Are you planning to purchase a BMW 3 Series and you are looking to find more about the most reliable BMW 3 Series? Well, if that is the case, then you are at the right place because there will be a lot to cover on this topic.
- BMW 3 Series
- Different BMWs
- 3 Series Generations
- E30 BMW
- E36 BMW
- E46 BMW
- E90 BMW
- F30 BMW
Doing proper and thorough research on a car that you intend to purchase is always a good idea. Except when it comes to something expensive like a BMW. BMWs are not cheap to purchase new, they might be inexpensive on the used market. They are also expensive to maintain, unless you opt for the most reliable used cars.
Especially the newer BMW models are crazy expensive. Mainly because the complexity of these engines is over the top. They are not the friendliest cars to work on if you are asking me. Working on a BMW back in the day until the mid-00s was a pleasure. But starting from the E90 3 Series, things went downhill.
BMW is always trying to overcomplicate stuff like their invention, the Valvetronic, Vanos, and so on. This is why you need to focus more on the older 3 Series than going for a newer model. Especially if you are a gearhead who wants to work on cars. But don’t worry. We will try to help you out.
First, we are going to learn what is the 3 Series and then we will cover the differences between BMW models. After that, we will cover the BMW 3 Series from the most popular generations and for each of these generations, we will list the most reliable BMW 3 Series. So, if you want to learn more, follow along.
BMW 3 Series
Now before we start discussing about the most reliable BMW 3 Series, let’s first take a look at what the BMW 3 Series is all about. So, let’s introduce ourselves to the topic and learn more about it.
The BMW 3 Series is probably the oldest model that they offer. Not that the current model is old. But the series of cars traces its roots back to 1975. This was the time when BMW wanted to create a whole lineup of cars of different series.
The 3 Series replaced the 02 Series and then it was added to the 5 Series, which was released in 1971. The 3 Series was the smallest of the few. This 3 Series is generally the size of a compact car. But since BMW is aiming toward luxury, these models are known as compact executive cars.
So, we can say that the 3 Series is a compact car with luxury in mind. And frankly, current models are all about luxury and can cost up to 6 digits. That’s before you consider just how expensive BMW parts are. It is crazy to even think about it from that perspective back in the day when the first generation, the E21 was introduced.
As of today, there is a total of seven generations of the 3 Series. With the most recent model released in 2018. Hopefully, in 2 or 3 years we will see another one of these models. But what about the most reliable BMW 3 Series? More on that, we will cover it in a bit.
Difference In BMW Series
Now let’s discuss the difference in the BMW series before we cover the most reliable BMW 3 Series. We need to further understand what are the main key differences between the most commonly produced BMW models.
In the sedan lineup, there were primarily two offerings. One of them as you can assume is the 3-Series which is a compact car, then the 5-Series, which is a mid-size car, and the 7-Series, which is a full-size car. Since the late 00s, BMW created the 1-Series and the 2-Series. Which are basically subcompact cars.
But what is interesting is that there are sedan variants from the 4-Series, 6-Series, and 8-Series. These are known as Gran Coupes. They are basically a coupe (such as the BMW 430i) body style with 4-doors.
Then there are the SUVs. The first one was the X5 released in 1999 (just be mindful of the BMW X5 years to avoid). This is the car that started this SUV craze. This X5 was based on the 5-Series. Then the X3 followed – if you’re keen, our overview of the BMW X1 vs X3 and the common BMW X3 problems might be handy.
And, the X3, as you can assume is based on the 3-Series. After that, the X6 was introduced, this model was one of the first sport coupe SUVs. A trend that a lot of carmakers will follow. And since then the X1, X2, and X7 were released to the market. A lot of models, enough to get you completely confused.
This is why German carmakers nowadays are very confusing, they created dozens of models to enter every possible segment. But that’s how things go. We have to deal with it. Speaking of German automakers, BMW has some tough competition ahead.
