ClickaCar Second-Hand Hero: The BMW 3-Series
BMW's baby sedan is loved by generations of South African and it's easy to see why!
The BMW 3-Series is a South African cult classic! No other model in our Second-Hand Heroes series has a following quite like the BMW 3-Series, and it has become an iconic piece of South African motoring culture. From the suburbs to city streets, drags strips to race tracks, the BMW 3-Series is woven into our motoring landscape.
South Africa’s love affair with the baby Beemer started in the early ’80s when the first E30 model came off the production line at BMW South Africa’s Rosslyn plant, and almost immediately, BMW 3-Series had a following. The 3-Series was available in 5 body types, a sedan, coupe, station wagon, convertible and Landaulet, a semi-convertible which has become known as a “double-dak”. The convertible and station wagon were not sold in SA but a few examples have made their way to our shores.
When the E30 was launched, the model was offered with a choice of 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 four-cylinder engines. The models everyone wanted though were the ones equipped with the big daddy in-line 6 motors available in 2.0, 2.5 and 2.7 litres. Transmission options included a 5-speed manual and a 4-speed automatic.
The E30 was released in two phases, the first models had thinner taillights and bumpers. These were then updated to full plastic bumpers and wider taillights when the facelifted Phase 2 was introduced.
The E30 also spawned several special editions and halo models like the wide-body M3, a road-going version of the car developed to take part in Touring Car championships around the world. On local shores, BMW SA never sold the M3 but they developed the SA only 333i which used the 3.2 litre 6-cylinder motor from the larger 7-Series and tons of expensive parts from BMW tuners Alpina. Only 204 road going 333i models were produced between 1985 and 1987 to allow BMW to take part in local Group-N racing. These cars produced 145kW and 285 Nm of torque and today trying to find one is not only difficult but expensive as well.
BMW’s desire to stay competitive led to the development of the 325iS. The 325iS was launched at the beginning of 1990 and came equipped with a 2.7-litre motor which was tuned by Alpina to produce 145kW and the front end was replaced with lighter aluminium panels. In 1991, BMW released the Evo 2, which was tuned to produce 155kW.
Despite being over 30 years old, the E30 3-Series has seen prices sky-rocket over the last several years and in some cases, they cost more than a newer model! Today, prices for lower spec pre-90’s cars, like the 318i start around R80,000 with two-door coupe models commanding higher premium with prices starting around R100,000. If you are looking for a 333i, then get ready to search because collectors are not giving up these cars, so be prepared to pay upwards of R550,000. The same applies to the 325iS models, if you can find one, be prepared to part with R600,000 depending on how well the seller knows their BMW history! If you want to stretch for an M3, which you can import with a special collectors permit, then set aside at least R1.5 million and some change for taxes, permits, duties and shipping.
When production of the E30 ended in the early '90s, BMW introduced the E36 which was once again produced locally. This model was available as a four-door sedan, a coupe, cabriolet, station wagon and shortened hatch known as the Compact. This time around, BMW offered the sedan and cabriolet to local buyers while a few people ordered the station wagon. The coupe was also available locally but only in M3 guise while the compact was not offered locally, and if you see one you will be happy that it wasn’t.
Keeping with tradition, BMW offered the E36 with a range of four-cylinder engines ranging from 1.6 to 1.8 and inline 6-cylinders ranging from 2.0 to 3.2. The smaller models, like the 316 and 318 produced 73kW and 141 Nm of torque, and 83kW and 162 Nm respectively, but they could be decked out with leather interiors and all the mod-cons you would expect in the high-end models.
The 6-cylinders models are where you want to find yourself though, with outputs starting from 110kW and 190 Nm of torque in the 2.0 320 and climbing to 142kW and 280Nm in the 2.8 328. That is very impressive for a car stemming from the early ‘90s.
Concerning trim levels, the Motorsport models are the ones to look out for. They were equipped with M3 style body kits, a boot spoiler and sportier wheels.
Still, on the subject of Motorsport, the top of the range model was the M3, which was first available as a two-door coupe and then a sedan. When the M3 was initially launched, it was equipped with a 3.0-litre engine producing 210kW and 320 Nm of torque. In 1995, the engine was upgraded to a 3.2 which produced 239kW and 350 Nm of torque.
