BMW 3 Series & M3 — History, Generations & Models

The BMW 3 Series is an executive sedan that has been in production since 1975. It is BMW’s best-selling model and accounts for almost 30% of the brand’s global sales. The BMW 3 Series has been synonymous with driving pleasure, and relative value-for-money. The iconic BMW M3 performance sedan is based on the 3 Series. 

Produced in multiple body styles, the BMW 3 Series competes with the likes of the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Jaguar XE. Over the years, this iconic model has evolved through seven generations, each one setting new benchmarks in its class. In this DubiCars Car Spotlight article, we journey through the history and generations of the BMW 3 Series.

Origins Of The BMW 3 Series

In the 1950s, BMW went through a financial crisis as its cars with larger engines weren’t selling all too well. In order to increase sales, the brand developed a new series of sedans that were named ‘New Class.’ Introduced in 1962, these sedans featured 1.5-litre to 2.0-litre engines. 

One of the sedans under the New Class was the BMW 02 Series, also known as the BMW 1600. In the early 70s BMW started working on a replacement for the 02 Series that was slightly larger and packed a punch. This new sedan would be called the BMW 3 Series.

First Generation (E21) | 1975 – 1983

The story of the BMW 3 Series began in 1975 with the introduction of the first generation, known by its internal code E21. It marked the transition for BMW into the compact executive car segment. The E21 was available in various body styles, including a two-door sedan and two-door convertible. 

First Gen BMW 3 Series

The first gen 3 Series featured a range of inline-4 and inline-6 engines with capacities ranging between 1.6-litres and 2.3-litres. With its sporty handling, upscale interior, and refined engineering, the E21 set the stage for what would become BMW’s best-seller. 

Second Generation (E30) | 1982 – 1994

In 1982, BMW introduced the second generation of the 3 Series, the E30. This iteration was larger, more refined, and offered a wider range of engines and body styles. This included a four-door sedan, two-door coupe, convertible, and estate wagon. The E30 is revered for its balanced handling, solid build quality, and timeless design.

Second Gen BMW 3 Series

It is with this generation that the BMW M3 performance sedan was introduced. Introduced in 1986. It was born out of BMW’s desire to dominate motorsports, and it did just that. The BMW M3 won numerous championships and earned a place in automotive history as one of the greatest performance cars ever made.

Third Generation (E36) | 1990 – 2000

The 1990s brought about the third generation of the BMW 3 Series, the E36. This generation represented a significant leap forward in terms of technology, comfort, and performance. It featured a sleeker design, improved aerodynamics, and a range of new engines. Petrol variants were powered by inline-4 and inline-6 engines with capacities ranging between 1.6-litres and 3.2-litres.

Third Gen BMW 3 Series

Two diesel engines were on offer — a 1.7-litre inline-4 and a 2.5-litre inline-6. The E36 also saw the introduction of new body styles, such as the compact sedan and the iconic BMW 3 Series Compact. With its blend of performance and practicality, the E36 further solidified the 3 Series’ reputation as the leader in its class.

Fourth Generation (E46) | 1997 – 2006

In 1997, BMW launched the fourth generation of the 3 Series, the E46. This iteration furthered the formula established by its predecessors, offering even more refinement, technology, and driving dynamics. The E46 featured a wider track, a stiffer chassis, and terrific engine options, including the legendary 3.2-litre inline-six in the M3.

Fourth Gen BMW 3 Series

The E46 also introduced several innovations, like the Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) and the optional xDrive all-wheel-drive system. With its sophisticated design and class-leading performance, the E46 further raised the bar for the compact executive car segment.

Fifth Generation (E90, E91, E92, E93) | 2004 – 2013

In 2004, BMW ushered in the fifth generation of the 3 Series, internally known as the E90 series. This generation expanded the 3 Series lineup even further, offering sedan (E90), touring (E91), coupe (E92), and convertible (E93) body styles.

Fifth Gen BMW 3 Series

The E90 series featured updated styling, improved handling, and a range of new engines, including the award-winning 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged inline-six found in the 335i. The M3 version of this generation took things up a notch, with a 4.4-litre V8 under the bonnet. This generation also saw the introduction of new technologies such as iDrive and adaptive headlights.

Sixth Generation (F30, F31, F34, F35) | 2011 – 2019

BMW introduced the sixth generation of the 3 Series in 2011. Named the F30 series, this iteration focused on efficiency, introducing new turbocharged engines and lightweight construction materials. The F30 also featured BMW’s new design language, improved aerodynamics, and tons of advanced technologies, including enhanced driver assistance systems and connectivity features.

Sixth Gen BMW 3 Series

The F30 series expanded the 3 Series lineup with the addition of the Gran Turismo (F34) and the long-wheelbase sedan (F35) variants, catering to a wider range of customers. Despite criticism for its softer handling compared to its predecessors, the F30 series continued to be a best-seller for BMW.

Seventh Generation (G20, G21, G28) | 2018 – Present

The seventh generation of the BMW 3 Series, codenamed G20, debuted in 2018. This generation marked a return to BMW’s roots, focusing on driving dynamics and performance. The G20 features updated styling, improved aerodynamics, and a range of new engines, including the latest generation of BMW’s turbocharged inline-four and inline-six units.

Seventh Gen BMW 3 Series

This generation also caters to environment-conscious buyers with a plug-in-hybrid variant. The G20 also introduced new technologies such as the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant and the optional Adaptive M suspension, enhancing both comfort and performance. With its sharp handling, refined interior, and cutting-edge technology, the G20 series reaffirmed the 3 Series’ position as the benchmark for executive sedans.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh generations are the most popular BMW 3 Series generations in the UAE. Their modern features and recency of production make them super popular in the segment. Classic car enthusiasts on the other hand prefer the first, second, third, and fourth generations. 

BMW 3 Series Prices In The UAE

Prices for a new BMW 3 Series for sale in the UAE range from AED 180,000 to AED 219,000. Prices for a used BMW 3 Series for sale in the UAE range from AED 11,000 to AED 199,000 depending on the model year and condition of the vehicle. Want to buy one? Get a complete inspection of the car before putting your money down on it.

BMW 3 Series

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