BMW 3 series (E30)


History

The second generation of BMW’s 3 series was introduced in late 1982. Where the predecessor E21 had only been available as two-door sedan (not counting the partial convertibles by Baur), the E30 was sold in a total of four body styles. The four-door sedan, convertible, and station wagon (Touring in BMW language) were introduced in 1983, 1985, and 1987, respectively. The design was a clear continuation of the E21’s design, and maybe a bit old-fashioned compared to the contemporary Mercedes-Benz 190. Dual headlights were now standard. Engines ranged from a 1.6l four-cylinder to a 2.3l six-cylinder.

A minor facelift was performed in 1985, a more major one in 1987. The most noticeable changes were the replacement of the chrome bumpers by plastic and new, larger rear lights. The engines were changed, too, with the top engine now being a 2.5l. In 1989, four-valve technology reached the E30 with the introduction of the 318iS.

The two- and four-door sedan versions were succeeded by the E36 in 1991. The convertible stayed in production until 1983, the Touring even until 1994.

Performance

The four-cylinder 316i and 318i provide enough power for a relatively lightweight car, but are not spectacular. The top engines (323i with 143hp and 325i with 170hp) are much more interesting in this regard. I’ve found acceleration figures of 8.3s for the sprint to 100, and a top speed of 218 km/h, for the 325i. Also interesting is the 318iS, which has less power (136hp) but is quite a bit lighter than the six-cylinders. It used to be very popular in amateur motor sports in Germany. A special case is the 325e (eta). In an effort to reduce fuel consumption, BMW introduced this low-compression 2.7l engine. Power is comparable to the 320i, but with more torque than even the 325i, drivability in street traffic is very good.

Pros

An old-school BMW with its traditional design cues (recessed grill, round headlights, simple lines), but more refined than the E21.

Cons

Lacks amenities that you would expect on a daily driver. Prices have gone up considerably in recent years. Original cars in good condition are becoming increasingly difficult to find.

My pick

Pre-facelift 320i or 323i, I really like the looks with the chrome bumpers and small tail lights. A 318iS is a worthy alternative. If you’re a convertible guy, a 325i might be your thing, but these are no longer to be had at bargain prices.

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