The new car’s lines were significantly tauter and smoother than those of its predecessor, and its drag coefficient had been reduced by almost 15 per cent. All model variants, regardless of engine size, were now fitted with twin circular headlights as standard. Although the second-generation 3 Series offered four centimetres of extra legroom inside, its body was actually three centimetres shorter than the previous model.
The front indicator lights were relocated from the wing tip into the bumper. The characteristic side view was given a fresh interpretation, while a broader B-pillar painted matt black provided a stronger-looking centre. The 35-millimetre-wider track, meanwhile, gave the new car a muscular appearance. To top it all, the BMW development engineers had shaved around 30 kilograms off the car’s weight – despite its more generous equipment levels.
The BMW 3 Series lined up with further developed four- and six-cylinder engines. For example, the BMW 316 – which produced 66 kW/90 hp and now had an electronically controlled carburettor – boasted a top speed of 175 km/h (109 mph). Developing 77 kW/105 hp from its four-cylinder engine with mechanical injection, the BMW 318i powered to a maximum 184 km/h (114 mph). The six-cylinder models already featured an electronic injection system. The 102 kW/139 hp BMW 323i, for example, recorded a top speed of 202 km/h (126 mph), its five-speed gearbox with overdrive allowing it to post average fuel consumption of just 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres (31.7 mpg imp).
BMW 324d was the first BMW compact sedan powered by a diesel engine. The BMW 324d featured a six-cylinder in-line unit developing 63 kW/86 hp and hit a top speed of 165 km/h (103 mph). It recorded average fuel consumption of 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres (40.9 mpg imp).
In 1987 the original diesel variant was joined by the BMW 324td. Its new straight-six turbodiesel engine impressed with output raised to 85 kW/115 hp, lower fuel consumption and emissions, and lower levels of noise and vibrations. The key factor in this leap forward, along with the use of a turbocharger, were Digital Diesel Electronics (DDE). This technology brought more sophisticated injection – adjusted to the situation at hand – to diesel engines as well.
The second generation of the BMW 3 Series likewise put all its segment rivals in the shade when it came to agility, active safety and handling precision. The engineers had modified the front-axle construction for the new BMW 3 Series with the aim of further improving active safety, without detracting from the car’s hallmark handling attributes. The modified rack-and-pinion steering provided enhanced turn-in and precision on bumpier sections of road as well. And a semi-trailing rear axle with separate springs and dampers was now pressed into action.
The brand’s first all-wheel-drive series-production model was also a member of the BMW 3 Series family. The BMW 325ix, presented in 1985, distributed the power from its 126 kW/171 hp six-cylinder engine between all four wheels. The BMW engineers have always declined the option of a switchable front-wheel drive approach. Instead, the transfer case with automatically actuated visco locks allowed permanent four-wheel drive using ABS, which optimised traction and directional stability but also produced dynamic and harmonious driving characteristics.
A sports car based on the BMW 3 Series also roared into the spotlight at the 1985 Frankfurt Motor Show. The BMW M3 was powered by a 147 kW/200 hp four-cylinder engine with four-valve technology. Like the car’s chassis technology, it was derived directly from the race track, and soon provided evidence of the impressive potential available as a result. The BMW M3 was the brand’s first model also to be fitted – from model year 1987 – with electrically adjustable dampers.
By the end of its first year in production, over 230,000 units of the second-generation BMW 3 Series had been sold – and the introduction of a second body variant was about to increase demand even further. The first BMW 3 Series with four doors was unveiled in autumn 1983 and offered principally functional benefits, notably more comfortable access to the rear compartment. BMW 3 Series Touring revealed in 1987 represented a whole new way of combining driving pleasure and functionality.
The variety of BMW 3 Series models available to customers played a major role in ensuring the second-generation car notched up 2,339,251 units in sales, outperforming its predecessor by almost a million cars in the process.