BMW 3 Series: Models, Years, Specifications & More

The BMW 3 Series is one of the most iconic compact executive cars in automotive history. Since its introduction in 1975, it has gone through six generations and become BMW’s best-selling model.[1] The 3 Series set the standard for handling and performance in its class, making BMW a leading brand for sports sedans and coupes. Through consistent innovation across over four decades, the 3 Series has maintained its reputation as the benchmark against which other compact luxury cars are measured.

The original E21 generation established the 3 Series formula of a sporty, rear-wheel drive platform with responsive handling. Subsequent generations added more power, luxury, and technology while retaining this core identity. Over 15 million 3 Series models have been sold worldwide over the past 45 years.[1] For many drivers, owning a 3 Series represents an entry point into the BMW brand and its “Ultimate Driving Machine” ethos.

Generations

The BMW 3 Series has gone through seven generations since its introduction in 1975:

E21 (1975–1983)

The first generation 3 Series was produced from 1975 to 1983. This two-door sedan was available in various engines ranging from 1.6-2.3 liters. It established BMW’s reputation for compact rear-wheel drive sports sedans. (TopGear)

E30 (1982–1994)

The second generation E30 3 Series entered production in 1982 and ended in 1994. Notable changes included the introduction of the M3 model, all-wheel drive models, and a wagon body style. Engine options ranged from 1.6-2.5 liters. (BMW)

E36 (1990–2000)

The E36 generation spanned 1990 to 2000. This 3 Series brought modern safety features like side airbags and structural enhancements. Other changes included new V6 and diesel engines, a coupe model, and a new convertible body style. (CarBuzz)

E46 (1997–2006)

Introduced in 1997, the E46 model ran until 2006. It offered more powerful 6-cylinder engines, a return of the wagon model, and innovative features like stability control. The M3 received a new 3.2L engine producing 338 hp. (BMW)

E90/E91/E92/E93 (2004–2013)

This generation, produced from 2004 to 2013, introduced the sedan (E90), wagon (E91), coupe (E92) and convertible (E93) models. New engine options included revised 6-cylinders and turbocharged engines. The M3 came with a high-revving 4.0L V8 producing 414 hp. (TopGear)

F30/F31/F34 (2012–2018)

The F30 generation spanned 2012 to 2018 with sedan (F30), wagon (F31) and four-door coupe (F34) body styles. These models featured improved fuel economy, safety systems, and connectivity. The M3 came with a twin-turbo straight-6 making 425 hp. (BMW)

G20 (2019–Present)

The latest G20 generation launched in 2019 and continues production today. It has more power, improved chassis dynamics, and the latest tech features like a digital cockpit. New engines include turbocharged 4-cylinders and a 3.0L twin-turbo straight 6 in the M340i. (CarBuzz)

Body Styles

The BMW 3 Series has been available in a variety of body styles over its generations, including:

  • Sedan – The standard four-door sedan has been the core model of every 3 Series generation. It offers a balance of practicality, comfort and performance.
  • Wagon – Marketed as the ‘Touring,’ the wagon body style provides added cargo space and utility while retaining the 3 Series’ driving dynamics. It was introduced in the E30 generation.
  • Grand Tourer – The ‘Gran Turismo’ models feature a stretched wheelbase for additional rear seat legroom and comfort, targeted at longer distance travel.
  • Coupe – The two-door coupe provides a sportier, performance-focused alternative to the sedan with sleeker styling. Coupe models began with the E30 generation.
  • Convertible – The convertible variants have retractable soft tops for open-air driving. They also feature distinct styling tweaks over their coupe counterparts.

While the sedan remains the most popular 3 Series model, the range of body styles caters to different priorities like space, comfort or driving experience.

Engines

The BMW 3 Series offers a range of powerful and fuel efficient engine options including:

Gasoline Engines

The base gasoline engine is a 2.0L TwinPower Turbo inline 4-cylinder engine producing 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque in the 330i models (Source). This engine provides strong acceleration and brisk performance.

For even more power, the BMW M340i models feature a 3.0L TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cylinder generating 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque (Source). This allows the M340i to reach 0-60 mph in just 4.2 seconds.

Diesel Engines

The BMW 320d models are equipped with a 2.0L TwinPower Turbo 4-cylinder diesel engine producing 188 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque (Source). This provides great fuel economy while still delivering strong performance.

Hybrid/Electric Options

The 330e models feature a plug-in hybrid powertrain combining a 2.0L gas engine and an electric motor. Total system output is 288 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque (Source). This allows for all-electric driving for short distances and reduced fuel consumption overall.

Transmissions

The BMW 3 Series offers both manual and automatic transmission options across its different models and generations. The most common manual transmissions are the Getrag 240 5-speed for 4-cylinder models and the Getrag 420G 6-speed for 6-cylinder models [1]. For automatic transmissions, the ZF 5HP19 5-speed was used initially, followed by the GM 5L40-E/5L50 5-speed and Aisin TF-81SC 6-speed.

