Over the past 63 years, CAR has tested vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Here, we take a look back at the dynasty of the BMW 3 Series, a German saloon car that has peppered motoring history with some truly great derivatives...

1. 333i (E30)

Tested in the January 1986 issue of CAR, the 333i was South Africa's answer to the original M3. Utilising a 3,2-litre straight-six from the much larger 733i, the rear-wheel-drive South African special could reach 100 km/h in 7,23 seconds. While 145 kW doesn't sound like much today, the 333i weighed just 1 256 kg. The interior was left largely unchanged, except for Alpina instrumentation, leather-upholstered sports seats and a digital readout positioned in one of the airvents. Interestingly, due to the large straight-six, customers had to choose between air-conditioning or power steering, a lack of space under the bonnet restricting both from being fitted together. 

Price (when new): R41 300 (1986)
Engine: 3,2-litre, straight-six, petrol
Power: 145 kW at 5 500 r/min
Torque: 285 N.m at 4 300 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 7,23 seconds
Top Speed: 231 km/h 
Transmission: five-speed manual

2. 325iS (E30)

Another South African special, the 325iS is a living legend among car enthusiasts. Earning a name for itself in the competitive Group N racing of the late '80s and early '90s, the straight-six-powered Beemer took to the racetrack, battling the equally iconic Kadett 200 GSI 16v S. Commonly known as the Evo 2, the 155 kW variant was tested in the December 1991 issueToday, the 325iS is a highly collectible car and is considered a true icon of South African motoring history. When new, the 325iS charmed CAR testers, who claimed: "It's exhilarating, flexible, comfortable (for what it is) and very fast. That it will soon become a sought-after classic is virtually certain."

Price (when new): R105 100 (1991)
Engine: 2,7-litre, straight-six, petrol
Power: 155 kW at 5 920 r/min
Torque: 265 N.m at 4 040 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 7,42 seconds
Top Speed: 226 km/h 
Transmission: five-speed manual

3. M3 (E36)

Eagerly awaited, the E36 reached South African shores early in 1994. Initially, the second-generation M3 was powered by a 210 kW 3,0-litre straight-six. Tested in the February 1994 issue, the two-door variant impressed with its blistering performance that blended nicely with heightened refinement levels. Unlike 3 Series performance models of the past, the E36 offered an array of luxury features. Nice-to-haves such as electrically adjustable seats and a six-disc CD shuttle came standard, for instance. Later models would see an increase in power, pushing out 228 kW from an enlarged 3,2-litre unit. While Europe received a cabriolet variant of the M3, South Africa was limited to just the coupé and saloon.

Price (when new): R209 998 (1994)
Engine: 3,0-litre, straight-six
Power: 210 kW at 7 000 r/min
Torque: 320 N.m at 3 600 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 6,34 seconds
Top Speed: 253 km/h 
Transmission: five-speed manual

4. M3 (E46)

Following a similar formula to its predecessor, the E46 had a 3,2-litre straight-six under its long bonnet, sending 252 kW to the rear wheels. For the first time in the M3's history in South Africa, BMW's SMG gearbox was made available. Designed to provide keen drivers with a quick-shifting and precise experience, the gearbox performed well on racetracks but was criticised for its poor response in day-to-day driving. Happily, the standard six-speed manual was also available. Tested in the September 2001 issue of CAR, the M3 impressed with its 0-100 km/h time of just 5,48 seconds, besting the V8-powered Audi S4.

Price (when new): R380 000 (2001)
Engine: 3,2-litre, straight-six, petrol
Power: 252 kW at 7 900 r/min
Torque: 365 N.m at 4 900 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 5,48 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h 
Transmission: six-speed manual

5. 330i (E46)

BMW's four-door 330i used a 3,0-litre straight-six producing impressive peak outputs of 170 kW and 300 N.m of torque. While those figures were less than the far brawnier M3 offered, performance was still examplary. With a 0-100 km/h time of 6,70 seconds, the 330i was equally capable of snapping at the heels of an M3 all day and then collecting the kids from school. Available initially as a five-speed manual then later as a six-speeder, the luxurious 330i was more popular in automatic form. Regardless of the transmission, the 330i is now a performance bargain. 
 
Price (when new): R243 000 (2001)
Engine: 3,0-litre, straight-six, petrol
Power: 170 kW at 5 900 r/min
Torque: 300 N.m at 3 500 - 4 750 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 6,70 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h 
Transmission: five-speed manual

6. 320d (E90)

With fuel prices increasing, diesel engines started to enjoy great popularity in the mid-2000s with South African consumers. While the clattery soundtrack of diesel suited the rugged bakkies and SUVs that used it, luxury car buyers needed some persuading. The introduction of the E90 320d in 2005 played a big part in changing that. While diesel was available for previous 3 Series generations, the E90 successfully blended performance, economy and refinement in a four-cylinder diesel package. Thanks to a turbocharger, the 320d produced 115 kW of power and a substantial 330 N.m of torque. The 0-100 km/h dash was dispatched in 9,51 seconds, and while not blistering, managed to beat out the thirstier, petrol-powered 320i. Today, diesel is a popular choice in premium/luxury saloons.

