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Cracking the BMW Numbers Game

Come on now, seriously. What’s the deal with the endless variations of BMW models? In an era where car companies are ruthlessly killing off brands, lines and nameplates, BMW is adding them at head-spinning speed. What gives? The Bimmer used to be the one car brand whose numbering system was logical and consistent, and now those days are gone. Are these legitimate, needed brand additions, or are these revenue-generating regurgitations of the ultimate driving machine? And is there any logic to them? Yes, no and well, kinda, sorta, maybe.

Join in and get a grip on BMW naming conventions.

bmw naming conventions bmw e30

Since the 1980s, BMW has enjoyed a wide array of numbers, but it was easy to keep them straight. At its core was the 3 series (rich kid), 5 series (corporate wonk) and the 7 series (his divorce attorney). Plain, simple, straightforward — all was well in the world. Then came the SUVs, X models denoting the all wheel, “x-drive” system, so that made sense. And even the electric “Project i” series was OK, and the i8 is so cool that nobody panicked. Then, all hell broke loose.

bmw naming comventions 8seriesv12

After resurrecting the 2, 4 and 6 series, BMW adopted a nomenclature structure to reflect the number of doors of a vehicle. Odd numbers equaled four doors and even two. Simple enough, right? But then the numbers following the series number began to reflect a performance calculation: the engine displacement in cubic centimeters divided by 100. This sounded easy enough until you realize that a 335 and a 550 don’t really add up. It turns out, the models that are turbocharged don’t follow that, they just... are. 

bmw naming conventions bmw x5 m

But then it got weirder. On top of these new numbers, we got new names like “Grand Coupe” and “Grand Turismo.” Then they launch the stunning 6 series Grand Coupe which has an even number and four doors. Arg! The X models, Z models and i models don’t really follow any of these in the first place, so don’t even try with those. There became “I” on the non-electrics and “M”s all over the place and don’t get me started on a “Ti."


The good news is that the new, even numbered (sometimes coupe) vehicles tend to be more performance oriented or sportier — think 6 series versus the 5 series. So, the M2 may seem like a ridiculous option against the M3, especially now that there’s an M4; but then you drive one, and the only number you can focus on is the rapidly increasing mph, so who cares! Thus, while it’s confusing, the new nomenclature reflects something that we can all get behind — more fun to choose from.

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