BMW 3 Series (E36)

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BMW 3 Series (E36)
1992 BMW 320i (15538594776) (cropped).jpg
DesignerPinky Lai, Boyke Boyer
Body and chassis
ClassCompact executive car (D)
Body style
LayoutRear-wheel drive
RelatedBMW Z3
BMW 3 Series Compact
Wheelbase2,700 mm (106.3 in)
Length4,433 mm (174.5 in)[1]
Width1,710 mm (67.3 in)[1]
Height1,366–1,390 mm (53.8–54.7 in)[1]
Curb weight1,315–1,395 kg (2,899–3,075 lb)[1]
PredecessorBMW 3 Series (E30)
SuccessorBMW 3 Series (E46)

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

The E36 was the first 3 Series to be offered in a hatchback body style. 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 compared with previous generations of 3 Series.

The E36 was named in Car and Driver magazine's 10Best list for every year it was on sale.[2]

The E36 M3 is powered by the BMW S50 or BMW S52 straight-six engine (depending on country). The E36 M3 was released in 1992 and was available in coupé, sedan and convertible body styles.

Following the introduction of its successor, the E46 3 Series in 1998, the E36 began to be phased out.

Development and launch[edit]

Development of the E36 began in 1981[3] and the exterior design was heavily influenced by aerodynamics, specifically the overall wedge shape, headlight covers and smaller wing mirrors.[4] The lead designers were Pinky Lai[5] and Boyke Boyer.[6][7]

The E36 production was launched in October 1990, with press release in November and market launch in early 1991.[8][8][9]

Body styles[edit]

The body styles of the range are:



Safety equipment available included a driver's airbag, passenger airbag, ABS braking and stability control ("ASC +T").[13] Electronic climate control was also available on the E36.



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 engines. 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 M3 introduced the 3.0 L BMW S50 engine. In 1995, its capacity was increased to 3.2 L and VANOS was added to the intake camshaft.[14]

Model Years Engine Power Torque
316i 1990-1994 M40B16 73 kW (98 bhp)
at 5,500 rpm
141 N⋅m (104 lb⋅ft)
at 4,250 rpm
1993-1999 M43B16 75 kW (101 bhp)
at 5,500 rpm
150 N⋅m (111 lb⋅ft)
at 3,900 rpm
318i 1990-1993* M40B18 83 kW (111 bhp)
at 5,500 rpm
162 N⋅m (119 lb⋅ft)
at 4,250 rpm
1993-1998 M43B18 85 kW (114 bhp)
at 5,500 rpm
168 N⋅m (124 lb⋅ft)
at 3,900 rpm
  318is** 1992-1995 M42B18 103 kW (138 bhp)
at 6,000 rpm
175 N⋅m (129 lb⋅ft)
at 4,500 rpm
1996-1998 M44B19 181 N⋅m (133 lb⋅ft)
at 4,300 rpm
320i 1991-1994 M50B20 110 kW (148 hp)
at 5,900 rpm
190 N⋅m (140 lb⋅ft)
at 4,700 rpm
1994-1998 M52B20 190 N⋅m (140 lb⋅ft)
at 4,200 rpm
323i 1995-1998 M52B25 125 kW (168 hp)
at 5,500 rpm[15]
245 N⋅m (181 lb⋅ft)
at 3,950 rpm
325i 1991-1993 M50B25 141 kW (189 hp)
at 5,900 rpm
245 N⋅m (181 lb⋅ft)
at 4,700 rpm
1993-1995 M50B25TU 245 N⋅m (181 lb⋅ft)
at 4,200 rpm
328i 1995-1998 M52B28 142 kW (190 hp)
at 5,500 rpm
280 N⋅m (207 lb⋅ft)
at 3,950 rpm
Euro spec
1992-1995 S50B30 213 kW (286 hp)
at 7,000 rpm
320 N⋅m (236 lb⋅ft)
at 3600 rpm
1995-1998 S50B32 236 kW (316 hp)
at 7,400 rpm
350 N⋅m (258 lb⋅ft)
at 3250 rpm
U.S. spec
1995 S50B30US 179 kW (240 hp)
at 6,000 rpm
305 N⋅m (225 lb⋅ft)
at 4,250 rpm
1996-1999 S52B32 320 N⋅m (236 lb⋅ft)
at 3,800 rpm

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


Model Years Engine Power Torque
318tds 1994-2000 M41D17 66 kW (89 hp)
at 4,400 rpm
190 N⋅m (140 lb⋅ft)
at 1,900 rpm
325td 1991-1996 M51D25UL 85 kW (114 hp)
at 4,400 rpm
222 N⋅m (164 lb⋅ft)
at 2,000 rpm
1996-1998 M51D25TUUL 85 kW (114 hp)
at 4,800 rpm
230 N⋅m (170 lb⋅ft)
at 2,000 rpm
325tds 1993-1996 M51D25OL 105 kW (141 hp)
at 4,800 rpm
260 N⋅m (192 lb⋅ft)
at 2,200 rpm
1996-1998 M51D25TUOL 105 kW (141 hp)
at 4,600 rpm
280 N⋅m (207 lb⋅ft)
at 2,200 rpm

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.


