The BMW 3-Series was first launched in its E21 format back in the early 1970s, and the highly-sought-after model has gone on to enjoy some four decades of success through six generations. The first-generation 3-Series, the E21, was available as a two-door sedan only and was manufactured from 1975 to 1983. This was followed by a second-generation model, the E30, in 1983 and the E36 third-generation from 1991 until 2000. Plenty of earlier models have been well cared for, remain in good condition, and are beginning to acquire collectors’ item status. Most buyers looking for a BMW 3-Series however, will probably be considering a fourth-, fifth- or sixth-generation model. The 3-Series is available in original sedan format or as a sports wagon, coupe, or convertible, and in rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive formats.
The 3-Series is a favoured executive and family car, ticking plenty of boxes in terms of power, speed, space, and styling. Its looks and feel are typically BMW, and that is BMW at its best. BMW is a trusted, established brand for good reason, and there is no denying the contribution that the 3-Series has made in ensuring that it remains a firm favourite.
The 330i is one of the most popular BMW 3-Series models. It is favoured for its good handling and smooth ride as well as for packing bundles of power. The 3.0-litre engine delivers 170Kw of power and 300Nm of torque, with plenty of acceleration and lots of grunt to keep it moving solidly at speed. Fuel consumption is pretty respectable. Expect to use around 9.5 L/100km around town and less out on the open road, which, for a car that can compete with entry-level track cars from the likes of Lotus, Subaru, and Mazda, is really quite impressive.
The latest generation 3-Series is proving once again to be popular with families and executives alike. It is available in five models with an engine line-up that consists of two 4-cylinder turbo petrols, two 4-cylinder turbo diesels, and a 6-cylinder turbo. The 6-cylinder, which comes in the form of the 335i, is the fastest of the range (although the least fuel efficient) offering 225Kw of power, 400Nm of torque, and achieving 0 to 100 Km/h in a sprightly 5.5 seconds.
The size is slightly larger than earlier models, with an extra 10cm or so on the body and an extra five cm on the wheelbase in comparison to its fifth-generation predecessor. This makes for more headroom, more legroom, and more space in the boot, aided by a new 40-20-40 split configuration for the rear seats. All in all, it’s a pretty compelling proposition.
This sixth-generation comes with an 8-speed automatic gearbox on all models other than the base model, and features paddle-shift levels behind the steering wheel. These models also feature BMW’s stop-start technology, which delivers an improvement to fuel economy of up to 30%.
Equipment on models such as a 330i includes memory power seats in leather finish, wood-grain dash and trim, a multi-function steering wheel, automatic xenon headlights, sunroof, parking sensors, sat nav, trip computer, climate control, Bluetooth telephone connectivity, automatic windscreen wipers, traction control, high-quality sound system, and power windows. For a car with this level of kit and a high performance, the BMW 3-Series really does offer excellent value for money.
Newer 3-Series models come in a range of three different trim lines - Sport, Luxury, and Modern - each with its own line of standard and optional kit. Older generations tend to offer options across a single trim range. A new standard feature on newer models known as Driver Experience Control allows drivers to change the characteristics of the engine, steering, fuel, and stability control system by selecting from four different options.
This is a crowded market place, but the BMW 3-Series is seen as something of an ‘original and best’, and it holds its own strongly against the competition. If you are considering buying a 3-Series, you might also be looking at the Audi A4, which delivers a similar size and quality of car for much the same price tag, or the Mercedes-Benz C Class. Other competition varies from era to era depending on the age of the 3-Series you are looking to buy.