.0L inline 6-cylinder engine is also available, producing around 300 hp.
  • A hybrid 3 Series was introduced in 2013.
  • The 3 Series Gran Turismo was added in the 2014 model year, which borders between a hatchback and a sedan.
  • A plug-in hybrid version is coming to dealerships in spring of 2016.
  • Notable features available today include auto-dimming heated mirrors, keyless ignition, adaptive sport suspension, automatic wipers, real time traffic info, retractable headlight washers, heated rear seats, side and top view cameras, and more.

BMW 3 Series Owner Spotlight

2005 BMW 3 Series“It feels like a nice solid car, and even though it’s 10 years old, in my opinion, it still looks and feels very modern.” – Craig Wakefield, 2005 330ci M Sport.



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Caroline Rex

She's a graphic designer by trade, but loves writing blog posts on the side. As a closet car fanatic, Caroline enjoy sprinkling knowledge about the unique ins and outs of the underdogs of the auto world. #neonsruletheworld

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