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      09-14-2019, 08:12 AM   #1
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Generation Gap: Ranking each and every BMW 3 Series model

Generation Gap: Ranking each and every BMW 3 Series model
The 3 Series has been the standard-bearer for BMW – and, it seems, for much of the industry – for decades, but not all versions were created equal

by BENJAMIN HUNTING

https://driving.ca/bmw/3-series/feat...3-series-model

An array of the first six generations of the BMW 3 SeriesBMW
The BMW 3 Series has long been the standard-bearer for the German automaker. For decades, this automobile represented the best of what the brand stood for: comfortable luxury; attractive but not over-the-top styling; and above-average handling compared to similarly-priced sedans, coupes and convertibles.

Not all versions of the 3 Series were created equal, however.

The drive for increased market share would eventually overcome the actual drive, relegating some generations of this venerable automobile to also-ran status. With that in mind, we’ve put together this list ranking the 3 Series from best to least in terms of impact, driving experience, design and importance.

1. 1982-1994 E30

It’s hard to overstate the importance the E30 generation had in establishing BMW’s reputation in North America as a major player in the luxury scene. It arrived at exactly the right economic moment, what with conspicuous consumption defining the mid-to-late ’80s, and sold at the perfect price point for attracting the attention of the stereotypical status-seeking yuppie.

More than that, however, the E30 excelled at proving its mission statement. It proved that smaller cars could be just as comfortable as their larger luxury-land-barge competition, all without sacrificing a fun-to-drive character.

It also demonstrated that sedans and coupes could carve up a road course with just as much focus as a traditional sports car, especially when the homologated M3 model made its first appearance in BMW showrooms. This dual personality would set the template for the 3 Series for the next three decades, and would go a long way towards making the boxy car a modern classic.

2. 1998-2006 E46

In many ways, the E46 generation was the last version of the 3 Series to embody the E30’s even mixture of sporty driving and premium accoutrements. While future models would lean hard into the luxury, the E46 presented exceptional balance between the two elements that had to that point defined the 3 Series in comparison to rivals from Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Available as a coupe, wagon, sedan and convertible in North America, the E46 would also represent the last time the M3 model would feature a high-revving, naturally-aspirated inline-six-cylinder engine.

Rated at 333 horsepower, it would mark the transition between the M3 as a sport sedan and a muscle car, with the move into V8 and turbocharged models taking place shortly thereafter. It would also introduce BMW’s less-than-spectacular automated manual gearbox, one that foreshadowed better self-shifting performance efforts from BMW in the future.

3. 1991-2000 E36

The E36 is the generation of 3 Series that brought the BMW firmly into the mainstream. With styling that was somewhat blander but definitely more modern than the E30 that preceded it, it also featured significant upgrades in terms of features, passenger room, and drivetrains that would give the car a competitive edge in the entry-level luxury segment.

The E36 was light years ahead of domestic premium brands at the time, and managed to distance itself from the nascent Japanese upscale automobiles from Acura and Infiniti that were making a play for the same customer.

4. 2019-Present G20

The current BMW 3 Series is a mostly successful attempt from the automaker to get back in touch with the spirited driving feel that was largely absent from the generation that came immediately before it. While there’s no doubt that the G20 hews to the same plush standards that have crept into every entry-level European contender, while also being significantly larger and heavier than past models, it’s an interesting interpretation of the original BMW formula as experienced from behind the wheel.

It also happens to be the mightiest non-M version of the 3 Series ever released, with its turbocharged six-cylinder engine producing a whopping 382 underrated horsepower.

5. 2005-2013 E90 through E93

This era of 3 Series marked a period of transition for BMW’s best-selling model. The car grew significantly in size and weight, each body style was denoted by its own model number, and turbocharged engines became commonplace throughout the line-up. The M3 would also gain a high-revving V8 for the first and last time in its history.

Not only was the E90 3 Series the beginning of the end for the car’s traditional emphasis on sporty driving (its heft and suspension tuning was slightly in favour of cruising over canyon-carving, although it was still a competent sport sedan/coupe) but its styling was somewhat controversial as it embodied the ‘flare’ elements common to the Chris Bangle period. Long-term reliability also began to plunge in this generation due to the significantly more complicated engine and transmission designs that would roll out during its reign.

