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First Sight: BMW 3 Series

Wed, 27 Oct 2004 With the 7 Series of 2001, Z4 of 2002, X3, 5 and 6 Series of 2003, and 1 Series earlier this year, the current E46 3 Series is the last (X5 excepted) 'old school' BMW in production. These first official pictures show BMW's fifth generation E90 3 Series which replaces this car and completes the new design strategy for the main series BMW range under Design Director Chris Bangle.

Now with a smaller sibling in the range, the 3 Series is no longer BMW's entry level car although it shares much of its platform with the 1 Series and it is expected to continue to account for about half of BMW's total sales.


On the roads in Spring 2005, the 3 Series is conceptually and technically an incremental development of its predecessor. It has revised petrol engines ranging from one 2 litre four cylinder through 2.5 to 3.0 litre sixes and continues downwards with a 1.8 litre four and upwards with a new turbo-charged 3.0 litre six and 4.0 litre V8 (in the M3). Diesels include the current 2.0 litre four cylinder and will extend to include two 3.0 litre sixes.

Like the 1 Series, iDrive is available as an option, but so too are many features that debuted in the 5 Series, such as active steering, brake force display (extra brake lights for an emergency stop), keyless entry and run flat tyres.

With a length of 4520mm, width 1817mm, and height 1424mm, it is marginally larger that its predecessor in all dimensions except width where it is a significant 78mm larger. In length it is midway between the 1 and 5 Series, but given that it shares saloon car configuration with the 5 whilst the 1 is a truncated estate with a very short rear overhang, the 3 is actually much closer in its overall size to its smaller sibling.


After the recent new wave of innovative designs from BMW, and particularly the 5 and 1 series, the 3 series is relatively conventional with less complex and concave surfaces, and more voluminous forms that visually increase it size relative to the 1 series.

Proportionally the car is much the same as its predecessor; clearly rear wheel drive with short front overhang, lengthy hood and general cab-aft profile. It also has the same archetypal BMW DLO with 'Hofmeister kink' and, uniquely now within the range, it has a new, organic interpretation of the once-typical BMW bodyside undercut running the length of the car's flanks, that tapers in plan to the rear significantly. At the front the kidney grille punctures a surface that runs seamless from the hood to lower front valance and is part of a more 'grown up' face than before.

Inside the car is less driver orientated than the E46 (and certainly the E36) and straddles the 5 and 1 Series in theme, notably with two instrument panel designs; one for iDrive-fitted cars and a simpler design for those without.


Despite the new 3 Series being conventional relative to all other recent BMW designs, the car is fresh, continues to develop new and progress existing BMW design themes, and is clearly positioned relative to its smaller and larger siblings. It perfectly completes the BMW series range, illustrates the more mature dimension of the company's new design philosophy and looks likely to continue the sales success of the previous four generations.

By Sam Livingstone