“We at BMW do not build cars as consumer objects, just to drive from A to B. We build mobile works of art.” Chris Bangle- Chief of Design for BMW Group. If you think about it, Chris has every right to say so; the cars of the BMW Group have always been more than just regular cars; every car, every design is a piece of art—a piece of fine art, if we may add!
With such a mindset, it is not hard to see why the BMW Group managed to grow into being one of the most-loved premium manufacturers in the world. The Bavarian manufacturer just knows how to make vehicles that people like, not only like, but make them stay loyal to the brand for years!
Since its origins, the BMW Group went through an impressive success story producing many masterpieces that almost all car enthusiasts fell in love with. In this article, we examine the BMW Group masterpieces from the 1990s.
1990: The Third Generation of the 3 Series
The BMW Group started off the new decade with the third generation of the 3 Series, with the first model being E36 or 316i as commercially known. The BMW Group decided to develop its new car in order to update the previous model and thus make a big entrance into the new decade of the 1990s, a decade of significant change for body lines compared to the previous one.
The styling of the BMW E36 was based on that of the previous E30 model. However, with the new car, the designers focused on the idea of modernity and, above all, worked hard on the evolution of aerodynamics.
Built from 1990 to 2000, this model was 20 per cent more aerodynamic than its predecessor, thanks to new body lines and details such as the glass cover for the double front headlights.
The main changes were in the design, the suspension, the dimensions and also the power transmission. Other changes that immediately stood out included the grille integrated into the front and the design of the new wing mirrors, which were smaller on the Bmw E36 than on the E30.
The car was the first model from the 3 Series to be produced in a hatchback body. It was also the first model from the series to be offered in either a five-speed gearbox or an optional automatic. The other standard equipment included four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated at the front) with anti-lock brakes and individually suspended wheels all around.
The main innovations in the new 3-series were a centre-beam axle, special side impact protection, a larger interior and new engines with four-valve technology. Other body styles of the car followed in later years, such as the 3 Series Coupé, 3 Series Convertible, 3 Series Compact and 3 Series Touring.
1991: New Touring Version in the 5 Series
In 1991, the BMW Group offered its 5 Series in a Touring version. The top model was the 525i Touring, which was powered by a 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine. The engine, which was also known from the saloons as a high-revving engine, helped the 1650 kg car to a top speed of 223 km/h, 135 mph.
The sprint to 100 km/h is reached in 9.9 seconds in this touring version. The car also had a hydraulic levelling system on the rear axle that was already included as standard, and because of the higher load capacity of the vehicle, the chassis was more rigidly tuned than that of the saloon.
1992: BMW Continues Successful 3 Series
The year 1992 witnessed the BMW Group’s newest release, AKA the 325i Coupé, which could accelerate to 100 km/h in 8.0 seconds and had a top speed of 233 km/h. With the 325i Coupé, the BMW Group’s renewal of the 3 Series was almost complete; a convertible version followed a year later.
The 325i Coupé combined refinement with power; the battery was moved from the engine compartment to the rear to achieve a better axle load distribution. The extra comfort compared to the 320i—including electric windows, fog lights, alloy wheels, and headlight washers— came at a considerable price premium.
1993: BMW Presents New 3 Series Convertible
In the following year, 1993, the BMW Group presented the 325i with a 2.5-litre inline six-cylinder engine and 192 hp; it was the top model of the new 3 Series Convertible. The new convertible version of the 325i was presented at the 1993 Geneva Motor Show with a body derived from the 3 Series Coupé.
The car was a true convertible: the side windows could be lowered entirely, and the function of the roll bar was taken over by the frame of the windscreen and the rear headrests, which automatically extended in case of a rollover.
Initially, the open-top car was only available with the inline six-cylinder 325i. The 325i was equipped with four-valve technology and had two overhead camshafts and a seven-bearing crankshaft.
1993: New Entry-level Model in the 5 Series—the 518i
The new entry-level model that the BMW Group presented in the 5 Series was the 518i, which came with a 1796 cc four-cylinder engine, 113 hp output, and a top speed is 194 km/h. With the 518i, the 5-series got its base model.
In comparison with other more expensive models in the 5-series, the 518i offered a good upper-class standard in terms of body artistry and interior space. The 518i came with a driver airbag and anti-lock brakes as standard. The power steering and front and rear disc brakes were also standard.
1994: Youthfully Styled and Very solid – the 3 Series Compact
Among the many innovations for which the 1990s are remembered is the debut of several premium brands in the compact segment, or C-segment. The BMW Group’s contribution to the new trend was the new 3 Series Compact. It was 4.21 m long and had enough space for five people: two doors and a large tailgate. All the advantages of the 3 Series were combined in this car: variability, safety, and comfort.
The new 3 Series Compact was available in four different engine variants; all models had rear-wheel drive. The entry-level model was the 316i Compact which was developed on the platform of the saloon; it retained its 2.7-metre wheelbase to guarantee the same onboard space and five seats despite a length of 4.21 metres, a good 22 cm less.