6. 1975-1983 E21

The E21 generation is notable for birthing the 3 Series to the world, and helping BMW move past the 02 cars that had served as their calling card on this side of the Atlantic. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with these models, per se, but they lack the panache of the E30 that followed, and don’t feature the same classic styling as the 2002 that preceded them. As a result, they’re more like a respected elder than an object of affection to enthusiasts, languishing largely unloved – through no fault of their own – in the brand’s history books.

7. 2012-2018 F30-31, F34

Things went completely off the rails for the BMW 3 Series with the introduction of the F30 sedan in 2012. Primarily, it would be a period of upheaval in terms of branding, as the coupe and convertible models would be shunted off to their own 4 Series line, and the BMW 2 Series would appear as the true entry-level option for the brand, pushing the four-door 3 Series further upwards in terms of size, weight and price.

Worst of all? This was the blandest edition of the car ever built, with styling that pointedly refused to stand out and a dull driving experience that couldn’t redeem it, either. Let’s also not forget – or rather, let’s try to forget – abominations like the hunchbacked 3 Series GT that would occasionally try to force their way into showrooms. Even the M3, the quickest version of the performance model to date, counted on a competent but ultimately uninspiring personality.
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      09-14-2019, 01:49 PM   #2
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Pretty spot on if you ask me. I love my ZHP, but let's be real, it's a boat and the steering leaves a lot to be desired. It also rattles. The best thing about it is the B58 and MPPSK.

I'm still not selling it of course.

Ok....Off to fix my rattle! At least I finally found the source of the problem!
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      09-15-2019, 01:38 AM   #3
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No way the G20 should rank ahead of the E90. Multiple reviews have even explicitly said that the G20 does not rekindle the E90's wonderful driving dynamics.

Even if you're comparing these cars to their competition at the time, the E90 was leaps and bounds ahead of the C-class, A4, and IS of its day. The G20 is a nice car but it's already lost some comparison tests.
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      09-15-2019, 02:44 PM   #4
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For me the E46 is the best.

It had all the mod cons, but still with that typical BMW driver involvement. The E90 for me was the biggest disappointment, as it was just too bland.
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      09-18-2019, 12:10 PM   #5
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I agree with the assessment that "the BMW 2 Series would appear as the true entry-level option for the brand, pushing the four-door 3 Series further upwards in terms of size, weight and price."

When looking for a replacement for my E46 330Ci ZHP, the M240i felt like the true successor. I'd originally not intended to get a BMW, but saw the CPO E46 I took it on a test drive for fun and was just blown away with the driving experience. But after 150K miles, I was putting too much into maintenance and thought I'd check out the new 4 series. When test driving a 2018 440i, I was actually relieved to be back in my E46 the whole driving experience was so bad - it felt so bloated and huge. While the steering was not all the way there, the M240i felt pretty darn close to the "perfect" driving feel from my E46, with 100 extra HP to boot.

I had a new G20 loaner for a couple of days and while I have to admit that the chassis is vastly improved to the outgoing model, it's still WAY too big and I really hate the new digital instruments. From reports, the next 2 series coupe will be built on this chassis. Let's just hope that they don't bloat it, keep it RWD, offer the B58, AND KEEP A MANUAL OPTION.
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      09-18-2019, 12:20 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkDemma View Post
I agree with the assessment that "the BMW 2 Series would appear as the true entry-level option for the brand, pushing the four-door 3 Series further upwards in terms of size, weight and price."

When looking for a replacement for my E46 330Ci ZHP, the M240i felt like the true successor. I'd originally not intended to get a BMW, but saw the CPO E46 I took it on a test drive for fun and was just blown away with the driving experience. But after 150K miles, I was putting too much into maintenance and thought I'd check out the new 4 series. When test driving a 2018 440i, I was actually relieved to be back in my E46 the whole driving experience was so bad - it felt so bloated and huge. While the steering was not all the way there, the M240i felt pretty darn close to the "perfect" driving feel from my E46, with 100 extra HP to boot.

I had a new G20 loaner for a couple of days and while I have to admit that the chassis is vastly improved to the outgoing model, it's still WAY too big and I really hate the new digital instruments. From reports, the next 2 series coupe will be built on this chassis. Let's just hope that they don't bloat it, keep it RWD, offer the B58, AND KEEP A MANUAL OPTION.
M240i: 3,519 lbs.
M340i: 3,849 lbs.
440i: 3,704 lbs.

