As you’d expect for a car that’s been around for nearly 45 years, the BMW 3 Series has an impressive lineage spanning seven generations. At the launch of the latest G20 model, BMW Group Malaysia brought along all six of its predecessors as well as the progenitor of the sports sedan category, the one that started it all – even though it wasn’t technically a 3 Series.

That would be the 2002, which debuted in 1968 as a sportier version of the 1602, equipped with a 2.0 litre version of the M10 four-cylinder engine. Compact, lightweight, rear-wheel drive and with the typical BMW long bonnet and “shark nose” front end, it set the tone for things to come from Munich. It even sired high-performance variants such as the fuel-injected 2002 tii and the 2002 Turbo – BMW’s first turbocharged car.

But it was the E21 3 Series, introduced in 1975, that kicked off the 3 Series line. It continued all the hallmarks of the 2002 before it, including a range of four-cylinder engines. Fuel-injected engines came soon after, as did a number of straight-sixes – including the 323i you see here – later on. The interior also featured a centre console that was angled towards the driver, which became a distinct BMW signature.

The E30 arrived in 1982 and cemented the 3 Series as an icon in its own right. It was the first to come as a four-door sedan, a wagon and a proper convertible (the E21 cabriolet was converted by Baur), as well as the first to be offered as an M-badged variant. Built for homologation purposes to allow it to compete in Group A touring car racing, the M3 was powered by a screaming 2.3 litre S14 four-pot churning out a stout 200 hp.

Significantly larger than the car that came before it, the 1990 E36 marked a revolution for the 3 Series, with its streamlined design and an increased use of electronics. It was the first 3 Series to come with a “Z-axle” multilink rear suspension, and the E36 M3 was the first to be powered by a straight-six – a 3.0 litre S50 unit producing 286 hp – and the first to be offered with a sequential gearbox option.

The handsome fourth-generation E46 brought more technologies to the fore when it was revealed in 1997, such as Valvetronic variable valve lift, satellite navigation and the reintroduction of an all-wheel drive option. The M3 version was powered by a 3.2 litre S54 straight-six producing a hefty 343 hp.

The E90, introduced in 2005, is what you’d call a modern 3 Series, being the first to come with the iDrive infotainment system and run-flat tyres – both of which are now staples of the BMW lineup. The 335i was also the first modern BMW to come with turbochargers on its 3.0 litre straight-six, while the E90 M3 was the first and only one to be powered by a 4.0 litre S65 naturally-aspirated V8 making 420 hp.

It may still be fresh in our minds, but the F30 was introduced a full eight years ago, back in 2011. It debuted a fully turbocharged lineup for the first time, along with a 1.5 litre three-cylinder mill on the 318i in 2015. The F80 M3 was turbocharged too – a 3.0 litre S55 twin-turbo straight-six making 431 hp. The F30 was for the first time also available as a plug-in hybrid, which is the 330e you see here.

And so we’ve come to the latest G20 3 Series, which introduces various new features such as the advanced Intelligent Personal Assistant voice control system. The car is launched here in just a single 330i M Sport variant, powered by a 258 hp 2.0 litre turbo four-pot and priced at RM328,800 on-the-road without insurance.

So there you have it – all seven generations of the BMW 3 Series. Which one was your favourite 3 Series of all time? Sound off in the comments section after the jump.


GALLERY: E21 BMW 3 Series
GALLERY: E30 BMW 3 Series
GALLERY: E36 BMW 3 Series
GALLERY: E46 BMW 3 Series
GALLERY: E90 BMW 3 Series
GALLERY: F30 BMW 3 Series
GALLERY: G20 BMW 3 Series