When you start a discussion about an E36 328is the age-old question always comes up around what the difference is between the E36 328i vs E36 328is. Some will say it has better handling due to a different suspension setup and others will call out that the engines are different, but what is the truth of the matter?
That’s why we’re here today, to clearly outline what the key differences are between the E36 328is and ‘i’ designated models which have been utilized for the E36 range. At the same time, we’ll also go into some key details around the 328is and what makes it such a fantastic and desirable car for many, myself included.
The BMW E36 328i vs E36 328is Key Differences
When it comes down to it, put quite simply, there are not a whole lot of differences between the E36 328is and 328i versions of the car. The only real difference is that the E36 328is is the coupe (two-door) version of the 328 models whilst the ‘i’ simply represents the fact that it is the sedan model. BMW made it that simple, all they wanted to do is differentiate the coupe from the sedan.
People may delve down into the details and start trying to differentiate the two model designations but there’s no difference between any other components. Where others may start to get confused is when they start taking into account the sports package, but this is available for both the E36 328is and 328i models.
Now if we take a look at what the sports package entails for both models, from a handling perspective it includes sports wheels, lowered springs and stiffer sway bars to give you a more agile feeling and sportier look.
As we move into the interior of the E36 328is and ‘i’ you’ll be graced with the inclusion of sports seats, but that is all there is to the sports package. To indicate whether the car has the sports package or not, you’ll need to identify these components I just listed, as there’s no additional sports badging to identify if the package has been optioned on the car.
It is also important to note, regardless of the stiffer sway bars or lowered springs on either the E36 328is or i, it has been noted by many sedan owners that the 328i sedan has an overall stiffer chassis and is the better handling chassis. Although regardless of this, I’d say the difference is quite minor. The deciding factor for most would be that the E36 328is coupe has a sportier appearance and therefore is the more desirable car.
If we were to compare the E36 328is to the more modern E46 models, it is the same naming convention as the E46 328ci, with the ‘ci’ designation signifying that the car is a two-door coupe.
The E36 328is Specs
Since the E36 328is has the same underpinnings as the sedan, all of the specs mentioned in this section apply to both the coupe and sedan versions of the car. The E36 328is engine is the most powerful 3 series of the E36s before you reach the M3 variant.
The E36 328is hp comes in at just 193hp with 280nm of torque. This is fairly decent considering you’re getting such performance out of a non-M car variant and it’s just 47hp shy of the E36 M3 which has 240hp.
E36 328is vs E36 M3
Since we brought it up in the specs section above, let’s take a quick look at some of the key differences between the best E36 non-M car and the M3 itself. Aside from the obvious things such as the engine of the E36 M3 producing 240hp and 350nm of torque compared to the 328is’s 193hp and 280nm of torque and the main upgrades you’d see in an M car such as brakes, suspension, interior and exterior components.
The other key component that sets the car apart from the E36 328is is the fact that the 328is has an open differential which would quite clearly underperform in the handling department compared to the E36 M3’s superior LSD (Limited Slip Differential). For me, that makes the biggest difference. BMW even utilized the same ZF transmission in both cars.
But as we get into the market today, both cars have usually been modified and it’s tough to find a stock E36. Components such as suspensions, brakes, wheels and engine upgrades have usually been added to the cars throughout their 20+ year life span.
This is mainly due to modern technology improvements being readily available for reasonable prices, making it very tempting and easy for owners to improve their E36, whether it’s the M3 variant or not.
What is the E36 328is Weight
It is said that the E36 328is weight is essentially the same between both the coupe and sedan variants. The weight comes in at 3,120 lbs although some other sources report it as 3,075 lbs.
Interestingly with all the upgraded components and the fact that the M variant should have a slight focus on reducing mass, the E36 M3 weight is slightly more at 3,131 lbs.
Our Verdict on the E36 328is
Without a doubt the E36 328is is a great car and whilst we went through all the interesting points about the car and even compared it to the E36 M3, we’re now also clear that the ‘is’ represents the coupe variant of the 328 and the ‘i’ represents the sedan variant.
As for the car itself, it’s powerful enough for most people and is generally going to be cheaper than an M3. The coupe version is always going to be more desirable so you can expect the E36 328is price to be slightly higher.
As for whether or not you’d choose an M3 over the E36 328is, that is entirely up to you and your budget. On one hand, the cheaper 328is offers more value for money and is a fantastic package put together by BMW whilst on the other hand, even though the M3 may be more expensive, it could potentially hold more value in the future, as well as go up in price as we’ve been seeing with the entire market in the past few years. You also cannot discount without modifications the M3 is going to be a better performing car and out of the box has more power and better components.
Personally, if I was looking for cheap thrills the 328is would be an easy decision, but if it’s something I’m going to be keeping for a long time or never selling, I’d save up for the M3, unless prices skyrocket and the E36 M3 is no longer justifiable, then the E36 328is would be my pick every time.