The M3 has become a premium collector’s item with the prices of the coupe model climbing constantly, and you can expect to pay from a conservative R290,000 and up. Cars like the 316 and 318 are still trading around the R85,000 mark. 6-cylinders cars trade from around R90,000 depending on condition and expect to pay over R100,000 for cabriolet models depending on condition. Word of warning though, the E36 has only reached “collectors status” recently and there are many cars on the market which have lived a hard life, so bear that in mind when looking for one, and rather go for the most expensive model you can afford from a trusted or specialised dealer.
Following the success of the E36, BMW launched the E46 3-Series in 1998 making it available in sedan, coupe, convertible, station wagon and compact ti body styles. Engine-wise, the E46 was available with a much wider variety of engines in both four-cylinder and 6-cylinder guise. The four-cylinder options included 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 variants. The 6-cylinder models included a; 2.0, 2.5, 2.8, 3.0 and 3.2 found in the top of the range M3.
The diesel models were also made more readily available with buyers being able to choose between a 2.0 or 3.0 model.
Power outputs for the E46 ranged from 77kW and 165 Nm of torque in the 316i model up to 170kW and 300 Nm of torque in the 330i. The diesel models were stronger than their petrol counterparts producing 100kW and 280Nm in the 320d and 135kW and 390 Nm in the 330d. The M3 was available with 252kW and 365 Nm of torque while the limited edition lightweight M3 CSL was tuned to produce 265kW!
Lower spec models of the E46 have not yet reached the cult-like status of their older brothers and this is reflected in their pricing with sedan and station wagon models starting around the R30,000 mark for 320d and 318i models. Coupe models are far more popular with prices starting from R50,000 while cabriolet models still fetch around R100,000 (condition dependent). The compact ti models are popular given their rarity and despite the questionable styling, prices start from R50,000.
The M3 however is the one you want; prices for early M3s start from R190,000 for the coupe while cabriolets start at R300,000. If you are looking for CSL, then R1 million is a good starting point which is well worth it when you hear it sounds coming through those four tailpipes.
3-Series E90 Range
The E46 is still an affordable buy if you want a more modern BMW but if you want something newer, then the E90 range, which includes the E91 station wagon, E92 coupe and E93 convertible is the one you want to go for. Production of the E90 range began in 2004 and BMW introduced the model range with “normal engines'' and their new turbocharged engines which have gained a massive following. The model range started with the customary 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 models which range from 90kW and 160 Nm of torque to 125kW and 200 Nm of torque.
The 6-cylinder models start with the 130kW 2.3 with 230 Nm of torque and go all the way up the 3.3 which pumps out a blistering 200kW and 320 Nm in top form.
The range also had a wide variety of diesel engines to choose from, starting with the 2.0 diesel which produced 110kW and 340 Nm of torque and climbing up to the 3.5 which churned out 210kW and 580 Nm of torque. Fun fact...the 335d models have become very popular with performance junkies thanks to the car’s reliability and astounding performance with many tuners having taken to upgrading them, that’s unexpected for a diesel car!
If you’re not a diesel fan, then the model you want though is the 335i, this model was equipped with a turbocharged 6-cylinder 3.2 engine which produced unholy amounts of power and a beautiful exhaust note. The 335i models produced between 2006 and 2010 were a twin-turbo variant of BMW's N54 engine while cars produced from 2011 onwards had a single turbo N55. Both motors produced 225kW and 400 Nm but the single turbo variant offered better reliability and maintenance.
Once again the top of the range model was the M3, which was available as a coupe, sedan and cabriolet. With the launch of this M3, BMW broke with tradition and fitted a 4.0 V8 instead of a 6-cylinder! The M3 was equipped with 309kW and 400 Nm together with aggressive styling and an exhaust note that could rival many American muscle cars like the Mustang. With the V8 under the hood, the M3 could finally go toe-to-toe with its natural rival, the C63 AMG.
Prices of E90 models start at around R50,000 for the more “mundane” four-cylinder sedans and wagons, with the rarer coupe models fetching prices from R90,000 with cabriolets hovering around the same mark.
335i models however are still fetching premium prices with cabriolets starting from R120,000 for a pre-2010 car while coupes start at R140,000. If that stretches your budget too far, then a sedan will set you back from around R100,000.
The M3 models are for the true enthusiasts and their prices reflect that, so prepare to pay from R330,000 for a sedan, R350,000 for a coupe or R430,000 for a cabriolet. Those prices may seem steep, but cars like the M3 are appreciating assets so chances are that in 5 to 10 years they’ll be worth more than what you originally paid.
3-Series F30 Range
The F30 range, which included the F30 sedan, F31 station wagon and F34 fastback was a break from tradition for BMW, who now split the coupe and cabriolet away from the 3-Series sedan. They were given their own model designation, the 4-Series.
