Social and marketing significance
From its sporting origins, the 3 Series became a formal range that was sometimes synonymous with the "yuppie" generation in 1975. Being an accessible prestige-badge car, the 3 Series' reputation grew. By the early 21st century, the E46 3 Series, designed by American Chris Bangle, was the best-selling car of its size in the world, as commonplace in Asia and America as in Europe, while maintaining its prestigious image.
Like most of BMW's contemporary models, the 3 Series name has been applied to many different vehicles. The 1998 3 Series is marketed similarly to the 1999 3 Series, but the two share few mechanical components and are styled quite differently.
3 Series vehicles can be largely differentiated by the underlying platform:
- BMW E21 - (1975–1983) 3 Series
- BMW E30 - (1984–1994) 3 Series
- BMW E36 - (1992–1998) 3 Series
- BMW E46 - (1999–2005) 3 Series
- BMW E90 - (2006–) 3 Series Sedan
- BMW E91 - (2006-) 3 Series Wagon
- BMW E92 - (2007-) 3 Series Coupé
- BMW E93 - (2008-) 3 Series Convertible