The term 'sport sedan' has practically been synonymous with the 3 Series, and 2020 is a major milestone for BMW's best-seller. It turns 45 this year and over the past several decades, it has grown from strength to strength. It was one of the cars that turned BMW into a global powerhouse, and it is now on its seventh-generation.
It will be celebrating its birthday next month as it was first launched in May of 1975. The first generation was called the E21 and it replaced the 02 Series models from the late '60s. With its introduction, the core line-up of BMW as we know it was completed as it joined the 5 Series which was released in 1972, and the 7 Series which debuted in 1977.
In November 1982, BMW then launched the second-generation model, the E30. It is, to this day, perhaps the most popular among enthusiasts. By then, it was also available with four doors as well. The E30's reputation for sportiness was no doubt established with the first M3. This model is also one of the cars that brought the idea of compact executive station wagons to the masses with the 3 Series Touring. It also had the longest life cycles among all the 3 Series models, spanning from 1982 to 1992. It even overlapped with the next-generation 3 Series called the E36.
Whereas the E30 was an evolution of the E21, the E36 brought in radical changes to the 3 Series range in August 1990. Gone were the boxy, upright designs of the past, replaced by a sleeker, more aerodynamic and revolutionary design. It was also the first BMW to have those signature round lights encased in a shroud, which was a rather big deal at the time. Because of its slippery shape, it gained the nickname Dolphin. Also, the E36 was assembled here in semi-knock down kits, making it the only 3 Series built in the Philippines.
November 1997 marked the launch of the E46, the fourth-generation 3 Series. While the design was evolutionary from the E36, the E46 featured more tech and features never before were seen in a 3 Series. It also came with a lot of safety systems, offering stability and traction control as standard in all variants. By this time, the 3 Series had established itself as one of the most (if not, the most) engaging cars to drive among its contemporaries and this generation further cemented that reputation. Whether it was the lowly 316i to the six-cylinder 325i, there was fun to be had behind the wheel of a 3 Series; and that's before we even get to the M3.
Fast forward to March 2005 and the fifth-generation 3 Series debuted. Internally known as the E90, it was, again, a radical departure from the previous model. It adopted the same design language as the 2001 7 Series and 2003 5 Series. Directed by Chris Bangle and penned by Joji Nagashima, the E90 looked like no other 3 Series before it. Later in its life cycle, it gained a turbocharged gas engine and would lay down the foundations for the succeeding generations.
It was to be another big leap for the 3 Series by the time the F30 had launched in February 2012. No more naturally aspirated engines here; it was all turbocharged from the base 316i to the 340i. BMW had split the range by this time too with the 3 Series tag for sedans and wagons and 4 Series for coupes, convertibles, and liftbacks.
And now, to the all-new 3 Series, the G20. It was October 2018 when the seventh-generation model first made its appearance, and it builds on the foundations the past six generations had previously laid down. There's tech, safety, and on-board communications, but it's still in tune with its sports sedan roots. It also presents a new direction for BMW with its new taillight design and wider grill. Locally, the 3 Series had reverted back to an all-gas lineup with the 330i M Sport and 320i Sport.
In the span of 45 years, BMW had sold over 14 million 3 Series sedans, coupes, convertibles, and wagons. What started out as a need to complete the range has become the brand's global best-seller. These days, the 3 Series accounts for over 30 percent of the German automaker's sales, and we don't see that changing any time soon.