So, if you’re instead considering its rivals, our detailed comparison between BMW vs Mercedes, before comparing the reliability of BMW vs Mercedes, and finding the most reliable German car brand may shed more light on this argument. But what is the most reliable 3 Series? More on that, we will cover next.
BMW 3 Series Generations
Now let’s cover the BMW 3 Series generations before we learn more about the most reliable BMW 3 Series. What is good about this, is that we are going to cover all you need to know.
Each generation has some flaws, some of them less and some of them more. So, what we decided is to list the most reliable 3 Series from each of these generations. First, we are going to cover the main features and then we will discuss the most reliable BMW 3 Series model from each of these generations.
So, if you want to learn more follow along.
BMW BMW 3 Series E30 (1982 – 1994)
Now let’s begin discussing the most reliable 3 Series list and what model would be better to begin with than the BMW E30. E30 is probably one of the most legendary 3 Series models out there. This model was the second generation of the 3 Series that was introduced in 1982 and was produced until 1994.
This model replaced the old E21 model and brought a lot of engineering ingenuity. In fact, this was the first model that made the BMW brand the perfect driving machine.
Namely, this legendary model participated in many racing events that popularized BMW’s M-Division which became a true benchmark when it comes to car tuning and creating the perfect race car for the road.
Nevertheless, this 3 Series came in a lot of different variations in terms of size and engine options. There were sedans, which are the most common on the market, there are station wagons, and also, the coupe. Which later became the M3 in 1986.
During the first model years, this model was not as popular as it is now. But it was a good starting point for BMW and now this model is the go-to model for every car enthusiast out there.
What is good about this model is that even after all these years, it still holds its value really well. They usually go for about $10,000 in fair condition. Even the most basic ones like the E30 320i. Speaking of, we’ve compared the BMW 320i vs the BMW 328i, if you’d like to learn how they differ.
And if you can find one in good condition, this will be a good investment since it is expected that these will go up in value even more in the future. But what is the most reliable BMW 3 Series out there? Let’s find out more about that next.
Most Reliable BMW 3 Series (E30)
Now let’s discuss the most reliable BMW 3 Series from the E30 generation. And according to many owners, this award goes to the E30 325i.
The engine used in this model is the 2.7L M20, which produced about 168hp and is the most powerful engine in the lineup, except for the S14 in the M3. And combining this M20 engine with a manual transmission will be the perfect driver’s car.
And also the most reliable car if you like to push your BMW really hard. For more context, do take a peek at our write-up on whether BMW cars are reliable or not, as well as finding the most reliable BMW engine. Now let’s move on to the next BMW 3 Series model.
BMW BMW 3 Series E36 (1990 – 2000)
Now let’s move on to the next model in the 3 Series lineup. And that is the BMW E36. Why the E36? Well, mainly because it wrote the history, not as the most reliable BMW 3 series ever. But as a pop culture icon.
This was the 3 Series that really hit the mainstream and made BMW one of the go-to models for people that wanted something rather luxurious and exotic from Europe. Not that the E36 was screaming luxury. From today’s standpoint, we think that this is probably the third cheapest-looking BMW.
And this is why these cars do not go for a lot of money nowadays. You can get a decent spec for $3,000 or even less in some cases. They are that cheap since they were the first BMWs that were produced in crazy numbers here in the US.
So, there are plenty of them to choose from, people even race them and even if they crash one, they will just go and get another one.
Still, this model was a huge upgrade compared to the old E30. This E36 model implements a whole new lineup of engines that were far more fuel efficient, as well as better performing than the old-school engines from the previous models.
What is worth noting is that the M3 from this generation was a bit of a disappointment here in the US since we didn’t get the European spec. And the US M3 was a very underpowered car. What about the most reliable BMW 3 Series from this generation? Let’s find out more about that next.
Most Reliable BMW 3 Series (E36)
Now let’s learn more about the most reliable BMW 3 Series from the E36 generation. Which of the models is the way to go?