Is it the weight that makes a difference?

Last edited by The Outrage; 09-19-2019 at 08:40 AM.. Reason: Corrected weight values.
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      09-18-2019, 12:58 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Germanauto View Post
Even if you're comparing these cars to their competition at the time, the E90 was leaps and bounds ahead of the C-class, A4, and IS of its day. The G20 is a nice car but it's already lost some comparison tests.
This is an important point.
To rank all of these generations of 3 series, they should be compared to the competition they had at that time.

In the light of that aspect, I think, performance wise the euro spec e36 m3 (the 1995 facelift one specifically) is furthest ahead. 321HP in 1995 was extreme for such a car, especially with that power/weight ratio. The competition had to do with ~30% less.
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      09-18-2019, 01:01 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Outrage View Post
M240i: 3,519 lbs.
M340i: 3,589 lbs.
440i: 3,704 lbs.

Is it the weight that makes a difference?
Probably that was a large part of it. Shaving some weight off the new 3 probably helped. The chassis was probably the other big factor. You could really feel the difference in the new 3s due to the stiffening of the chassis. The 2 is based on the 1 series chassis, which has a lot of part from the E90 era - before they did whatever they did to the F30 era chassis to make it so horrible.

To a lesser extent but something I noticed was that I felt like I had better visibility in the 2. The 440i felt like it was trying to cocoon you in / isolate you from the outside world. I'm sure for most folks that are buying a "luxury" car that's a good thing, but I didn't care for it.

With the new 3s striking a better balance between handling and comfort I'd think about a 4 down the line ... if it wasn't for that gawd awful grill. Let's just hope they don't ugly up the new 2 that way.
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      09-18-2019, 01:15 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Outrage View Post
M240i: 3,519 lbs.
M340i: 3,589 lbs.
440i: 3,704 lbs.

Is it the weight that makes a difference?
the new 2020 M340i is almost as light as M240i?
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      09-18-2019, 06:09 PM   #10
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Generation Gap: Ranking each and every BMW 3 Series model

Their ranking looks about right if it's vs the competition at the time. BMW was so far ahead back then.


The e36 was fun to drive but a POS in terms of build quality.

From a reliability perspective the e90 N52 was probably the most reliable.
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      09-18-2019, 06:35 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by clee1982 View Post
the new 2020 M340i is almost as light as M240i?
At least according to the specs page ( https://www.bmwusa.com/vehicles/2-se...-features.html ) the curb weight of the M240i is 3519 (3554 manual) but I'm seeing the curb weight of the M340i as 3849. ( https://www.bmwusa.com/vehicles/3-se...-features.html ) The 440i is noted at 3704. ( https://www.bmwusa.com/vehicles/4-se...-features.html )

Not sure where The Outrage got the figure for the M340i. I thought they had shaved some weight off the 3.
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      09-18-2019, 06:43 PM   #12
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I think they shave some weight of the new 3, but not if you option with every single gadget and xDrive, with regard to the whole line up it does feel like the spiritual successor is (as well as size and weight)

E39 5 series -> G20 3 series
E46 3 series -> F22 2 series

while G30 5 series is like the 7 series of the old days.
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      09-18-2019, 07:48 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by clee1982 View Post
I think they shave some weight of the new 3, but not if you option with every single gadget and xDrive, with regard to the whole line up it does feel like the spiritual successor is (as well as size and weight)

E39 5 series -> G20 3 series
E46 3 series -> F22 2 series

while G30 5 series is like the 7 series of the old days.
There's a 840 parked in my neighborhood and it's tiny compared to the new 8. Someone should put the entire line on a Keto diet or something.
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      09-18-2019, 08:04 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkDemma View Post
At least according to the specs page ( https://www.bmwusa.com/vehicles/2-se...-features.html ) the curb weight of the M240i is 3519 (3554 manual) but I'm seeing the curb weight of the M340i as 3849. ( https://www.bmwusa.com/vehicles/3-se...-features.html ) The 440i is noted at 3704. ( https://www.bmwusa.com/vehicles/4-se...-features.html )

Not sure where The Outrage got the figure for the M340i. I thought they had shaved some weight off the 3.
BMW touting the 120lbs or so that the 3er lost when they first released the car was all marketing BS. The platform or chassis may have lost weight, but in comparison to the F30, the G20 actually gained weight in every configuration possible. The 4-cylinder didn't gain too much, but the 6 gained as much as 150lbs. https://g20.bimmerpost.com/forums/sh....php?t=1599263
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      09-18-2019, 11:14 PM   #15
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E30: definitely top of the list agreed!

