1 May 2005
BMW’S fifth-generation 3 Series was the last of its passenger cars to gain the controversial Chris Bangle ‘flame surface’ look – and the result from critics was mixed, mainly because it was a safe and watered down attempt after the bolder 1 and 5 Series’ looks.
But there was nothing to complain about underneath or how the E90 drove. The ‘3’ quickly rose to the top of its class for dynamics, as the brand is always expected to do.
And like the E46 II, there wasn’t a dud engine in the range. Arguably one of the best was the 110kW/200Nm 2.0-litre Valvetronic variable-valve DOHC 16V four-cylinder 320i sedan unit.
Like all E90s, it was mated to a six-speed auto or manual gearbox.
The result was a sweet, strong, and sonorous powerplant that, along with VW/Audi’s contemporary 2.0 FSI units, finally put the German four-cylinder engine up to where the best of the Japanese had been for a while.
For an opener the 320i wasn’t too barebones either, with dual front, side and head airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction controls, and cruise control included. More money bought the Executive version, with extra fruit.
Next up was the 325i, with a 160kW/250Nm output from its smooth and punchy 2.5-litre Valvetronic in-line six-cylinder engine.
Confusingly a 323i model was also released in May 2006 in 3 Series Touring wagon guise. It boasted 130kW of power, 230Nm of torque and 1385 litres of luggage carrying capability.
BMW also shoehorned its new 190kW/300Nm 3.0-litre Valvetronic six-cylinder engine in the 330i sedan range-topper.
But perhaps the most intriguing E90 variant was the 320d, released in early ’06 and regarded by some critics as the most rounded passenger car in the world.
Powered by a 115kW/330Nm 2.0-litre DOHC 16V four-cylinder turbo-diesel, it arrived in four-door automatic sedan guise.
In October 2006 BMW released the two-door coupe version of the E90 3 Series.
Although no body panels were shared, the E92’s cabin and drivetrain was essentially sedan based.
The company also took the opportunity to introduce its first-ever turbo-charged petrol engine in Australia – in this case a twin-turbo, direct-injection 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder unit producing 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque.
Along with the 335i Coupe, this engine also found its way into the new 335i sedan from December 2006.
At the bottom rung ws the 323i Coupe, employing the same N52 magnesium-aluminium 2.5-litre straight-six as the more powerful 325i sedan, but producing 140kW and 230Nm, while the 325i Coupe’s powerplant delivered 160kW and 250Nm.
All engines were mated to a six-speed gearbox – be it a manual or Steptronic automatic.
In April 2007 BMW Australia introduced the final body variant of its highly successful current model 3 Series with the launch of its fourth-generation Convertible.
The E93 model was a significant step forward in replacing the previous fabric roof with a three-section steel roof that folds away into the top of the boot.
The roof itself was made by roof specialist Edscha in Germany and could retract in 22 seconds and close in 23 seconds, activated by either a centre console button or the key remote control.
Two models were available in Australia – the 2.5-litre 325i, and the 3.0-litre twin-turbo 335i. Standard transmission was a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional six-speed automatic transmission with manual sequential shift.
Specifications and equipment levels were the same as the equivalent 3 Series Coupe models.
A June 2007 model upgrade included refinements to the six-cylinder engine in the 323i that resulted in an extra 10kW of power and improved fuel consumption.
All 3 Series sedans and wagons received keyless entry and start while all four-cylinder models gained rear parking distance sensors, an automatic interior mirror, through-loading to the boot and an adjustable front armrest The 325i got Business Navigation as standard.
In January 2008 BMW installed the third-generation 2.0-litre common-rail direct-injection turbo-diesel engine into the 3 Series range.
The four-cylinder 320d engine produced 125kW of power at 4000rpm and 340Nm of torque at 1750rpm, making it 10kW and 10Nm more powerful than the superseded 2.0-litre diesel. It was also 20kg lighter than the previous engine thanks to all-aluminium construction.
Fitted with a standard six-speed automatic transmission, the 320d’s combined cycle consumption figure was just six litres per 100 km, an improvement of 0.6L/100km or about 10 per cent.
BMW had also added two new wagon models to the 3 Series range, including a range-topping 335i version powered by the company’s mighty twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine.
At the other end of the spectrum, BMW Australia added a new entry-level wagon in the form of the 320i Touring, powered by the same 115kW/200Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine as the sedan and sharing its standard features list.
BMW introduced a new DCG double-clutch seven-speed semi-automatic transmission in July 2008 as an option – two months before the similar PDK automated manual in the new Porsche 911 arrived here.
BMW launched the convertible version of its awesome V8-engined M3 a little over a year after the M3 Coupe, complete with the company’s new seven-speed high-performance DCG double-clutch semi-automatic transmission.
Of course, the four-seat M3 Convertible lost the Coupe’s signature carbon fibre roof, but it featured all the other M3 styling cues, including the aluminium bonnet with power bulge, flared wheelarches, air intake gills in the front side panels, 18-inch wheels and rear air dam with diffuser punctuated by dual M tailpipes.
It also featured the same three-setting adaptive sports suspension, cross-drilled braking and electronic dynamic drive systems as the M3 Coupe, making it one of the sportiest convertibles in the world.
BMW launched a high-performance E90 3 Series diesel with an engine straight from the 730d in July 2009.
Under the bonnet was an all-aluminium common-rail turbo diesel producing 180kW of power at 4000rpm, and 520Nm of torque available from just 1750rpm all the way through to 3000rpm and mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox.
In late 2009 BMW made diesel power more widely available throughout the 3 Series range, supplementing the 320d and 330d E90 sedan models that have been on sale for some time.
All models fell under the company’s EfficientDynamics mantra to include Brake Energy Regeneration (generating electric power from energy otherwise wasted as lost heat via the brake system), electric power steering and common rail diesel engine technology.
In August 2010 the Coupe and Convertible models received their mid-life facelifts, receiving a new front bumper with wider kidney grille and lower air intake, a wider rear bumper, revised L-shaped tail-lights with ‘light bars’ and the option of new LED headlight elements including ‘eyebrows’, low and high-beam rings and indicators, which were standard on the new-look 335i M Sport.
Mechanically, there were three new 18-inch alloy wheel options across the range, while the 325i and 330d gain a new 17-inch alloy wheel design.
BMW claimed the change to spring-disc damping valve technology for all models except the M3 and 335i Convertible resulted in improved low-speed ride quality without any sacrifice to handing agility or stability, while buyers could elect to delete the lower, firmer M Sport suspension that now came standard on the 335i.
The most significant mechanical changes, however, were applied to the entry-level 320d, which became available as standard here with a six-speed manual transmission for the first time.
The new-look 335i with standard M Sport features and new TwinPower turbo engine got a similar look to the M3. The now-standard M Sport kit included a full bodykit, 19-inch double-spoke alloys and lower and stiffer M Sport suspension (a delete option), plus M Sport door sills, a sports multi-function steering wheel, aluminium trim highlights and BMW Individual anthracite headlining.
High Precision Injection, Valvetronic fully variable valve management and a single twin-scroll turbocharger rather than twin turbochargers developed the same 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque as before, but with eight per cent (0.7L/100km) lower fuel consumption at 8.4L/100km for the coupe and 8.8L/100km for the convertible.
Changes for both the M-badged 3 Series coupe and folding hard-top models were limited to the new tail-lights, a new Mineral White metallic paint colour and BMW’s Auto Stop/Start system fitted as standard in both manual and – for the first time – automatic guises.