The tried and true 3 Series has been the golden child of BMW for over 20 years, and has earned its place on the top of the pedestal when discussing modern sports sedans and coupes. While clear in its design and purpose, the naming scheme of the 3 Series is anything but. Believe it or not, at one point in time, BMW’s nomenclature was pretty easy to understand. The first number was the series or class, and the following two digits denoted the engine size, in liters. The simple naming scheme is a thing of the past now. Current 3 series production models include a 328i, 335i and 340i, and none of them feature a 2.8, 3.5, or 4.0-liter mill. On top of the confusing naming scheme, you then have the mid model changes to deal with (or as BMW likes to call them, facelifts or Life Cycle Impulses). The team at ALLMAG is here to help you cut through all of this nonsense.
E46 3 Series (1999-2006)
Up until the release of the 4th generation 3 series in 1999, the 3 series nomenclature was relatively straight forward, the numbers after the three always represented the engine size. This was thrown completely out the window for the first two years of production, when the 323i and 328i were introduced. While the 328i was powered by a 2.8-liter straight six, the 323i featured a 2.5-liter power plant. To add to the confusion, when the new engines were introduced in 2001, the naming scheme reverted back to reflecting the actual displacement, with the 325i and 330i featuring 2.5 and 3.0-liter motors. These motors continued in production for the remainder of the E46’s life. All-wheel-drive also made a return to the 3 series lineup as an option on the 325i and 330i sedan in 2001, gaining the designation xi.
- 1999-2000 323i/328i Sedan
- 2000 323ci(c)/328ci(c) Coupe and Convertible
- 2001-2005 325i(xi)/330i(xi) Sedan
- 2001-2006 325ci(c)/330ci(c) Coupe and Convertible
The E46 sedan began production for the 1999 model year, and the coupe and convertible followed for 2000. All variants underwent a cosmetic refresh roughly halfway through their respective runs, referred to as facelift. The pre-facelift sedan was sold from 1999-2001, and the pre-facelift coupe was produced from 2000-2003. Without knowing the differences, it is difficult to tell which 3er you see is a pre or post facelift car, but once they are made clear, the difference will seem like night and day.
- 1999-2001: smaller kidney grilles, different hood, headlights turn down at the corners, side markers lower on fenders with different styled fenders, bumper design with horizontal cutout for fog lights, tail lights have turn signal as the top light, rear bumper with lower center molding
E46 Sedan Pre Facelift Front
E46 Sedan Pre Facelift Rear
- 2002-2005: new, larger kidney grilles, changes to hood, headlights turn up at the corners, side markers are higher on the new fender, new front bumper design for 325i/330i without sport package, tail lights have a center turn signal
E46 Sedan Post Facelift Front
E46 Sedan Post Facelift Rear
- 2000-2003: smaller kidney grilles, different hood, headlights turn down at the corners, side markers lower on fenders with different styled fenders, bumper design with horizontal cutout for fog lights, tail lights have turn signal as the top light, rear bumper with lower center molding, shorter rear deck lift handle
E46 Coupe Pre Facelift Front
E46 Coupe Pre Facelift Rear
- 2004-2006: new, larger kidney grilles, changes to hood, headlights turn up at the corners, side markers are higher on the new fender, new front bumper design for 325i/330i without sport package, tail lights feature led lights, rear bumper has center molding trim removed, trunk lid handle redesigned
E46 Coupe Post Facelift Front
E46 Coupe Post Facelift Rear
E9X 3 Series (2006-2013)
The sixth-generation 3 series was introduced as a sedan (designated E90) in 2006, with the coupe and convertible models following for the 2007 model year (E92 and E93 respectively). This was the first time in 3 series history that the coupe, convertible, and sedans were all given a specific internal chassis designation.
The models available at launch included the 325i and 330i, and both were available in all wheel drive (designated xi). Despite having the same model designations as the E46, the E90 325i and 330i featured a completely new family of engines. Upon the release of the 328i and 335i in 2007, yet another new engine was released: the infamous N54. You might be thinking that these cars feature a 2.8-liter and 3.0-liter engine, right? Wrong. The 328i packs a 3.0-liter power plant and under the 335i’s hood is also a 3.0-liter… with two turbos attached. This marks the beginning of BMW’s new naming scheme where the model designation no longer denotes actual displacement, but instead the power level of the car. So all x28i cars have a certain power level, x35i cars have a certain power level, and so on.
