When it comes to the original E21, it’s the 323i we’d want to go for every time. That 2.3-litre straight-six sounds the business, and is good for 148bhp. Not much these days, but with the old E21 being quite a light thing, that’s a healthy output. Oh, and it’s one of Tiff Needell’s favourite ever cars. And he knows a thing or two about driving…
Early on in the E30’s life, there were no plans for a convertible version, but with demand for such a thing rather high, BMW had to do something. The answer came from German coachbuilders Baur, whom BMW teamed up with to offer a drop top conversion as an optional extra. The eventual official E30 Cabriolet which arrived in 1987 proved much more popular, so the Baur-converted cars have ended up being much rarer machines.
While the obvious non-M E30 choice would be the 325i, our pick would be the considerably more intriguing 318iS. With the E30 3-series nearing the end of its life, BMW slotted in the brand new M42 1.8-litre engine, a much spicier twin-cam unit, compared to the boggo 318’s single-cam jobby.
With 138bhp available in the relatively lightweight E30 body, these are decently swift, and feature M Tech suspension, an M Tech front splitter, and gorgeous 15-inch BBS rims.
Like the 318iS, the 328i Sport is a sort of ‘baby M3’ of its generation. The 193bhp M52 2.8-litre straight-six was unchanged from the standard 328i, but the Sport received a fantastic set of split rim BBS wheels, an M3-like bodykit, and on earlier versions, a limited-slip differential.
Mention the letter E followed by the number 46 in the CT office, and Car Throttle founder Adnan will immediately start banging on about his M3. However, it’s not the only E46 worth mentioning, and with our M Division blinders on, our chosen version of this 3-series generation would be the 330i Clubsport.
There isn’t a whole lot going on other than colour options you wouldn’t find on a regular 330i, some minor interior changes, a little missing sound deadening and a new spoiler. However, since the regular 330i is already a fine thing - with its 231bhp 3.0-litre straight-six - we find the idea of a slightly more special one appealing.
It always irked me that BMW didn’t make the 320si a little more powerful, but it’s a car I can’t help but find interesting. Just 2600 were made to homologate BMW’s World Touring Car Championship entry of the time, using a mostly hand-built 2.0-litre engine. The cast iron bore liners were replaced with aluminium, while the cylinder head was cast in the same factory as BMW’s F1 engines. The engine was finished off with a sexy carbonfibre cam cover, and It would rev higher than the standard 320i. After all that effort it put out 171bhp, enough to get this E90 saloon and its special 18-inch wheels from 0-62mph in around 8.1 seconds.
Us Brits never received the E92 335is - it was only sold in the US and Canada. That’s a shame, as it has a lot going for it. The N54 twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six was given a fettle to bring the power up to 320bhp and the torque to 332 lb ft (or 370lb ft for short ‘overboost’ periods), and given a better cooling system. The engine mounts tweaked, the exhaust replaced with a shoutier version, and the whole shebang finished off with a new set of wheels.
While it would be easy to pick out the 335i (soon to be called 340i) as our non-M current 3-series of choice, we’re going for a different car: the 335d. Yep, the diesel. That’s because - thanks to four-wheel drive and a 309bhp/465lb ft 3.0-litre six-pot turbo diesel - it’s actually the quickest 3-series: it’ll do 0-62 in just 4.8 seconds. And yet, it has an official combined MPG figure of 50. This, ladies and gents, is what you call having your cake and eating it.
Any you think deserve a mention? Hit the comments!