Putting the 'new' one 4th is wack.

The E21 is a great driver's car. WAY better than the E46 or E36 in terms of feel and authenticity. I'd put it right after the E30 for it's simplicity, purity, and feel.

The E9X is a far better driver's car than any of the 'electronic era' BMWs.

Definitely agree about the F-series being last. Totally dismal in every way!
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      09-19-2019, 06:03 AM   #16
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Maybe we can see some weight reduction in the future from smarter engineering, but really unlikely to get smaller (better crumble zone/rear room).

did you see how many comments said something like "finally you can have a 6ft passenger in the back seat sits comfortably with a 6ft driver"
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      09-19-2019, 08:39 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkDemma View Post
At least according to the specs page ( https://www.bmwusa.com/vehicles/2-se...-features.html ) the curb weight of the M240i is 3519 (3554 manual) but I'm seeing the curb weight of the M340i as 3849. ( https://www.bmwusa.com/vehicles/3-se...-features.html ) The 440i is noted at 3704. ( https://www.bmwusa.com/vehicles/4-se...-features.html )

Not sure where The Outrage got the figure for the M340i. I thought they had shaved some weight off the 3.
You're right, I was inadvertently using the 330i weight figure. All of the weights were pulled off of BMW's website.

Here are the corrected values:

M240i: 3,519 lbs.
M340i: 3,849 lbs.
440i: 3,704 lbs.
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      09-19-2019, 11:09 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Outrage View Post
You're right, I was inadvertently using the 330i weight figure. All of the weights were pulled off of BMW's website.

Here are the corrected values:

M240i: 3,519 lbs.
M340i: 3,849 lbs.
440i: 3,704 lbs.
From a quick search, it appears that the weight of the outgoing 340i is 3664 lb. Which makes you wonder what they mean when BMW say they shaved some weight off the 340?

Nevertheless, it does FEEL a lot better, not to E46 levels mind you. The best part of the new M340i is the revised B58 engine. I really really hope that it makes its way into the next M240i.
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      09-19-2019, 07:16 PM   #19
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Let's rank it by the model itself not some one-off extreme example. The ranking should be taken as a whole by model line.

I never owned an e36. But from test drives and being a passenger I remember coming away feeling "What a cheap piece of ....". Of all the 3-series, the e36 interior and exterior was most disappointing.

My ranking is the e46 is easily the best era. Followed by:
e30 (just look at the used value!)
e90 (last of the true Ultimate Driving Machine)

The f30 isn't bad in itself. LCI F30 is handsome and in sport package is quite good. Just that it lost the driver's feel and competition has caught and/or surpassed it. BMW compensated with M stuff. But the damage has been done. BMW had to concede its crown for the first time since the invention of luxury sports sedan. For that, the F30 is unforgiveable.

No comment on the G20. It needs more time to prove itself. Alas thanks to the F30, BMW has to fight back up the hill for the crown. Is that still be worn by the Giulia or Tesla 3 now?
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      09-21-2019, 10:11 AM   #20
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Interesting perspective- thanks for posting.
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      09-22-2019, 06:39 PM   #21
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I've owned them all other than the E36 and G20. The F30 is much, much better than the E21, even an E21 323i. The 320i we got here was a turd and BMW 'fixed' it with the E30. Other than that, this list is spot on.
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      09-23-2019, 07:33 AM   #22
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Had several E30's, 318is, 325i, 325is. Agree that they are the top. But now they feel antique.

I have driven all of the above with the G20 cars.

I'd substitute the 128 in the line up as a logical 3 series successor after the e46 went away. The E9* series cars left the design ethos of the 3 behind and the car lost its way . a bit. The e8* really was the logical three series extension (bar the lack of 4 doors).

That car I'd put as first on the list. Above the E30.

I've always maintained that the 128i sport/ m sport was what the E30 325is would have been if it grew up and the modern 330i. Proper Hp to weight with emphasis on handling but no compromise in terms of ride or daily function.

Where does that car fit on that list for you.
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