Cheat sheet on BMW vehicle names
As complicated as German is, the names of BMWs are not very understandable at first, and it can be difficult to find your way around. So if you are lost with all these numbers or you are a pro and want to test your knowledge, this article is for you.
BMW is an automotive group manufacturing cars and motorcycles. In our case we will focus on the cars released from the 70s, so youngtimers: those you like so much. And that's good, it's from those years that BMW decided to start its number madness.
The 1st number designates the Series:
From the 70's, the BMW range is divided into several series, with the first one created in 1972: the 5 series. Since then, there are 8 series to which other categories have been added: the Z (roadsters), the X (SUVs with 7 variations) and more recently the i (electric vehicles). So far so good. But, unfortunately, it's not over yet.
For example, the BMW 323i e21Can you explain the meaning of these numbers and letters? If you are perceptive you may have understood that the first 3 designates the series, so first information: it is a series 3.
The 2nd digits indicate the motorization:
Then the 2 following figures indicate the engine capacity: it is a 2,3 liters. This rule was systematically applied until the year 2000 when, for commercial reasons, BMW stopped making these numbers coincide. For example, a 118, a 120, or a 123, have the same displacement (2 liters), what differs is the power. So there is an order to classify the power of engines: 16<18<20<25<30<35.
The letter designates the fuel and the transmission:
And the letter following these 3 numbers designates the fuel or transmission type. But you're not out of the woods yet, there may be 2 letters, or even 3.
Here is the list of letters and their meanings:
i : fuel injection engines until the early 1990s (disappearance of carburetor engines), and then to designate gasoline engines
d : diesel engines
e : gasoline versions called economic after the oil crisis. Then, since 2016: "ecological" hybrid engines
td : turbo diesel (tds : td with intercooler)
x : 4-wheel drive models (Xdrive)
C : cut versions
L : long versions
S : versions with sporty tendencies
g : models that can run on natural gas (they are rare)
M : if it is before the numbers (M135i for example) it is since 2010, a sport model close to the models produced by BMW Motorsport. The real Motorsport models will be called M3, or M5 for example, following the code name indicating the generation, but there will be no numbers of the displacement or other letters.
And these letters can be combined, for example:
BMW 325ix e30 - 1988
So we have a 3 series of 2.5 liters four wheel drive injection (because 1988). Note that this combination has changed in the meantime, we no longer say ix but xi: we like to shake things up at BMW obviously.
Finally, you'll notice the chef's little extra: the "e30". It's a code name, but since we didn't manage to infiltrate BMW's premises, we just know that it designates the generation and that they are specific to each of the different series, you have to learn it by heart and that's it.
Overview of the BMW range:
The 1 Series, a compact city car:
BMW M140i - 2016
First example of a car with the letter M not produced by BMW Motorsport. Attention however, it is a 3,0 liters gasoline and not a 4,0.
The 2 series, a coupe or minivan derivative of the 1 series:
BMW 230i F22 - 2014
The 3 series, the road family:
BMW 325i e30 convertible - 1990
The 4 series, a coupe derivative of the 3 series:
BMW 420d G22 - 2020
The 5 series, the great roadster:
BMW M5 3.8 E34 – 1992
The 6 series, a coupe derivative of the 5 series:
BMW 633csi e24 - 1976
The 7 Series, the luxury sedan:
BMW 735i e32 - 1987
The 8 series, large luxury coupe:
BMW 850i e31 - 1991
X-series, SUVs (ranging from X1 to X7, from the smallest to the largest):
BMW X6 35d - 2010
Z series, roadsters (Z1, Z3, Z4, Z8):
BMW Z4 sDrive 23ia – 2011
The i-series, electric or plug-in hybrids (i3, i4, i8, iX3):
Finally, remember what was said at the beginning of this article: the Germans like to make changes, and we at Benzin like to be precise, so here are some examples of contradictions at BMW.
BMW M635csi e24 - 1985
As we could see before, an M followed by 3 digits indicates that the car was not produced by BMW Motorsport. However, this car has been, as we can see when we see the pictures of the engine.
Also, some cars were produced in the early 1970s but were not subject to the new BMW names of those years. The previous system also used the displacement to define the name of the cars.
BMW 3.0 CS E9 - 1972
Now you know all about BMW names. You're welcome.