Year Breakdowns (E90)
2006 only: 325i(xi)/330i(xi)
2009-2011: 335d (diesel)
Year Breakdowns (E92/93)
2011-2013: 335is (N54)
Note: 2011 and up 335i/xi received the new N55 motor, while the 335is used a modified N54. Only the last year of E90 production featured the N55.
The facelift of the E9X generation is now referred to as the Life Cycle Impulse (LCI). The sedan was released in 2006, with the coupe and convertible following for the 2007 model year. For the sedan, the LCI occurred in 2009, with changes including revisions to bumper design, side view mirrors, both the headlights and tail lights, as well as the kidney grilles and hood. The LCI sedan continued production until the end the E90 run in 2011. The coupe and convertible were released in 2007, and underwent an LCI for the 2011 model year. The changes were similar to the sedan, with the addition of led rear tail lights. It is worth noting that although the coupe did not receive a refresh until 2011, the side mirrors were changed in 2009, the same time that the sedan received new wing mirrors in the LCI. The cosmetic changes of the E9X generation’s LCI are often viewed as one of the more extensive mid model refreshes in 3 series history.
2006-2008: Headlights have a pronounced kink at the top corners, kidney grilles are rounded with a chrome trim piece above them, hood is flat with no pronounced crease line, mirrors are more pointed, tail lights are normal bulbs with reverse lights as the top inner corner lights, trunk is more rounded.
2009-2011: Headlights are more aggressive and squared on top, mirrors are a more rounded and taller shape, grilles are flatter with chrome trim around them, hood has pronounced crease lines in the middle, front bumper is redesigned to be more muscular looking, tail lights are more aggressive and have the reverse lights as a smaller, inner light, tail lights are full LED lights, trunk is more squared. Interior changes include a new driver side armrest and new center console air conditioning and radio controls.
Coupe/Convertible (E92, 93)
2007-2010: Headlights have a pronounced kink at the top corners, kidney grilles are rounded with a chrome trim piece above them, hood is flat with no pronounced crease line, mirrors are more pointed, tail lights are normal bulbs with reverse lights as the top inner corner lights, trunk is more rounded.
What about the ///M3?
Did you honestly think we forgot about the pinnacle of 3 series engineering? Fortunately, the M3 of both generations are relatively simple to understand in terms of the facelift changes, because there were not as many made. To make things even more simple, the M3 of the E46 and E9X generations had the same engine offerings from the beginning to the end of their production run.
2001-2006 BMW M3 (E46) Coupe/Convertible
- 3.2-liter Inline-6 (S54)
2008-2013 BMW M3 (E9X) Sedan/Coupe/Convertible
- 4.0-liter V8 (S65)
E46 M3 Coupe/Convertible:
- Coupe and convertible E46 M3’s retained the pre facelift front end throughout the production run. They gained LED tail lights along with a trunk lid handle change for the 2004 model year, as did the other E46 coupes and convertibles. M3's are easily distinguished from other E46 coupes and convertibles by their quad exhaust tips, aggressive stance, and side fender vents with ///M badge.
E9X M3 Sedan/Coupe/Convertible:
- The E9X generation M3 received far fewer cosmetic changes than their lesser counterparts. The M3 of this iteration only gained LED tail lights with luminous strips and LED turn signals in sedan, coupe, and convertible forms. Again, M3's feature quad exhaust tips and a more aggressive stance.
As you can see, BMW has provided a plethora of ways in which even the most avid enthusiast can be confused. The ALLMAG team saw the need for all of this information to be in one, easy to access place when we were going through our first BMW: a Space Grey E92. When trying to figure out all the different fitments and mid model changes turned out to be a handful, we decided to make our own list. We hope you find this post both an entertaining and informative read!
Written by: Chris Sabatini and Andrew Snyder