320i

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This is the car that 325i owners make fun of, but 320's are as smooth as silk and don't go sideways at every corner.

Contents

History

320i

Being a "standard" E30 model base, the E30 320i was available as a coupe, saloon, Cabriolet and in later years as a Touring. Like all models (apart from the "Touring" model), the 320i was available during the "Pre-Facelift" era (known for its chrome bumpers and other touches) and the "Facelift" era (Plastic bumpers).

The 320i is not a desirable model of E30 due to its relatively low power (little more than the 318i) but with fuel consumption equal to the much more powerful 325i. Because of this, surviving examples are usually cannibalised for their shells, or have more powerful engines transplanted into them.

Despite the technical parameters, the M20B20 engine that powers the 320i is considered a smoother engine than its bigger variants, and is therefore a comfortable choice for those looking for ride comfort rather than raw power. Because of this, the most valuable 320i version is usually the cabriolet.

During its production run, the 320i was available in all four E30 body types, at the following times:

320i SE

At some point during the E30 production, BMW introduced a trim level known as SE, for Special Equipment, which was only offered to 6-cylinder models (For the 316i and 318i, this trim level was called LUX). This SE package makes the 320i SE a genuine BMW model, which should be shown on the vehicle registration document. The SE trim level was available on all four body styles - 2-door, 4-door, Touring and Cabriolet.

The SE trim level equipped the car with some basic cosmetic options, including interior upholstery and steering wheels, plus foglights. Bumpers and valances were colour-coded, and some electric items such as a sunroof and rear windows were installed. However, the actual SE package changed from year to year, depending entirely on what accessories BMW wanted to include.

Most importantly, SE cars were entitled to optional extras from the M-Tech list, thus offering LSD, Sports Gearbox and Suspension options to the vehicle, as well as Motorsport body kits. This meant that a 320i SE could be equipped to an extremely high level, far beyond that available to a standard 320i.

Because of the relatively low power of the M20B20 engine, very few 320i SE were equipped with mechanical upgrades, making the SE a primarily cosmetic upgrade.

Technical

The 320i was powered by the M20B20, a 1990cc (2.0L), 6 cylinder engine and the smallest in the M20 family, below those found in the 323i, 325e and 325i. Because of its age, the engine was fitted with both Jetronic and Motronic engine management systems during its lifetime, meaning there are a multitude of differences between a 1983 and a 1994 engine, which means very few parts are interchangeable between pre- and facelift models. There's not much it shares with its engine stablemates either; nothing can be bolted on to improve performance, and only basic engine ancillaries like the alternator and Starter are common with its M20 contemporaries.

The drivetrain is also specific. The 320i uses a shorter gearbox than the bigger M20 engines, with a longer prop to compensate. It also uses the small-case differentials fitted to the 316i and 318i. However, the drivetrain is strong enough to cope with more power, so swapping the engine doesn't have to mean ditching the gearbox.

On the plus side, it shares the same larger 51mm struts and vented front discs as those models, while Touring and Cabriolet models will have rear discs as well. All models were fitted with front and rear ARBs.

Overall, the 320i is mechanically quite poor. The plus side is that spare parts are cheap, and when things go bang it's a good excuse to upgrade them to 325i equivalents.

Common Problems

Poor performance on a 320i can usually be attributed to the engine not being serviced.

Have the injectors cleaned professionally. Using an injector cleaning fluid is not considered helpful.

Common Upgrades

There's not much you can do to improve the performance of a 320i. The engine is strangled from intake to exhaust, and once you start looking at bolting on components from bigger engines, you realise it's cheaper and quicker just to drop an entire 325i lump in. Check out our engine swaps for more info.

  1. Consider fitting a Chip.
  2. Fit a 325i throttle body with 320i modified inlet manifold to keep a reasonable low torque. Don't fit a 325i manifold unless you want all top end power and no pull low down.
  3. Z3 Short shifter conversion

General Info

Please also see the E30 320 Register