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When you think of a compact luxury car, what comes to mind? For most, it happens to be the BMW 3 Series. For 40 years, the 3 Series has been the benchmark of small luxury models. This is due to the combination of excellent driving dynamics, a wide of range of engines choices and a number of luxury appointments.
The current 3 Series is available in three different body styles, including a sedan, a wagon that offers up to 53 cubic feet of cargo space and a hatchback (3 Series Gran Turismo). A coupe and convertible were included in the 3 Series lineup until those models were replaced by the BMW 4 Series, which was introduced for the 2014 model year.
The 3 Series has a wide-range of available engines. The base BMW 320i uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Next is the 328i, which has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. The BMW 328d has a turbodiesel 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 180 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Following the diesel is the 335i, which boasts a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six with 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. The BMW ActiveHybrid 3 is also available, which packs the turbocharged 3.0-liter engine and an electric motor to produce 355 horsepower combined. All engines get an eight-speed automatic transmission, while a six-speed manual transmission is available on gas-powered 3 Series sedans. BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system is also available for most 3 Series models.
No matter which version of the 3 Series you decide to go for, all models get push-button start, automatic wipers, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and BMW's iDrive interface with Bluetooth and a USB port.
Competitors to the BMW 3 Series include the Audi A4, Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The first-generation 3 Series arrived on our shores back in 1975 as the replacement for the widely popular BMW 2002. There was only one model on offer: the BMW 320i coupe, which packed a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 110 horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque. This engine could either be paired with a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic transmission.
1983 saw the second-generation 3 Series, known as the E30, arrive in the U.S. Again, the model was offered only as a two-door coupe, though a four-door sedan joined the lineup in 1985, followed by a convertible in 1987. At the beginning of this generation, the only 3 Series you could get was the 318i with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder producing 101 horsepower. But in the coming years, a range of inline-sixes producing 121 to 168 horsepower would come into play. Later, BMW would produce two iconic models; the 325ix that came with all-wheel drive and the all-mighty M3 with 192 horsepower coming from a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine.
1992 saw the third-generation 3 Series, known as the E36, introduced. This model saw an increase in overall size to improve interior space. But BMW didn't forget this was a car for the driver. The company worked on the suspension to provide excellent handling characteristics. A range of four- and six-cylinder engines were available, as was the choice of sedan, coupe, convertible and three-door hatchback body styles.
The fourth-generation 3 Series, known as the E46, made its debut in 1999. This model differed from other 3 Series in two key areas. The first was the loss of the boxy design that was a part of the 3 Series since its introduction. The other was the lineup being comprised solely of six-cylinder models. At the beginning, there was the 323i with a 2.5-liter inline-six producing 170 horsepower and the 328i with a 2.8-liter inline-six with 193 horsepower. Later, BMW introduced the 325i with 184 horsepower coming from a 2.5-liter inline-six and the 330i with a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine producing 225 horsepower.
2006 saw BMW introduce the E90 3 Series, otherwise known as the fifth-generation model. Taking the design of the E46, BMW added some aggression and sharpness to make the 3 Series a standout. Offered in sedan, coupe, convertible and wagon body styles, the E90 carried over the 325i and 330i models at the start. Later, BMW introduced the 328i with a 3.0-liter inline-six producing 230 horsepower, and the 335i that included a turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine.