ⓘ BMW 3 Series (E36)

BMW 3 Series (E36)

ⓘ BMW 3 Series (E36)

The BMW E36 is the third generation of the BMW 3 Series range of compact executive cars, and was produced from 1990 to 2000. The initial models were of the four-door sedan body style, followed by the coupe, convertible, wagon and hatchback bodystyles in later years.

The E36 was the first 3 Series to be offered in a hatchback bodystyle. It was also the first 3 Series to be available with a six-speed manual transmission in the 1996 M3, a five-speed automatic transmission and a four-cylinder diesel engine. The multi-link rear suspension was also a significant upgrade as compared to the previous generations of the 3 Series.

The E36 was named in Car and Driver magazines 10Best list for every year it was on sale.

The high performance E36 M3 is powered by the BMW S50 or BMW S52 straight-six engine depending on country. The E36 M3 was introduced in 1992 and was available in coupe, sedan and convertible bodystyles.

Following the introduction of its successor, the E46 3 Series in 1998, the E36 began to be phased out and was eventually replaced in 1999.


1. Development and launch

Development of the E36 began in 1981 and the exterior design was heavily influenced by aerodynamics, specifically the overall wedge shape, headlight covers and smaller wing mirrors. The lead designers were Pinky Lai and Boyke Boyer.

The production version of the E36 was launched in October 1990, with press release in November and market launch in early 1991.


2. Bodystyles

The bodystyles of the range are:

  • 5-door wagon/estate marketed as "Touring", made from 1994 to 1999.
  • 2-door convertible, made from 1993 to 1999. A 4-door Baur "Top Cabriolet" conversion was also available.
  • 3-door hatchback see BMW 3 Series Compact, made from 1994 to 2000.
  • 4-door sedan/saloon, made from 1990 to 1998.
  • 2-door coupe, made from 1990 to 1999.

3. Equipment

Safety equipment available included a drivers airbag, passenger airbag, ABS braking and stability control "ASC +T". Electronic climate control was also available on the E36.


4.1. Engines Petrol

The four-cylinder petrol engines used in the E36 range were initially engines carried over from the previous generation 3 Series: the BMW M40 SOHC engine and the BMW M42 DOHC engine. In 1993, the M40 was replaced by the BMW M43 SOHC engine and the M42 was replaced in 1996 by the BMW M44 DOHC engine.

For the six-cylinder models, the E36 was launched with the then-new BMW M50 DOHC petrol engine. In 1993 the M50TU versions added single-VANOS variable valve timing, which increased torque peak power was unchanged. In 1995, the BMW M52 engine replaced the M50TU, resulting in the 328i model replacing the 325i and the addition of a new mid-range 323i model powered by a 2.5 litre version of the M52.

The 1992, the 3.0 L BMW S50 engine debuted in the E36 M3. In 1995, its capacity was increased to 3.2 L

* Sold as 316i in South Africa ** Sold as 318i instead of the M40/M43-engine models in United States and South Africa


4.2. Engines Diesel

Initially, the turbocharged straight-six BMW M51 engine was used in the E36 325td model. In 1993, the 325tds model was released, which added an intercooler to the M51. In 1994, the 318tds model was introduced, powered by the four-cylinder BMW M41 turbocharged and intercooled engine.


5. Drivetrain

The E36 was produced with the following transmissions:

  • 5-speed automatic
  • 5-speed manual
  • 4-speed automatic
  • 6-speed manual 1996-1999 M3- except for United States

All models are rear-wheel drive, since the E36 was not produced with all-wheel drive unlike its predecessor and successor.


6. Suspension

The sedan, coupe, convertible and Touring models use the "Z-axle" multilink suspension in the rear, which was introduced in the BMW Z1 roadster.

The hatchback "Compact" models use a rear semi-trailing arm suspension based on the older E30 3 Series design. This was done in order to save space due to the truncated rear end of the hatchback.


7. Alpina models

The Alpina "B6 2.8", "B3 3.0", "B3 3.2", "B8 4.0" and "B8 4.6" models were based on the E36. The B3 and B6 models were powered by straight-six engines, while the B8 models were powered by V8 engines.


8. E36/5 Compact

The 3 Series Compact range of three-door hatchback models were introduced in 1993, based on a shortened version of the E36 platform. The model code for the hatchback body style is "E36/5" and the model range consisted of the 316i, 318ti, 323ti and 318tds.


9. North American model range

The North American model range consisted of the following models.


  • M3 1994–1999 - Canada only for 1994 model year, US only for 1995 and 1996 model years
  • 328is 1996–1999
  • 325is 1992–1995
  • 318is 1992–1999 - Canada only for 1999 model year
  • 323is 1998–1999


  • 318i 1994–1999
  • 328i 1996–1999
  • 325i 1994–1995
  • 323i 1998–1999
  • M3 1998–1999 - US only


  • 318ti 1995–1999


  • M3 1997–1998
  • 325i 1992–1995
  • 320i 1993–1995 - Canada only
  • 328i 1996–1998
  • 318i 1992–1998

10. Special models

325is M Technic

Between 1993 and 1994, 150 "325is M Technic" models were produced on special order from BMW North America. Aesthetic modifications included the M3 front spoiler, side skirts, rear valence and wing mirrors, and all of the cars were painted in BMW Alpine White III color. The result was a model with the appearance of a 1995 M3, however without the higher performance engine. Handling upgrades included 17-inch BBS alloy wheels, M Tech suspension and a limited slip differential.


11. Production

The E36 was produced in Munich, Germany; Regensburg, Germany; Rosslyn, South Africa; and Spartanburg County, South Carolina, United States.

Local assembly of complete knock-down CKD kits was used for cars sold in Uruguay until 1991, Egypt, Mexico and Thailand.


12. Motorsports

Joachim Winkelhock competed in the British Touring Car Championship with the 318i and 320i from 1993 to 1995, winning the title in 1993. In the same year, Johnny Cecotto won the German ADAC GT Cup driving an E36 M3. Cecotto won the Super Tourenwagen Cup for BMW in 1994 and 1998, Winkelhock in 1998.

Geoff Brabham and his younger brother David Brabham won the 1997 AMP Bathurst 1000 at the Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst, Australia driving a Super Touring BMW 320i for BMW Motorsport Australia.

The 1998 24 Hours Nurburgring was won by a diesel for the first time - a BMW E36 320d, aided by its diesel engine requiring fewer fuel stops than rivals.

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