BMW 3-Series (1991 – 1998) Review

BMW 3-Series (1991 – 1998) At A Glance


+Excellent build quality. Good balance of performance and economy. Plenty around to choose from.

-Clocked mega-mileage ones around now. Average crash test rating. 316i and 318i are unremarkable to drive.

The BMW 3-Series E36-generation was the defining compact executive car during the 1990s - with the Audi 80/A4 and Mercedes-Benz 190/C-Class someway behind in terms of popularity and desirability. Considering it was a complete refresh - visually - of the outgoing model, aping the larger 5-Series in style, buyers took no time at all in taking it to their hearts. The biggest change technically - apart from that sleek new styling - was the fitment of a new independent rear suspension set-up, known as the Z-axle. It was a multilink set-up, which helped maintain the 3-Series' position as the market sector's best handling car.

As before, the 3-Series was offered not only in four-door saloon form, but also as a two-door Coupe (1992), which was a marketing change in plan compared with the old E30 - that car's two-door version was considered a saloon by BMW. A five-door Touring (1995) version and two-door convertible (1994) were also launched. At launch, the engine line-up comprised of in-line four-cylinders and a collection of straight-sixes, all of which were as brilliant as before. VANOS variable valve timing introduced in 1993, and the 2.5-litre diesel was launched in TD and TDS form (115 and 143bhp respectively), legitamising the concept of a sporting diesel car in the 1990s.

Early quality wobbles were soon forgotten, leaving the BMW 3-Series to make huge sales globally, and set the template for the company's mainstay model for decades to come.

Ask Honest John

Should I keep my 1995 BMW 316i?

"I have a 1995 BMW 316i which is now 25 years old. I love the car as it's never let me down but getting it through the MoT every year is costing more, £500 this time. Is it worth keeping or should I now be looking for a better one or maybe a 1 Series?"
The only person that can really answer this question is you. So put your science hat on and ask yourself: 'what do I need a car for?' Do you use it for commuting to work every day and shuttling kids around? In which case, do you need something that's reliable and economical? Or are you just popping to the shops and doing the occasional long journey. You said it yourself that you love the car - so presumably it's the cost of the annual MoT that's hurting you? But any car will require running costs to be spent on it. If you opt for a 'better' E36, you're buying an unknown quantity and could still end up spending more than you want on it. If you buy a 1-series then you'll still be spending money (on the purchase cost of the car, and if it's over three years old you'll still have to MoT it). Cars don't last forever - their parts wear out and have to be replaced just like anything else. I suspect that, at the back of your mind, your also wondering if you could start to see some kind of return on your investment as the E36 starts to head towards classic status and therefore appreciate in value. That's a long game to play and the 316 will probably be one of the last to see any bump in values.
Answered by Keith Moody

How much is a 1995 BMW 320i worth?

"I've been tasked with selling my mum's 1995 BMW 320i auto saloon, 67k miles, in quite good condition for a 25-year-old car, but I've no idea what to ask for it?"
Aside from the M3, the E36 coupe is the most desirable and very good ones do seem to command prices north of £6k. For a saloon, you're looking at about £500 for a project car, £1000 for a scruffy runner, around £2000 for an excellent low-mileage example with plenty of history and in very good condition (expect to see a similar car on dealer's forecourt for about £3k). If you're still struggling to price yours, have a look around and try to find a similar example and price yours accordingly.
Answered by Keith Moody
More Questions

What does a BMW 3-Series (1991 – 1998) cost?