The BMW E36 Guide

Introducing the BMW E36

Guide Version: 1.0. This guide was created on 09-18-2015 and updated monthly with new information.

Awarded as the “Best-Handling Car” in 1997 by the Car and Driver magazine, the accolade is rather unnecessary for the better-handling car of all time. As the flagship of the BMW Motorsport badge, there’s really no denying the capabilities of the late 90’s race-track hero.

To put it in simplest terms, the E36 generation of the BMW 3-Series was the defining executive car in its 1990s run.  As the outgoing models were being patronize buyer after buyer, BMW ought to refresh it—visually—and what transpired was a series of heartened welcome by the BMW enthusiasts.

Aside from the aesthetic and new styling of the compact, the fitment of the Z-axle, which is the new independent rear suspension, was the pinnacle of success for the BMW E36 evolution. It works with a multilink set-up that maintained the 3-Series’ position which won the award of the best handling car.

Similar to how they’ve done the past 3-series make, it was not limited to just the four-door saloon. It was also offered as a two-door Coupe, a five door Touring version, and a two-door Convertible. The initial launch of the line-up composed the engine with four-cylinders and straight-sixes.

What You Need To Know About the BMW E36

Performance

To keep up with the demand for performance based compacts, the E36 borrowed the R6 from the BMW-Motorsport 325i and improved it by fitting it with a steel billet cranking it up to 183 cui. Together with that, they’ve also manage to fit the head with BMW’s VANOS, or easily known as the variable valve timing system. Also, they placed it with larger valves. With that, it managed to spit up to 286 bhp and 235 ft-lbs of torque with the peak of 3600rpm to 5900rpm.

Driving

It’s a truly tempting car for an enthusiastic driver. The chassis which is surprisingly impressive invites the driver to drive it hard and push it to its limits. The ride is firm but composed, even in the motorway. For models without traction control, you do, however, need to watch out for some slippery road. But overall, the tail-happy characteristic of the BMW E36 is a show-boaty one.

As for the smoothness of the transmission, the improved power plant deserves the credit. It makes the automatic transmission much more viable, even with its limitation of a four-speed unit. For a better choice, it’s more ideal to get the five-speed manual.

Interior

The dash and the whole interior looked pretty much the same as the common 3-series range. The M shift knob, M sport seats, and the M instrument cluster were all standard to don the simplicity and excellence of the Bavarian touch. Other notable features at their time were the power front windows, auto-positioning of windows for positive sealing, air conditioning and heating with left and right side, and some micro filtered ventilation.

The BMW M36’s interior offers a broad line of equipment, too. With that, they came with the standard CD-ready audio system, anti-theft stereo radio/cassette, heated driver’s door lock, dual powered mirror, windshield washer jets, and the Drive-away Protection and Service Interval Indicator.

Safety

Safety features were really average, nothing out of the way. Included were the vacuum—assisted 4 wheel ventilated disc brakes, 4 channel ABS systems, dual airbags supplementary restraint system, side impact protection, impact sensors, and an all-season traction control program.

Although they were good for their technological age at the time, the earliest cars may have no airbags at all. Although there was ABS present in all, others were just retro-fitted. The passenger airbags came as an option and not as standard and the side airbags were only available as options on later models.

BMW E36 SPECS

ENGINE TYPE: 3201cc, 6-cyl, DOHC

HORSEPOWER: 321bhp@7400rpm

TORQUE: 258lb/ft@3250rpm

FUEL ECONOMY- 20mpg

TRANSMISSION- 5/6 speed manual

FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 21.1 gal.

CYLINDER CONFIGURATION: inline-six

DRIVE TYPE: rear-wheel-drive

TOP SPEED- 155mph

0-60MPH-  5.3 s

Price:  $7,000-$9,000

HOW THE BMW E36 BECAME A CLASSIC

Besides the familiarity of the people to the 3-series and the visually attractiveness of the E36, the compact prestige segment nature of the vehicle is what really appealed to their lines of loyal clientele.

Perhaps the most accurate definition of how the E36 became the cult classic in the automotive realm we know today is the fact that the BMW’s Motorsport department set out what they’ve wanted to do—built a powerful and lightweight derivative of their past three series and create something magical, thus the E36 was born.

As they’ve continued to develop, modify, and improve the E36, adapting new suspensions with firmer shocks and springs with also larger anti-roller bars, the E36 significantly became better and better. To provide a ferocious stopping power, Twelve-inch vented disc brakes were equipped and the M-tuned variable-ratio gave a great feedback to the steering wheel.

As once derided as the car for wannabe BMW fanatic, the BMW E36 renewed itself with the street credibility it deserved thanks to the patience of the development of its performance that paid off well.

PROS

√ Nice until 4000 rpm after which becomes a beast

4 speed auto gearbox works great

Good handling and precise steering

Spacious compartment

Good ventilation system and comfortable seats

CONS

× Interior looks outdated

× Unreliable electric system

× Limited interior

× Noisy 

× Rear wheel gives some spin