The F30 also bucked tradition and got rid of all naturally aspirated engines, offering only turbo models which, this time more traditionally, began with the 316 fitted with a 1.6 turbocharged engine producing 100kW and 220 Nm. Strangely enough, the 318 produced the same power figures, this time from a 1.8 3-cylinder engine. The rest of the range consisted of a range of 2.0 and 3.0 engines tuned for different outputs ranging from 125kW and 250 Nm of torque up to 225kW and 400 Nm of torque.
Like the E90, there was a 335i model available producing 225kW and 400 Nm of torque, but this time it was surpassed by the 340i which was tuned to produce a staggering 240kW and 450 Nm of torque. Now, even if you know nothing about cars and those figures mean nothing to you, just the sound from the 340i alone makes you want it.
The same engine found in the 340i was also fitted to the M3 but it was tuned to unleash 317kW and 550 Nm in standard trim. The M3 Competition saw that power figure bumped up to 331kW followed by the CS which was released with 338kW and 600 Nm of torque.
The introduction of the turbo models made the F30 range far more efficient, but they do require a little more maintenance. Nonetheless, their striking good looks make them well-worth it. Speaking about worth, prices for F30 cars are still fairly high given their age, with prices for early small capacity models starting at around R100,000 while prices for the 340i models start at R360,000 for pre-2020 models.
The M3 models start at around R560,000 but if you are looking for one of the special edition Competition and CS models, then expect to pay over R1.5 million for a CS or a more “conservative” R1.2 million for a competition. For those prices though, you are getting one of the world’s leading sports sedans and something which can challenge the AMGs.
The G20 3-Series is the latest incarnation of BMW's iconic nameplate and for the first time, it’s not produced in South Africa. Production of the 3-Series in Rosslyn was replaced by the X3 and now the 3-Series is a wholly imported model.
Despite being imported, the G20 still retains a loyal following with a smaller range of engines as BMW focuses on trim packages instead.
So, what do you get when you order your first G20? Well, the bottom of the range models are the 318i and 320i, which both use the same 2.0 turbocharged engine. In the 318i, the motor is tuned to deliver 115kW and 250 Nm of torque while the 320i gets a much punchier 135kW and 300 Nm. Strangely enough, this 2.0 engine is carried across the range where it does duty in the 320e (e standing for the electric motor because it’s a hybrid) where it’s tuned to deliver 150kW and 350 Nm of torque as well as the 330i and 330e.
If you want a real 6-cylinder engine, the M340i is where you’ll find one pushing out a glorious 285kW and 500 Nm of torque to go with the styling package that makes it the best looking model of them all.
The diesel range of engines is much smaller than the petrol range with a 2.0 turbo unit doing justice in the 318d and 320d, tuned to 110kW and 320 Nm in the 318 while the 320d gets 140kW and 400 Nm of torque. Like the 318d and 320d, both the 330d and 340d share the same 3.0 6-cylinder engine while the variant in the 330d has a single turbo and produces 195kW and 580 Nm of torque. The 340d’s engine has two turbos, which is why it gets 250kW and 700 Nm.
The G20 range also spawned an M3 variant which was given the G80 model designation while the station wagon was dubbed the G81. This M3 is probably the most questionable when it comes to styling as BMW introduced both the M3 and M4 with a VERY big grill that stretches from the bonnet to the bottom of the bumper. The grill may not be to everyone’s taste but the power output certainly is, how does 353kW and 550 Nm with a top speed limited to 250km/h sound? This comes courtesy of the 3.0 twin-turbo motor which can be chosen with either a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic. If that’s not enough for you, the M3 competition offers 375kW and 650 Nm of torque
The G20 range of cars is still new with prices ranging from R690,900 at the dealerships and climbing to R1,127,000 if you want the M340i with xDrive AWD.
The M3 on the other hand will stretch you to R1,877,388 for the base model and climbs as you tick more boxes on the options list.
From the first generation to the latest, the BMW 3-Series has and will always remain a cult classic in South Africa, and despite BMW no longer producing the model locally or legendary special edition models, the 3-Series has cemented itself in the hearts of generations of South Africans. With a reputation like that behind its name, it’s no surprise that the 3-Series is a ClickaCar Second Hand Hero.
Do you love the 3-Series as much as everyone else? Do you want one parked in your driveway? Then find your new 3-Series in the ClickaCar Virtual Showroom.