If the BMW 3 Series were a person, it would be looking back at an extraordinary career path. Among the key milestones along the way have been its success in pioneering a new category of vehicle, establishing itself as the embodiment of driving pleasure in its segment, and becoming the world’s top-selling premium car.

The model range was launched 40 years ago to replace the already legendary BMW 02, and is now set to enter its sixth generation. Today, as in 1975, purchasing a 3 Series nets you sporty, agile handling, innovative technology, and premium quality.

First unveiled at the 1975 Frankfurt motor show, the 3 Series has since developed into both the brand’s most successful model range and an international bestseller. Its history is testament to the advances achieved by the German carmaker in the areas of sporting ability, efficiency, safety, comfort and connectivity, as well as to the development of BMW design.

The underlying character of the BMW 3 Series endures from generation to generation, complemented by the addition of up-to-date technology. Its design has also been shaped by a characteristic BMW sense of continuity and evolution. Indeed, throughout the range’s history, its striking front end with twin circular headlights and familiar BMW kidney grille and the dynamic lines of the car’s flanks have always been quick to catch the eye.

As for the interior, the unmistakable driver-focused cockpit design already established itself as a key element in the first model generation. The 3 Series’ exceptional run of victories in race competition has also contributed to the car’s status as a byword for sports performance. From the success notched up by the original BMW M3, its enviable record has continued all the way to victory in the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) race series in 2014.

The first generation of the 3 Series delighted customers with a level of sporty handling never before offered in its segment, while also impressing with its super-economical engines. Thanks to the performance and sporty character of those engines, the transfer of power to the rear wheels, and the efficiency with which the power is served, the 3 Series continues to rise above its rivals to this day.

In 1977, two years after its launch, the 3 Series became the first car in its class available with six-cylinder engines. Further innovations were to follow, including revolutionary injection and engine management systems, ultra-sporty diesel engines and weight minimisation through the use of aluminium and magnesium. Today, the latest generation of BMW Group engines in the 3 Series epitomizes BMW EfficientDynamics.

Finely balanced weight distribution and advanced chassis construction have been there from day one, too. Back in 1975, drivers of a BMW 3 Series were already guaranteed handling that was sportier than any of its rivals, thanks to technically sophisticated suspension, precise steering, and powerful brakes. That standard has been maintained through to the latest generation.

The most successful model range in the BMW lineup has grown massively since it was unveiled. A four-door variant joined the two-door model in the range in the second generation, and it wasn’t long before the M3 high-performance sports car, the first Touring model and the first 3 Series Convertible were premiered. The third generation saw the distinctively-styled 3 Series Coupe bring additional allure to the lineup.

Now, the sixth generation further extends this attractive selection of distinctive body variants, which are now split between two model ranges: the BMW 3 Series Sedan has been joined by the BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo, and the portfolio now also includes the 4 Series Coupe, 4 Series Convertible and 4 Series Gran Coupe.