When it comes to reliability, we would say to go for the E36 328i. Why this model? Well, mainly because this was probably the pinnacle of the BMW inline-6 engine design. These engines are practically bulletproof. They can blow a head gasket and suffer some cooling issues. But overall, they are really good engines for any gearhead.
This is the M52 engine that outputs 193hp and 207lb-ft of torque. These models were produced between 1995 and 1998. Now let’s move on to the next most reliable BMW 3 Series.
BMW BMW 3 Series E46 (1999 – 2005)
Now let’s discuss something really more modern on our most reliable BMW 3 Series list. And this is the E46. This is a model that was produced from 1999 until 2005 for the US market.
And if you grew up in the mid-00s, you know this car really well since it was on the cover of Need For Speed Most Wanted. One of the best games in my opinion. This is why this car has a special place in my heart. And to be perfectly straight, this is a car that BMW nailed it.
The E46 was a global hit around the world, selling more than half a million of these annually. Which is a number that not a lot of cars can achieve.
There were a variety of body styles like a sedan, coupes, convertibles, wagons, and hatchbacks. But the most popular model from the bunch was the 2-door coupe. And even after more than 20 years, I think that these cars still look really well and have a lot to offer in terms of driving characteristics.
Even though this BMW is pretty old, it implements modern suspension that is still quite contemporary and the BMW E46 handles just like any other modern car.
There is a variety of engines, even more, compared to the E36. And what is good about the M3 from this generation is that it got the power that it deserved all that long. This model included the S54 engine that produced 333hp. Or, if you’re not satisfied with it still, there’s always the tuning route for your BMW M3.
Still, it was 5hp slower compared to the Euro spec. Who knows why. But with a little bit of tuning, you can push these engines well over 400hp. But what about the most reliable BMW 3 Series? More about that, we are going to cover next.
Most Reliable BMW 3 Series (E46)
Now let’s take a look at the most reliable BMW 3 Series from this generation. Which model is the way to go? Well, the main engine used on US models was the M54, which was a 2.5L inline-6 engine and probably the best in the lineup offered in the 325i. No doubt, it’s one of the most iconic cars with an inline-6 engine.
But if you want something really special and unique, you should opt for the 3.0L M54 engine. These engines are basically the same engines from the M3, but slightly de-tuned.
So, we gladly recommend this engine for tuners since it has a lot of potential and is also one of the most reliable BMW models if not one of the most reliable BMW 3 Series ever.
BMW BMW 3 Series E90/E92 (2006 – 2011)
Now let’s cover something more recent and newer spec. Even if we say new, it is actually more than 10 years old. But still quite contemporary. And this is the E90 chassis. This model was produced between 2006 and 2011.
In general, this was the BMW where things got a little bit too complicated and expensive. Starting from this generation, instead of keeping things simple, BMW started to over-engineer stuff on their cars, to implement complex electronics that are rather expensive to fix.
And also, from this generation, BMW started a new trend, and this was the beginning of the turbo era when it comes to gas-powered engines. Previously they turbocharged diesel engines. But for gas-powered engines, this was the first try to create a ton of power and improve efficiency by using turbos.
So, all previous engines were ditched and instead replaced with a new generation of engines. Namely, the N-series of engines developed anywhere between 121hp and 302hp.
The most popular options probably were the N53 and N52, these were the 3.0L naturally aspirated engines. While the N54 and N55 were turbocharged engines.
All these new engines brought different challenges and problems (such as odd issues where your BMW won’t start, or if the check engine light came on in your BMW). But to be honest, the inline-6 is always good when it comes to BMW.
But what is the most reliable BMW 3 Series? More about that we will cover more in the following chapter in-depth.
Most Reliable BMW 3 Series (E90/E92)
Now let’s discuss the most reliable BMW 3 Series when it comes to the E90 chassis. Which are the best models out there?