Price (when new): R243 000 (2005)
Engine: 2,0-litre, straight-four, turbodiesel
Power: 115 kW at 4 000 r/min
Torque: 330 N.m at 2 000 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 9,51 seconds
Top Speed: 213 km/h 
Transmission: six-speed automatic

7. 335i Coupé (E92)

Launched just a year after its saloon sibling, the E92 was introduced with the N54B30 powertrain. The twin-turbo, 3,0-litre straight-six supplanted the 330i as the range-topper and offered increased power to go with its new title. Some 225 kW and 400 N.m of torque saw the 335i hit 100 km/h in just 5,70 seconds, making it nearly as quick as the previous-generation M3. Thanks to turbocharging, the 335i had quicker in-gear acceleration than the M3. Tested in the January 2007 issue of CAR, the 335i coupé impressed with the breadth of its abilities. Earning a near-perfect test score of 18/20, the E92 earned the respect of the test team.
 
Price (when new): R488 500 (2007)
Engine: 3,0-litre, straight-six, twin-turbopetrol
Power: 225 kW at 4 000 r/min
Torque: 400 N.m at 2 000 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 5,70 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h 
Transmission: six-speed manual

8. M3 Coupé (E92)

Not long after the superb 335i was introduced came the M3. For the first time in the M3 bloodline, a V8 sat under the bonnet. Despite the lazier nature of a V8 engine, the S65 powertrain was anything but. Revving up to 8 300 r/min, the new M3 could best its predecessors for aural drama. Some 309 kW and 400 N.m of torque was sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual or the seven-speed dual-clutch M-DCT transmission. Tested in the November 2007 issue, 0-100 km/h was achieved in 5,56 seconds. Quick, but some way off the impressive 4,99 seconds the M3's fiercest rival, the RS4, could achieve. Still, superb handling, a characterful V8 and aggressive styling complemented its playful nature. Unlike the E46, the M3 was available as a four-door saloon as well.

Price (when new): R650 000 (2007)
Engine: 4,0-litre, V8, petrol
Power: 309 kW at 8 300 r/min
Torque: 400 N.m at 3 900 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 5,57 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h 
Transmission: six-speed manual

9. 320i (F30)

"There's little doubt that the 320i is the best version of the new 3 Series and probably the best individual model in the premium D-segment." That's a big claim to make, but with a car as impressive as the F10 3 Series, it was justified. The focus of a three-page road test in our September 2012 issue, the then-new 3 Series impressed the CAR team with its all-round capabilities. Wrapped in a 5 Series-aping body shell, the well-built interior was an evolutionary design, improving on the bland and often critiqued interior of the E90. Under the bonnet of the 320i sat a conventional 2,0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine producing 135 kW and 270 N.m of torque. While not excessive in terms of its outputs, the 320i still managed a 0-100 km/h sprint in 8,11 seconds while averaging 6,90 L/100 km on our mixed-fuel route. Despite premium pricing, the F10 generation sold well.

Price (when new): R387 639 (2012)
Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol
Power: 135 kW at 5 000 r/min
Torque: 270 N.m at 1 250 - 4 500 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 8,11 seconds
Top Speed: 235 km/h 
Transmission: eight-speed automatic

10. M3 (F80)

With the 3 Series coupé being discontinued in favour of the 4 Series, it was up to the four-door saloon to continue the legacy of the hallowed badge. Despite their exterior differences, the new M3 was mechanically identical to its M4 sibling. Sharing the twin-turbo S55 motor, the F80 marked the return to a straight-six engine. While power increased by just 8 kW, the new 3,0-litre boasted a whopping 150 N.m more torque, compared with the previous-gen V8. Tested in our August 2015 issue, the M3 hit 100 km/h in just 4,25 seconds. With dual-clutch transmissions becoming increasingly popular, BMW offered a seven-speed item. If you prefered to swap cogs yourself, a manual M3 was available for nearly R50 000 less. Now discontinued, the next-gen M3 should ensure the dynasty remains revered.

Price (when new): R1 063 592 (2015)
Engine: 3,0-litre, six-cylinder, twin-turbopetrol
Power: 317 kW at 5 500 - 7 300 r/min
Torque: 550 N.m at 1 850 - 5 500 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 4,25 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h 
Transmission: seven-speed dual clutch