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BMW 3-Series (1982 - 1990)

Last updated 4 February 2015

Image-defining 1980s saloon, lots of options, saloon, coupe, estate and convertible, as well as four- and six-cylinder engines, all well-engineered and good to drive
Lots of thrashed examples with questionable history, be careful when buying


A massively important car for BMW – and an enduring success today. The E30 generation cemented BMW as the market leader in the medium sector, and although it looked little different from its predecessor, thanks to understated styling by Claus Luthe, it was far more convincingly engineered and far better to drive. The 3-Series was cramped and not that quick in four-cylinder form, but the halo effect of the posher versions ensured the car’s continued success during the Yuppie decade.

The upper models in the range, with their straight-six power, rear wheel drive and perfectly judged steering, were the ones to have. The 320i and – even more so – the 323i/325i were a real driver’s delight. The E12′s propensity to oversteer when it wanted had been tamed considerably in the E30. The 1989 325i Sport was the best of the lot - it may have worn a slightly out-of-place bodykit, lessening its Q-car appeal, but that wailing engine, controllable rear-biased handling and all-round quality made this the sports saloon to beat. 

Expansion of the range contined apace with the in-house 3-Series convertible replacing the earlier Baur car. The new Convertible made do with a strengthened windscreen surround instead (instead of full roll-over structure), looked an incredibly clean design. Available with a variety of engine options, the 318i version was the most popular in the UK, although the 325i came a close second. Rapidly disappearing from the UK’s roads, grab a good one now – values are bound to be on the up soon.

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