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The BMW 3 Series is not only an iconic car, but also traces a seven generation heritage that offers a thrilling ride through time.

06 Nov 2020 | International News : Germany


From Jaws to Crazy Rich Asians, the BMW 3 Series has been with us as various cultural icons have come and gone. We take a ride through the storied history of this iconic driver's car.

It's 1975, and while everyone was watching the U.S $472-million smash hit Jaws, another phenomenon was also stirring deep beneath the depths at Munich.

While everyone was catching Jaws, BMW also had something ready to pounce on everyone with the first 3 Series
1975 was of course, the year the BMW 3 Series, a two-door sedan with a shark-like nose and neat proportions, made its debut and immediately elevated the compact car into an art form.

Created for demanding drivers, its powerful engines, flawless handling and far-reaching safety features also set a template for driving machines in the years to come.

By 1981, sales would cross the one million mark, enough to make this new compact sedan the most successful model in the company's history.

The second generation 3 Series offered more legroom for passengers, just as how Pac-man always had space for more dots
But the model and the firm did not have much time to rest. As the iconic ghost-eating Pac-Man took the world by storm in 1982, BMW's E30 3 Series was also busy making space in its cabin with up to 40mm more legroom than the original model. This model was also the first to receive a sports derivative: The BMW M3.

With a chassis and engine both derived from the track, the sports sedan won race after race on its way to becoming the most successful car in the history of touring car racing.

The addition of a four-door model, as well as a Touring variant, which was originally developed as a 'hobby' project by BMW technician Max Reisboeck in order to give his family more room when on vacation, eventually aided to propel total sales of this generation beyond 2.2 million cars.

While the Hubble Telescope looked far into space, BMW had its sights on the future with the third generation M3 coupe
Fast forward to 1990 and the Hubble Space Telescope is now hurtling into orbit to peer into deep space.

Back firmly on ground level, shoppers around the world were also taking their first look at the third generation BMW 3 Series.

And this model also proved that it wasn't just the telescope that had long-sighted vision, for BMW also had the foresight to grace this 3 Series with a two-door Coupe variant that would eventually become the base for a new M3, a milestone for BMW M that validated the idea of true sporting character blended with everyday practicality.

Its six-cylinder engine delighted fans not only by revving silkily and eagerly, but with its specific output: Producing 282hp from only 3.0-litres of swept capacity; a high figure for a naturally-aspirated engine that few automakers could achieve at the time.

A 40mm gain in length and width don't exactly make the E46 3 Series titanic in size, but its sales figures certainly were something to behold
Give another seven years, and the Titanic would roll out into the cinemas to meteoric success. Back on land, the E46 3 Series was likewise seeing record numbers, with 3.2 million examples finding homes; an all-time high for the BMW 3 Series.

This generation also grew in proportions, by 40mm in length and width, while sporting equipment previously unseen in the compact sedan segment, such as a multifunction steering wheel, rear side airbags, rain sensing wipers and satellite navigation.

The fifth generation 3 Series utilised a V8 to achieve bewildering output figures, just like the rise of YouTube
Come 2005, and the fifth generation BMW 3 Series would premiere at the Geneva International Motor Show, a month after the founding of YouTube. Today, the video sharing site is the second-most popular on the internet, behind its owner, Google.

Mirroring the spectacular growth of YouTube was the output figures for this generation's M3, which had reached 414bhp. Its engine likewise had grown into a V8, the only one ever used in a BMW 3 Series, giving this generation of M3 a measure of true exclusivity.

By 2015, BMW had successfully married electric and petrol power into a single car with the 330e
2011 rolls around, and Prince William and Catherine Middleton were getting wed in front of an estimated 234 million people. But 2011 also saw the sixth generation of the BMW 3 Series being launched, offering an eight-speed Steptronic transmission for the first time in its class, raising efficiency to new heights.

In 2015, BMW further undertook to merge two into one as well, with the new BMW 330e delivering a best-of-both-worlds approach to sustainable mobility. The plug-in hybrid married pure-electric drive for daily use in an urban setting, with a petrol engine for longer trips and maximum performance.

Local in flavour, yet with an international reach: Both the movie and the three
Come 2018, Crazy Rich Asians would take to the cinemas, grossing at nearly U.S $235 million, and trailing soon after was the current generation 3 Series. Just like the duo of the romantic comedy series, the new 3 Series was now more handsome, and far more intelligent than before, thanks to new internet-enabled features such as the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant.

Driver and passenger alike could now activate the new digital butler with a simple "Hey, BMW!", after which it could interpret and respond to queries in natural language, such as, "Find me the nearest chicken rice stall." Truly international in reach, while delivering on local flavour.

After more than four decades of growth and technological improvement, the BMW 3 Series sits at the pinnacle of innovation today. But its heritage shows that its ability to captivate has been there from the beginning.

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