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//M Car



BMW E36 Three Series


The replacement for the classic E30 was introduced in late 1991 and it was a bit of a shock to the system. The new car looked almost space age in comparison to existing BMWs and had much more rounded lines than before. The traditional four headlamps were hidden behind by a rectangular plastic cover. It was a good deal larger and technologically represented a leap forward in many areas. In particular it's multi link Z-axle, pioneered on the Z1 roadster, improved the handling and the tendency of BMWs to be tail happy.

BMW E36 M3 saloon

M3 Evo 3.2 saloon with distinctive alloys and mirrors.

E36s were easier and more predictable to drive, they were designed to appeal to a wider market and were engineered to satisfy world wide legal requirements without the need for special US bumpers and other tweaks. The E30 had been the car that brought BMW sales and prestige on an unprecedented scale but it's bigger and younger brother would capture a far more diverse audience.

The older car had evolved in unforseen ways over it's life. There had been no initial plans for a soft top or touring and the M3 was almost a lucky accident. The new platform was designed from the ground up to satisfy these requirements and was a symbol of how both BMW and the market were maturing.

The saloon was the first model to be released and demand was high. But 18 months later when the coupe was debuted the waiting lists grew even longer. Unlike the E30 the coupe shared no body panels with the saloon except the bumpers. It had frameless windows which lowered and raised a few millimeters when the door was opened to help them seal properly into the body, a feature my E24 635CSi could have done with to prevent wind noise and was quickly copied by other manufacturers. The two door was only subtly different in overall design but it just looked right from day one, an instant classic.

The convertible and touring E30s soldiered on until 1994 in the UK awaiting the release of their E36 replacements. For the touring there were no compromises as there had been on the E30. There was now a proper low level wide access to the load bay and the rear seat had a 60/40 split with far easier folding. The cabrio benefited from a chassis that had been designed with the lack of a roof in mind and didn't need nearly as much extra iron work as before. It had such innovations as rear safety struts which popped up from behind the rear headrests if the car rolled over and a much strong window frame.

In 1995 the E36 underwent a subtle facelift which didn't alter any body panels but total changed the electrical system, engine options, trim and optional extras list. The interior looked almost identical but early quality problems were sorted and more durable seat fabrics introduced. The same year also saw the introduction of the three door compact hatchback which is a cult classic to this day. To save money it used the E30 rear suspension, although derided for it at the time this gave the car very entertaining handling and the 318ti was a gem of the range.

The design of the E36 meant that the new M3 needed fewer mechanical and body changes than had been the case on the E30. The only major differences were the engine, drivetrain and brakes. Initially the M3 had a 3.0 six cylinder engine derived from the M50 and featuring individual throttle bodies and single VANOS. This grew to a 3.2 in the Evo with dual VANOS and a new six speed gearbox. BMW North America thought this would be too expensive and relied instead on a single throttle body M50 derivative with a good deal less power but in the real world it worked well.

Technically the Z3 is an E36, but I've given it a separate Z3 page.

BMW E36 318iS coupe black

The 1993 318iS I owned for nearly ten years.

Model Body Engine Weight
Power / Weight
(bhp / 1000kg)
Final drive
(manual / auto)
316i Saloon / Coupe /
M43 '93 on

81 3.38 / 4.44 Disc/Drum
316i Compact M43 1250 82 3.38 / 4.44 Disc/Drum
318i Saloon / Touring /
M43 '93 on

1310 88 3.38 / 4.44 Disc/Drum
318iS Coupe M42 /
M44 in 96
1240 /
113 /
3.45 with M42
3.38 on M44*
318ti Compact M42,
in 96
1275 110 3.38
318td/s Saloon / Compact / Touring M41 1355 66 2.79 Disc/Drum
320i Saloon / Coupe /
Touring / Cabrio
M50 / M52 1375 109 3.45 Disc/Disc
323i Saloon / Coupe /
Touring / Cabrio
M52 1385 123 2.93 Disc/Disc
323ti Compact M52 1330 128 3.07 Disc/Disc
325i Saloon / Coupe /
Touring / Cabrio
M50 1370 140 3.15 Disc/Disc
325td/s Saloon M51 1440 80td / 99tds 2.56 Disc/Disc
328i Saloon / Coupe /
Touring / Cabrio
M52 1395 138 2.93 / 3.07 Disc/Disc
M3 Euro Coupe/ Cabrio S50 3.0 1510 190 3.23 Disc/Disc
'95 M3
Coupe S50 3.0 1450? 197? 3.23 Disc/Disc
M3 Evo Saloon / Coupe / Cabrio S52 3.2 1535 209 3.23 Disc/Disc
US M3 Saloon / Coupe / Cabrio S52 3.2 1560? 151? ? Disc/Disc


If there are several body styles the figures relate to the saloon. Weights are for standard car, add about 40kg for SE models mainly due to A/C. See the engine details page for power figures.

In the US all 318i models have the 16 valve engine. Very early european models only had ABS as an optional extra but I've never seen an E36 without ABS.

BMW E36 318ti red

318ti Compact with 17" AC Schnitzer alloys.

Driving an E36

The first E36 I drove was a 1992 316i saloon, a loaner car while my E30 was in for a service. It was very underpowered and the lack of a rear anti-roll bar meant the handling was pretty poor and tended heavily towards understeer. It was well made but was clearly the economy model.

In 1994 I bought an 18 month old 318iS coupe to replace my E30 318iS. They had the same engine but the extra 120kg in the E36 blunted the performance a bit. It was an excellent car for long drives or around town and was very comfortable. My E36 was quieter than the E30 and felt more refined. The handling was good and I could actually corner a bit faster than before but it was less fun and less involving. I kept that car for almost ten years but later bought another E30 318iS and still have one today.

I've had two 328i tourings, one with AC Schnitzer suspension and the other with //M-Tech suspension. I felt the car understeered a bit much so I put on a rear anti-roll bar from an M3 Evo and that sorted it out perfectly. Of course there was a lot more power than my 318iS but the M52 didn't rev as cleanly and the car had a much taller final drive ratio. You could still use the revs of course but in practice the gearing kind of made you drive the thing a good deal lower in the rev range. This is partly because the M52 had a restrictive intake and was designed more for torque than power. The M54 in my E46 is a far revvier animal.

BMW E36 328i touring

My second 328i touring. It handled better than my current E46.

The 328i is an excellent balance of handling and power for both A and B roads. The power complements the rear wheel drive handling by letting you power down after the apex of a corner and really feel the wheels grip under the weight transfer which makes for an entertaining drivers car. The Z axle works much better in this regard than the older semi-trailing arm suspension but part of the fun (and fear in the wet!) is lost in the process.

E36s with enough power are excellent drivers cars. The 318iS doesn't really have the power but it revs keenly and that almost makes up for it. The M40 powered euro/UK 318i and 316i 8 valve engines just don't have what it takes to exploit the chassis.