More recent generations have moved to 8-speed automatic transmissions like the ZF 8HP for better efficiency and performance. The latest G20 3 Series uses the new ZF 8HP51 transmission. Manual transmissions remain available but are less common in newer models. The F30 generation was the last to offer a manual in the 328i, after which manuals were only available on the lower powered 4-cylinder models.

Enthusiasts often prefer the control and engagement of a manual, but automatic transmissions now offer faster shifts and acceleration. BMW’s meticulous engineering ensures both transmission types provide a true Ultimate Driving Machine experience.

Technology & Features

The BMW 3 Series offers a wide range of technology and comfort features to enhance the driving experience. Standard features across the 3 Series line include a 10.25″ touchscreen display, Bluetooth connectivity, two USB ports, a 10-speaker sound system, keyless entry and engine start, dual-zone automatic climate control, and rain-sensing windshield wipers (BMW USA).

Available driver assistance and safety technologies include active blind spot detection, lane departure warning, front collision warning, pedestrian warning with city braking function, parking assistant with surround view camera, and BMW’s Parking Assistant Plus which can autonomously park the vehicle in parallel or perpendicular spots (Car and Driver).

For entertainment, the latest iDrive infotainment system offers standard navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration, and a WiFi hotspot. Options include a Harman Kardon surround sound system, satellite radio, and wireless device charging (BMW USA).

Seating comfort is enhanced with standard power front seats, available multi-contour seats, lumbar support, and heated front seats on most models. Extended comfort features include 4-zone climate control, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and ventilated front seats on higher trims.

Performance

The BMW 3 Series is known for its excellent performance and handling capabilities. According to Car and Driver, “The 330i features a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque and acts like it has even more power than that.” This powerplant provides strong acceleration, with Car and Driver clocking a 0-60 mph time of 5.3 seconds for the 330i. The M340i’s more powerful 382-hp turbocharged inline-six is even quicker, hitting 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds.

In terms of handling, the 3 Series continues to live up to its reputation as one of the best-handling sedans on the market. The precise steering and balanced chassis provide eager turn-in and stable high-speed cornering. According to Top Gear, “Where a 3-series really makes its mark is with the chassis. It strikes a superb balance between comfortable motorway work and back road blasts.” Reviewers praise the communicative feel from the steering wheel and strong braking performance.

Awards & Recognition

The BMW 3 Series has won numerous awards and recognition over the years, particularly for its driving dynamics, performance, design and overall excellence as a luxury sports sedan. One of the most prestigious awards it has received on multiple occasions is the Drive Car of the Year Best Medium Luxury Car. This award is given out annually by the Australian automotive publication Drive, judging all new vehicle releases in a given year. The BMW 3 Series won this medium luxury category award in 2022, 2020 and 2019.

Winning Drive’s Car of the Year award for its category three years in a row demonstrates the 3 Series’ enduring popularity, competitive edge and reputation for providing an exceptional combination of luxury, performance and driving enjoyment that appeals to automotive critics and enthusiasts alike.

Pricing

The 2024 BMW 3 Series has a base MSRP starting at $45,495 for the 330i trim according to BMW’s website. The most affordable 330i comes with rear-wheel drive and a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder engine producing 255 horsepower. Stepping up to the M340i xDrive performance trim with AWD and a turbocharged 382-hp 3.0L inline-6 engine brings the MSRP up to $58,750.

In between those two models, BMW offers the 330i xDrive with AWD starting at $47,795 and the 330e plug-in hybrid with rear-wheel drive starting at $46,095 according to Kelley Blue Book. Maximum MSRP for a fully loaded M340i xDrive can reach up to $60,595. There are also special edition models like the 340i xDrive 50 Jahre Edition celebrating 50 years of BMW M starting at $59,695.

Overall the 2024 3 Series spans a wide range in pricing from the low $40,000s up to the low $60,000s depending on performance, amenities and options. But it delivers luxury, sportiness and the latest tech across all trim levels.

Competitors

The BMW 3 Series competes directly with other compact luxury sedans and coupes. Its main rivals include:

  • Audi A4 – The A4 offers a similar mix of performance, luxury and technology as the 3 Series. It has a more modern interior design and available all-wheel drive on some models (Carwow).
  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class – Like the 3 Series, the C-Class emphasizes driving dynamics, interior luxury and the latest tech features. The C-Class tends to be softer and more comfort-oriented (AutoByTel).
  • Lexus IS – The IS competes on luxury appointments and reliability. It offers a smoother, quieter ride than the sportier BMW. The IS has less cargo room and weaker performance (The Car Connection).
  • Alfa Romeo Giulia – With nimble handling and Italian styling, the Giulia matches the 3 Series for driving enjoyment. However it has a smaller dealer network and worse predicted reliability (Carwow).

While the 3 Series faces stiff competition, it continues to set the benchmark for the compact luxury segment with its balance of performance, comfort, quality, and cutting-edge features.

Share this article
Shareable URL
Prev Post

Suzuki Swift: Models, Years, Specifications & More

Next Post

Renault Megane Hatchback: Models, Years, Specifications & More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read next

What Is a Subcompact Car?

What Are Subcompact Cars? Subcompact cars are a class of small automobiles with limited interior and cargo room…