The BMW 3-series has been considered “the definitive sport sedan” (MotorTrend) and has been the face of BMW for the 34 years of its existence. It combines refined BMW engineering, unique styling from the automotive world’s most prominent designers, luxurious interior design, and surprising fuel efficiency. It is the quintessential sports car and has a long standing reputation as king of the automotive world. This iconic automobile is a symbol of our culture and the automotive world has affected our culture perhaps more than anything else over the past century.
The 3-series’s history began in 1975 with the introduction of the E21. This model was introduced in response to the 1973 oil crisis as a more fuel efficient way to own a BMW. (BMW 3 Series) It was originally introduced only as a coupe due to the fact that it replaced the 2002 coupe. The E21 was an instant hit thanks to its innovative design aspects. The exterior design was very unique do to its wedge-shaped design, slanted towards the rear. (E21 Rear) Although it was criticized for an unusual rear end, the E21 flaunted a very sleek roofline, sporty fenders, and a streamlined lip along the door panels. (Wikipedia E21) It also contained the renowned BMW “kidney grilles” in the front of the car which is a recurring design aspect across the entire 3-series line, as well as in other BMW’s. (E21 Front) The interior was also very appealing, due to the unique style idea of slanting the center console towards the driver. This was the first time this appeared in a BMW and would continue to define the 3-series for years to come. The interior also sported rounded edges as a safety precaution and for visual appeal. (E21 Interior) Although the E21 was a controversial addition to BMW’s line of cars due to the fact that it replaced the very successful 2002, it was a great success. Little did BMW know, however, it would later make up the vast majority of their sales and be their most successful model ever. (Wikipedia E21)
The E30 succeeded the E21 in 1982 at nearly twice the price of its predecessor at approximately $18,000. Despite the hefty price tag, the E30 was very popular. It contained larger engine options but was surprisingly fuel efficient in order to meet the strict emission requirements of the time. (Wikipedia E30) This would be a theme for the 3-series throughout its history – performance mixed with fuel efficiency. The E30 was a vast improvement over the E21: almost all of the complaints about the E21 were remedied in the new model. The wedge-shaped rear was replaced with a more squared off design and larger taillights. (E30 Rear) The front end was also made less wedge-shaped; instead it was squared off, giving it a sportier appearance. The sporty fenders and lips on the door panels remained, and other features were added to improve upon the E21’s design. The front “kidney grilles” were increased in size and the orange section of the headlights was removed. The front spoiler was also improved upon, giving the car a lower stance and a sportier appearance. (E30 Front) But perhaps the most notable improvement to the 3-series with the new E30 model line was the addition of the M3. This sport version of the 3-series would become synonymous with performance and BMW would use this on their other models, as well, as a higher performance, sport line of the vehicle. The M3 added many design aspects, including front spoiler, side skirts, and rear spoiler, not to mention the significantly larger engine putting out 235 horsepower. (Wikipedia E30) The interior innovation from the E21 of the console slanting towards the driver carried over to the E30 and the interior was improved upon with more modern dials, rounded edges, and a sportier shift knob for manual transmissions. (E30 Interior)
The E36 replaced the E30 in 1990. The E36 design is very similar to the new BMW 3-series’ seen on the streets today, thanks to its significantly more modern headlights, sleeker body style, and vastly improved interior. Rectangular, more modern-looking headlights replaced the E30 and E21’s circular headlights. This small addition went a long way in making the E36 look more modern. The “kidney grilles” were made even larger and spaced closer together, and closer to the headlights, giving this car and even more modern look. The body was significantly more modern, as well, with sleeker lines and rounded off edges. The hood was designed to slant downwards for a sportier stance and the rear sported what would become an iconic lip at the end of the trunk to give it an even sportier, more modern appearance. (E36 Front) The taillights were also vastly improved with the elimination of the black band running across the trunk. (E36 Rear) The interior was vastly improved, as well, with more rounded edges, better materials used, and a more luxurious design. (E36 Interior) Remarkably, the body style remains very modern by today’s standards, considering that it was designed 20 years ago.