The E36 was produced with the following transmissions:

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

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


The sedan, coupé, 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.

M3 model[edit]

M3 coupe

The E36 M3 is powered by the BMW S50 and BMW S52 straight-six engines, and was produced in coupé, sedan and convertible body styles.

Alpina models[edit]

The Alpina "B6 2.8", "B3 3.0", "B3 3.2", "B8 4.0" and "B8 4.6" models were based on the E36.[16] The B3 and B6 models were powered by straight-six engines, while the B8 models were powered by V8 engines.[17]

E36/5 Compact[edit]

3 Series 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.

Z3 Roadster/Coupe[edit]

2002 BMW Z3 3.0i

A modified version of the E36 platform was used for the 1996-2002 Z3 roadster (model code E36/7) and coupé (model code E36/8).

North American model range[edit]

The North American model range consisted of:

  • 318i, 318is, 318ic (1992–1995)
  • 318ti (1994–1996)
  • 318i, 318ti (1996–1998)
  • 320i Canada only (1993-1995)
  • 323i (1996–1998) Coupe and convertible models only.
  • 323is, 323ic (1996–1999)
  • 325i, 325is, 325ic (1992)
  • 325i, 325is, 325ic (1993–1995) Coupe models sold as 325is.
  • 328i (1996–1998)
  • 328is, 328ic (1996–1999) Coupe models sold as 328is.
  • M3 (1995-1998 coupe, 1997-1998 sedan, 1997-1998 convertible) US-specific M3 engines: S50B30US (1995) and S52B32 (1996–1998)

Diesel models were not sold in the United States.[18]

Special models[edit]

318is Mtechnic[edit]

A sport version of the 318i in coupé form which was powered by the BMW M42 DOHC engine. The 318is had an Mtech bumper, skirt, 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, and a sportier interior.

325is Mtechnic[edit]

In 1993-1994 BMW North America produced 150 "325is Mtechnic" models. Bodyworks included the M3 front spoiler, side skirts, rear valence and rear-vision mirrors, and all were painted with BMW Alpine White III. The result was a model with the appearance of a 1995 M3, however without the higher performance engine.[19][20] Handling upgrades included 17-inch BBS alloy wheels, M Tech suspension and a limited slip differential.


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[21] (until 1991), Egypt, Mexico and Thailand.[22][23][24]


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.[25] 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 Nürburgring was won by a diesel for the first time - a BMW E36 320d, aided by its diesel engine requiring fewer fuel stops than rivals.[26][27]


  1. ^ a b c d "The BMW 3 Series Coupés" (PDF). BMW. 1996. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  2. ^ "1998 10Best Cars - 10Best Cars". Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  3. ^ "3 Series - E36 (1990 - 1999)". Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  4. ^ "BMW 3 Series history. The third generation (E36)". Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  5. ^ "Interview with automotive designer Pinky Lai". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  6. ^ "BMW car designers throughout history". Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  7. ^ Caspers, Markus (2017). Designing Motion: Automotive Designers 1890 to 1990. Birkhäuser. p. 79. ISBN 9783035607840. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^ "1975 The history of the BMW 3 Series".
  10. ^ "BMW 3er E36 (1990-2000)". (in German). Archived from the original on 26 October 2012.
  11. ^ Taylor, James (2001). Original BMW M-Series. ISBN 9780760308981.
  12. ^ "3'E36 Compact 318i model selection". Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  13. ^ "Used BMW 318i review: 1991-1998". Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  14. ^ "FAQ E36 M3 3.0". Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  15. ^ Cobb, James G. (12 July 1998). "BEHIND THE WHEEL/BMW 323is; Last Hurrahs for a Star Performer". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  16. ^ "3-series [E36]". Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  17. ^ "BMW 3 Series E36". Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  18. ^ " - Select Your BMW Model". Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  19. ^ "1994 BMW M-Design 325is Coupe".
  20. ^ "1994 M-Technic 325is". Archived from the original on 16 February 2015.
  21. ^ "Uruguay". Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  22. ^ Jacobs, A. J. (2015). The New Domestic Automakers in the United States and Canada: History, Impacts, and Prospects. Lexington Books. p. 259. ISBN 9780739188262. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  23. ^ "BAMC Profile". Archived from the original on 22 August 2010.
  24. ^ "SKD-Standort Mexiko". Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  25. ^ "DriverDatabase".
  26. ^ "BMW World - Nürburgring 24 Hours". Archived from the original on 11 April 2011.
  27. ^ "BMW motorsport press release". Archived from the original on 23 July 2011.