The BMW 3-Series just turned 40, so we drove the lot | Top Gear
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Review

The BMW 3-Series just turned 40, so we drove the lot

From 1975’s E21 to the latest 340i, Paul Horrell tests six generations of 3

Published: 22 Jul 2015
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BMW likes to tell us that the small sports saloon was invented with the first 3-Series. Cobblers.

In the late Sixties and early Seventies, the Alfa Giulia and Triumph Dolomite were highly regarded both for their dynamics and – no, seriously – their quality. So was the BMW 2002, of course.

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But history is written by the winners. And in 1975, exactly forty years ago, the winner popped out onto the roads. It was the first BMW 3-Series. We're now on the sixth generation, and it's become the saloon by which all other manufacturers measure their efforts.

To see exactly what this path of evolution and refinement has done, I drove all six of them in the same afternoon down the same road. All were good, some were just plain fabulous…

Chapter 1: E21 (1975-1982)

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