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Launched at Miramas in the South of France, the third generation 3 Series range, codenamed E36, was offered for the first time as a four-door saloon at launch in 1990, reflecting the growing popularity of four door variants in the E30 range. Growing again in size over its predecessor, practicality was also improved with up to 30mm more rear legroom for rear seat passengers.
The initial saloon version was followed in 1992 by a new model variant: the former two door was now renamed Coupe for the first time to reflect its subtle, yet extensive, design differences. The 3 Series Coupe was followed by the Convertible, Touring and, a new model, the Compact.
The E36 3 Series range carried forward the tradition of four- and six-cylinder engines. Offering a range of engines that all exceeded 100bhp for the first time, the 316i was the entry model offering 102bhp with the flagship six-cylinder 325i delivering 192bhp as a result of double camshaft and four-valve technology. Later, VANOS, a new technology that adjusted the timing of the inlet camshafts was introduced, developing peak torque earlier and improving fuel economy. Evolutions of the VANOS technology continues on all modern BMW cars.
The halo of the range, the new M3, was launched in 1992 as a Coupe, 1993 as a Convertible and 1994 as a Saloon with a 286bhp, six-cylinder M engine. In 1995, the ultimate E36 model, the M3 Evolution was launched delivering 321bhp through its six-speed manual or Sequential Manual Gearbox.
With its range of no less than 31 different models, this 3 Series range, comprising Saloon, Coupe, Convertible, Touring and Compact models reached a grand total of 2,745,773 - 69,794 of which were M3 variants.
E46 – The Fourth Generation1998 saw the introduction of the new most recent 3 Series, codenamed E46. Initially only available as a Saloon, the E46 followed the pattern set by its predecessor in additionally offering Coupe, Convertible, Touring and Compact variants.
The Saloon version again grew in size by four centimetres and, when compared to the original 3 Series of 1975, was 12cms longer. Rear seat passengers also enjoyed a further 10mm of legroom over the outgoing E36 model.
Again, four- and six-cylinder engines were offered, with the range starting with the 318i delivering 118bhp. Although the entry model, the 318i benefited from the latest technology including balance shafts that reduced engine vibration and consequent cabin noise levels by 10dBA. Six-cylinder 323i and 328i models now featured double-VANOS, controlling the inlet and exhaust camshaft timing for enhanced engine efficiency.