The E46 followed and quickly became one of the most popular models BMW has ever sold. It was introduced in 1998 and had a variety of different design aspects to make this one of the best looking BMW’s ever produced. The E46 is the model that brought the 3-series to the attention of the world and was critically acclaimed for being the benchmark of its class. (Wikipedia E46) They are still very common and many can be seen on the streets today. The E46 introduced a very sleek body design, a significantly more rounded design than the squared off E36, sporty fenders, spoilers, and side skirts. All these additions made the E46 significantly more aerodynamic and aggressive in appearance than the E36. The M3 version contained a much sportier and aggressive exterior, with dual exhaust pipes, front and rear spoilers, side skirts, and side grills. (E46 Front) The interior was also vastly improved with a very modern design but still with the console facing slightly towards the driver. (E46 Interior)
The newest model line of the 3-series, the E90 (sedan) and E92 (coupe), replaced the E46 in 2005 with the E90. Since then, the E90 has undergone a “facelift,” in which a slight remodel to its design gave it white headlights, hood indents, door panel lip, and redder taillights. The remodel gave it a more aggressive, sophisticated exterior appearance. (E90 Front) (E90 Rear) The coupe version, the E92, has remained the same since its release. The E92 is perhaps the sportiest-looking 3-series ever made, thanks to its sleek headlights, long, low stance, and sporty taillights. (E92 Front) (E92 Rear) The interior of the two cars is nearly identical and a noticeable improvement over the E46. The steering wheel is much thicker, the dials are more modern, the console is thicker, and the wood trim is thicker and more elegant. (E90/92 Interior) The M3 version of the coupe has a carbon fiber roof to decrease weight and increase performance. The M3 sedan, just like the coupe, has hood indents, front and rear spoilers, side skirts, dual exhaust pipes, and side grilles. (E90/92 M3)
The process of designing one of these iconic automobiles is very similar to other cars across the automotive world. Automotive design has become very popular and has become a part of automotive culture around the world. The process involves several steps to design the exterior, interior, and color/trim. The exterior design process begins with a sketch, then becomes a digital model, and finally a clay model before it goes into production. The interior designers focus on several aspects to make the most attractive interiors. These include proportion, shape, placement and surface. Color and trim is the realm of automotive design that encompasses the colors and materials used throughout the vehicle, including paint, plastic, upholstery, and wood trim. (Automotive Design)
Since the turn of the century and the advent of the automobile, this cultural symbol has become one of the most rapidly growing, but controversial, subjects of its time. Controversies and positive repercussions surrounding the automobile include gas crises, environmental repercussions, suburban expansion, traffic congestion, facilitated travel, and safety concerns. The BMW 3-series was, in fact, first created as the E21 in response to the 1973 oil crisis as a fuel efficient alternative to other vehicles. Throughout its tenure, the 3-series has been an automotive icon that combines its inevitable performance with surprising fuel efficiency. With gas becoming an integral and controversial part of our culture, the 3-series has also become more important to our culture. Another benefit of the 3-series’s fuel efficiency to our culture is the fact that it is environmentally friendly. The environmental repercussions of automobile exhaust have become a front and center issue in 21st century culture, and the BMW 3-series embodies an environmentally friendly vehicle. Another effect of the automobile has been the increased popularity and practicality of suburban living due to the fact that an automobile can provide quick transportation from the suburbs to the city, where most jobs are located. Before the advent of automobiles, someone living in the city would be required to live in the city, as well, because there was no transportation quick enough to transport the employee into the city on a daily basis. Travel was also facilitated with the advent of the car in terms of the maintenance, because, prior to the automobile, horses were much more difficult to maintain and less reliable. However, there have been many negative effects of the automobile to our culture. For instance, pedestrians are much more in danger, not to mention the danger that the driver and passengers of automobiles put themselves in every day. 44% of the accidental deaths in the US are caused by motor vehicles. In addition, people are no longer walking on a regular basis as a form of transportation, causing less exercise for the people and losing connection with the community. Finally, cities are now becoming congested with vehicular traffic which has greatly affected urban culture. (Effects of the automobile…)
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E21 Front. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E21 Interior. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E21 Rear. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E30 Front. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E30 Interior. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E30 Rear. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E36 Front. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E36 Interior. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E36 Rear. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E46 Front. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E46 Interior. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E90/92 Interior. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E90/92 M3. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E90 Front. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E90 Rear. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E92 Front. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
E92 Rear. Photograph. 16 July 2009 .
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