Well, our personal favorite is the N54 engine used in the 335i between 2006 and 2010. This engine was highly regarded for its reliability and longevity. The performance of the engine is also pretty excellent and delivers more than 302hp and 300lb-ft of torque.
Not to mention that the aftermarket is big for these engines and you can tune the engine to squeeze even up to 500hp. Now let’s move on to the last on our list of the most reliable BMW 3 Series.
BMW BMW 3 Series F30 (2011 – 2019)
Now let’s cover something really recent on our list of the most reliable BMW 3 series models. And this is the F30. This was the first model that was introduced without the E letter, BMW decided to change something and confuse us even more. So, the F30 was introduced in 2011 and was produced until 2019. Which is fairly recent.
This was the first model where the coupe model was separated from the 3-Series. And from this generation, there is no 3-Series coupe, which is rather sad. But that’s what BMW did. And all the coupes from this era were called the 4-Series, also known as the F32.
These cars ditched the previous design language and implemented a rather sharp and bold design language. Which in my opinion is the best model after the E46 that we covered previously.
And this model also saw the introduction of new powerplants. All of them are turbocharged. BMW decided to go all-turbo on this generation and not include even one naturally aspirated engine.
And honestly, these are rather beefy engines that deliver power numbers like no BMW before. The most powerful 340i model creates up to 322hp. Which is practically more than some of the M3 models from the previous generations.
Most Reliable BMW 3 Series (F30)
But what about the most reliable BMW 3 series and the BMW reliability? Which engine is the most reliable from this lineup?
Well, our personal favorite is the B58 engine. Or the B48 if you prefer something smaller in displacement. These are really bulletproof high-performance engines that are made to be really tough. They are still used in the most current generation of the 3 Series.
The B58 easily makes up to 382hp in the newer models. So, the tuning capabilities are endless.
Most Reliable BMW 3 Series: In Conclusion…
In this article, we have covered quite a bit when it comes to the most reliable BMW 3 Series. First, we learned what the 3 Series is and what is the difference between BMW models.
In the following part of the article, we covered five generations of the 3 Series with the main aspect focused on their reliability and which one of the engines is the most reliable.
Oh, and since you’re done looking at BMW’s cars, you might find our coverage of its bikes perhaps a bit insightful. Previously, we’ve discussed their BMW 1000 RR sports bike, as well as what is the best vintage BMW motorcycle.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now let’s answer some frequently asked questions.
What Does BMW Stand For In English
BMW is an abbreviation that refers to Bavarian Motor Works. In German, the phrase is Bayerische Motoren Werke. They also have a motorcycle division known as BMW Motorrad.
Where Is BMW Made
BMW is present globally, basically in every market possible. So, because of logistical reasons they had to open a lot of factories all across the world. So, they have factories in Germany, Mexico, South Africa, USA, and China. The models for the US market are mainly made in the US, Germany, or Mexico.
Are BMW Reliable
Well, their reliability score is not great, to be honest. You cannot compare their cars to a Honda or a Toyota. BMWs break down and they are also pretty expensive to fix, especially nowadays. This is why their price soars after 10 years, and this happens with all luxury brands, not only BMW.
How Long Do BMW Last
BMW cars can push up to 250,000 miles with no major problems concerning the engines. Unless you get one of the M-models that can have problems with the rod bearings. Overall, the BMW engines are pretty decent in terms of longevity. Their best and most reliable are the inline-6 engines. Avoid V8, or inline-4 engines by BMW unless it is the B48 engine.
How Long BMW Engines Last
Their engines last between 200,000 and 250,000 miles with no major problems. We are talking here about their inline-6 engines. Their V8 and inline-4 are not one of the best engines. So, try to avoid them. From the inline-4, only the new B48 is pretty decent.
Why Are Used BMW So Cheap
They are cheap because they often have expensive problems. That’s why you should be aware of this fact and don’t rush in when you see a low price tag on a BMW, this price is there for a reason. Always research the possible problems that the model carries and try to find the best car possible.
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