Before there was a BMW 3 Series, there was the BMW 02 Series. It can’t technically claim to be a generation of the BMW 3 Series, but it did serve as the inspiration for what would be become the original E30 BMW 3 Series. This is where design elements such as the elongated hood, an upright A-pillar and shorter front overhang were first seen.
With a relatively steeper A-pillar and an increase in size from the BMW 114, the first BMW 3 Series (E21) was a bold statement and was quickly regarded as a car with sporty flair. Notable design features that we still know and love today are the double round headlights, the iconic twin kidney grille and the Hofmeister kink.
The second generation BMW 3 Series adopted several design features from the predecessor, such as the three-box design and the elongated hood. New features include the choice of a 2-door and 4-door saloon, as well as the convertible and touring models.
Thanks to a greater leaning towards a coupé-like design, the third generation BMW 3 Series was seen as a huge leap for the brand. Standout developments include the chrome covered kidney grill and glass-plate covered headlights.
With fresh interpretations of some classic design elements, the BMW 3 Series E46 has a distinct look and feel. Overall, the fourth generation is less rigid in its design language, while being slightly larger than previous models, with a raised roofline for increased headspace.
In 2005, BMW launched a new design philosophy that would lead to a giant leap in form and function for the BMW 3 Series. Contoured elements were introduced, which were inspired by the BMW Z4, but applied in a manner befitting of a saloon.
The sixth generation of the BMW 3 Series boasted a modern interpretation of the three-box design. The iconic kidney grille and headlights were merged together to create a strong visual front, which complemented the more contoured bonnet, while double crease lines added a sense of movement to the side profile.