In view of its role as an entry model, the first engine available was the ‘smallest’ in the 3 Series range, the 102 hp 1.6i from the 316i, joined by the 140 hp 1.8 (318ti) which was replaced as early as ’95 by the newer 1.9 identical in performance but with a little more torque and punch.
1994: New Luxury-class Saloon from BMW
For the new 7 Series Sedan, the BMW Group came out with three different engines at its introduction. The “smallest” engine was the 3.0-litre eight-cylinder engine with 218 hp, the 730i. Whereas the 740i had a 4.0-litre eight-cylinder engine with 286 hp, and the high-line was the 750iL with a 5.4-litre twelve-cylinder engine with 326 hp.
James Bond fans will undoubtedly remember the high-line 750iL from the epic chase in the 1997 film Tomorrow Never Dies. In the film, Agent 007, played by Pierce Brosnan, escapes an ambush by dangerous criminals in a multi-storey car park by driving his 750iL with the touchpad of a special transmitter.
The new flagship was simply innovative, and it could count on a 70 per cent stiffer body and new high-intensity aluminium suspension with, at the rear, a refined multi-link layout.
1995: BMW Presents the New 5 Series Sedan
In 1995, the BMW Group presented the fourth generation of the 5 Series Sedan, which appeared with the entry-level model of the 520i saloon with a 2.0-litre six-cylinder engine and 150 hp.
The 520i was the first vehicle from the BMW 5 Series to have its main components, especially in the front suspensions and rears, made of aluminium.
The car was also the first one in the series to have a four-cylinder diesel engine installed in it. Like all the models from the 5 Series, the car was equipped with driver and passenger airbags, anti-lock brakes and electric windows as standard.
Two years later, in 1997, the new 5 Series Touring version was introduced, and one year later, the high-performance version of the 5 Series Saloon, the M5, was launched.
1996: New Fresh-air Roadster from BMW Group- the Z3
The BMW Group’s next success came in 1996 with the new Z3 Roadster, the car that was featured in the James Bond “Golden Eye” film. The appearance of the vehicle in the film was quite a hit, and everybody wanted to drive Agent 007’s car, which made the car’s sales go off the chart!
The car was the first BMW car to be built entirely outside Germany, proving that a BMW remains a BMW even if it is made in the USA! The Z3 immediately became a benchmark for style and sportiness, thanks to details inspired by other BMWs of the past—the side gills instantly bring to mind the splendid 507 Roadster— and engines with up to 321 hp.
The entry-level model of the car came with a four-cylinder 1.8 with 115 hp and one 1.9 with 140 hp, which could be ordered. However, the most desirable version of the vehicle, right from the start, was the Z3 M, with the 321 hp 3.2 six-cylinder. The car was recognisable at first glance by its oversized aerodynamic appendages, four exhausts and 17-inch wheels—It was a real beauty!
1997: The Revolutionary M5
For many, the BMW M5 is the sports saloon par excellence; no Audi or Mercedes can hold a candle to this car. In 1997, the BMW Group presented the third generation of the M5 at the Frankfurt Motor Show; it was the first car to mount a V8 engine under the bonnet.
The displacement in this generation was increased to 4.9 litres, and power reached 400 hp for incredible performance. Despite weighing 1,800 kg, it reached 100 km/h in just 5.3 seconds. The third generation was not launched as a station waggon but was nonetheless very successful, with 20,482 units sold in five years!
The M5 has been and continues to be an iconic sports car! Over the decades, as the new generations of the M5 kept on coming, the power has almost doubled, with the super saloon (and also station waggon) always having the best that the technology of the time had to offer under the bonnet, from the naturally aspirated V8 to the twin-turbo V8 via the fantastic naturally aspirated V10.
1998: The Fourth Generation of the 3 Series
As with the previous generations of the series, the BMW Group had a handover between the third and fourth BMW 3 Series that took place gradually. For a few years, the two models coexisted in BMW’s overall offering.
Nevertheless, the fourth generation of the BMW 3 Series was, in fact, unveiled in 1998, again offering a further, albeit modest, increase in external dimensions (447 cm length), but with a noticeable increase in space in the passenger compartment.
The fourth 3 Series also featured an extensive renewal of the engine range, both petrol and diesel. Speaking of the latter, it was with the fourth generation 3 Series that BMW introduced the turbo diesel with direct injection. Another major innovation introduced with the fourth-generation 3 Series was the adoption of the Valvetronic distribution system exclusive to BMW in 2001. The fourth BMW Series remained in production until 2006.
No matter the decade we are talking about; the BMW Group always managed to shine with new cars, new innovations, and new fine pieces of work! While the world was waiting for the new millennial, the BMW Group said goodbye to another successful decade in the BMW Group’s saga. Not only that, but the BMW Gour was going into the new millennial with some new gems!