The 3 Series as a Genuine Pioneer: the First Six-Cylinder in its Class
Clearly, this success encouraged BMW’s development specialists to keep up their good work: They soon gave the 3 Series a pioneering role, making this the first car in its class with a six-cylinder power unit. So when the two new 320/6 and 323i made their debut at the 1977 Frankfurt Motor Show they were clearly the highlights in the eyes of BMW enthusiasts everywhere. Indeed, this combination of an agile and sporting saloon with a silken-smooth, refined and powerful six-cylinder was quite unique in the market.
Particularly the 323i very quickly gained the reputation of a wolf in sheep’s clothing: Displacing 2.3 litres, the K-Jetronic injection engine featuring transistorised ignition developed maximum output of 143 bhp accelerating this two-door high–performance compact saloon to a top speed of190 km/h or 118 mph. And to provide the same kind of deceleration, the 323i came with disc brakes all round. Featuring technologies of this kind, the top-of-the-range 3 Series was not only faster than numerous cars one class higher up in the market, but also superior in its technical features. Not just that the two straight-six power units offered superior output and performance – no, they were also very fuel-efficient: “Consuming 13.2 and 13.4 litres (21.4 and 21.1 mpg Imp) under testing conditions”, stated a renowned car journal, “the 320 and 323i prove that it is quite possible to achieve superior economy with a small six-cylinder”.
In the meantime, however, a gap had developed between the 98-horsepower 318i and the new 320/6 developing a superior 122 bhp maximum output. So in 1979/80 the four-cylinder models moved up: The 1.8-litre power unit was revised and entered the market as a 90-bhp carburettor engine in the 316 and with a 105 bhp fuel injection power unit in the 318i. And since there was now also room for a new entry-level model, the 315i powered by a 75 bhp 1.6-litre made its appearance in 1981.
Four out of Five Drivers of the 3 Series: “No Need for Improvement”
Given its outstanding success, the 3 Series soon became the subject of countless assumptions and surveys on the car and its drivers. A study conducted in 1980, for example, showed that at a share of 31 per cent the 320i was the best-selling 3 Series, followed by the 316 accounting for 27 per cent, the 318 with a share of 24 per cent, and the 323i with a share in sales of 18 per cent. The purchasing motives were the car’s performance in 77 per cent of all cases, its superior handling for 65 per cent of the customers, and the special looks of a sporting saloon in 64 per cent of the reasons quoted for buying the car. And almost two-thirds stated that their next car would once again definitely be a BMW.
Another enquiry showed that drivers of the BMW 3 Series were particularly active motorists, more than 60 per cent covering more than 17,000 kilometres or 10,500 miles a year. Unlike the image they had so often, these dedicated motorists were by all means sensible in their driving behaviour: Showing average fuel consumption of roughly 12 litres/100 km (23.5 mpg Imp), they were among the more fuel-conscious drivers at the time. In particular, however, 80 per cent of the 3 Series owners were convinced that there was no need to improve the 3 Series in any way.