The Joy of Driving

The Complete BMW Buying Guide: Every Model, Explained


April 23, 2019 Cars By Photo by BMW

BMW produces the “ultimate driving machine.” It distinguishes itself from the other German luxury brands by being sporty and driver-centric. The classic BMW is a powerful, well-handling, RWD sedan with a manual transmission. However, BMW has adjusted to the modern car market. Manuals are harder to come by with each passing model year. BMW offers an array of Crossover/SUVs it terms “sport activity vehicles,” lest anyone accuse a BMW of utility. BMWs are most recognizable for their dual kidney grilles: tow amorphous radiator intakes set into the front of the car.

Watch Now: 2019 BMW X7 xDrive50i Review

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BMW History

BMW stands for Bavarian Motor Works (Bayerische Motoren Werke in German). The company, formally BMW AG, was founded in Munich in 1916. The company began as a WWI airplane engine manufacturer. BMW did not produce its first car until 1928. Only after the Second World War did automaking become the primary business. Sedans such as the 2002 and subsequent 3 Series laid the foundation for BMW to become a luxury powerhouse and performance hallmark in the 1980s and beyond.

How BMW Names its Cars

BMW uses a Germanic alphanumeric naming system. Basically, models have a Series No. 1-8. (Note that series names are not hyphenated like Mercedes-Benz classes: 3 Series versus E-Class.) Larger odd numbered series means a bigger car. Even numbered series tend to be body style variants. The second two numbers in a model name indicate how big the engine is – they used to directly track engine displacement but no longer do. However, bigger number does equal bigger engine. The letter after the number (e.g. 340i) indicates what type of engine the car has. “X” models are SUVs. “Z” models are roadsters.

The system has some idiosyncrasies. The letter “i” can mean electric (e.g. i3, i8). But, if it comes after the number (340i) it stands for “fuel injection” and means a gasoline engine. The letter “X” can mean an SUV or it can mean AWD. There are “M cars” designed by the M division and cars with “M” in the title that just have some special tuning and styling. There’s also a separate company, Alpina, that produces high-performance BMWs made and sold by BMW.

If you speak BMW, “X6 xDrive50i” concisely tells you exactly what the car is. It’s also a mouthful.

BMW Terminology

ALPINA: Alpina is a separate manufacturer that builds modified vehicles based on BMW models. The cars are assembled on BMW lines and for practical purposes (buying, warranty, repair) function as BMWs.
Bimmer: Pronounced “bee-mer.” A caolloquial nickname for BMW cars.
Gran Coupe: A four-door coupe with a sleek, sloping roofline.
Gran Turismo: A four-door sedan with a higher roofline in the rear for more trunk space. Some might term this a “hatchback.”
Hoffmeister Kink: Named for a former BMW design chief, this is a signature BMW design element defined as “a low forward bend at the C-pillar or D-pillar in the case of touring vehicles or SUVs.” Basically, the rear passenger windows curve forward at their lower-rear corner. It’s been copied ubiquitously in the automotive design space.
i: BMW’s “i” series (i3,i8) models have an electrified powertrain. When “i” appears after an engine number (540i) it stands for fuel injection and denotes a gasoline engine.
M: These cars are modified by BMW’s “M” motorsport division. There are “M” cars that have been redesigned by the M division (M3 or X3 M). There are also “M” performance vehicles (M340i) that are not full M cars but have distinctive styling and tuning.
sDrive: This car has a two-wheel-drive setup. BMW cars are traditionally RWD, though some new models are FWD
Sport Activity Vehicle: What BMW calls its SUVs (traditionally “Sport Utility Vehicle”).
xDrive: BMW’s AWD system.
X: This car is an SUV/Crossover.
Z: This car is a two-door roadster.

Buying Guide

2 Series

The 2 Series is BMW’s sporty, entry-level subcompact vehicle in the U.S. It comes in both coupe and convertible body styles. There are three versions. BMW offers a quick 248hp 230i versions. There’s a very quick 335hp M240i version. Both can have RWD or AWD. RWD cars can be optioned with a manual.

Those with more cash and the same minimal space requirements may opt for the very, very quick M2 Competition Coupe ($58,900). It draws 405hp from the inline-six engine. It does 0-60mph in four seconds flat. It comes with a six-speed manual. For the Nurburgring fans, the M2 Competition Coupe lapped it in 7:54.

Body Style: Coupe, Convertible
Models:

• 230i
• 230i xDrive
• M240i
• M240i xDrive
• M2 Competition Coupe

Engines:

• Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four
• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six

Read our review of the BMW M2

Base MSRP: $35,300

3 Series

The 3 Series compact sedan is the quintessential BMW. It has been a standout for decades since its 1976 debut. It is BMW’s best-selling vehicle of all-time. BMW has made a host of new performance improvements for the 7th generation coming in 2019. Two controversial changes are ditching the wagon and the manual transmission in the U.S. market. It comes in a base four-cylinder 255hp 330i or a six-cylinder 382hp M340i form.

The M3 ($66,500) has been the gold standard sports sedan since its introduction in 1985. The present version produces 425hp and 411lb-ft of torque. It accelerates from 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds. Speculation was rampant, but the M3 still has a manual option.

Body Style: Sedan

Models:

• 330i
• 330i xDrive
• M340i
• M340i x Drive
• M3

Engines:

• Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four
• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six

Read more about the BMW 3 Series here

Base MSRP: $40,250 [Manufacturer price of lowest model]

4 Series

BMW created the 4 Series in 2014, breaking away 3 Series body style variants into a new series. It comes in two-door coupe, four-door gran coupe and convertible editions. BMW claims they offer “uniquely beguiling” traits. It comes in 430i (248hp I-4) and 440i (320hp I-6) versions. For the 430i, the RWD Coupe and Gran Coupe can have a manual transmission. So can both RWD and AWD versions of the 440i Coupe.

The M4 ($69,150) is, similarly, a body-style variant of the M3. It can be both a two-door coupe and a convertible. Both are available with manual transmissions.

Body Style: Coupe, Gran Coupe, Convertible

Models:

• 430i
• 430i xDrive
• 440i
• 440i xDrive
• M4

Engines:

• Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four
• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six

Base MSRP: $44,600

5 Series

The 5 Series is BMW’s midsize sedan. Debuting in 1972, it was the first numbered series in BMW’s lineup. The 5 Series comes as a sedan only in the U.S. market. It can be paired with an inline-four, an inline-six, or a V8. There’s also a hybrid-electric version of the four-cylinder.

The M5 ($102,700) is one of BMW’s legendary cars. The company describes it as “a quintessential performer on road and track.” We have yet to see the public roads built to contain this 600hp monster at full-tilt. There’s a $110,000 “Competition” edition for those that need an extra tick from 0-60mph. Big changes for the latest generation: AWD and no manual transmission.

Body Style: Sedan

Models:

• 530i
• 530i xDrive
• 530e iPerformance
• 530e xDrive iPerformance
• 540i
• 540i xDrive
• M550i xDrive
• M5
• M5 Competition

Engines:

• Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four
• Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with an integrated electric motor
• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six
• Turbocharged 4.4-liter V8

Base MSRP: $53,400

Read our BMW M5 review

6 Series

The 6 Series has meant different things at different times for BMW. Currently, it is “curves that captivate, power that astounds, and the attitude to capture attention” from 5 Series body style variants. The 6 Series comes as a four-door “Gran Turismo” hatchback or a four-door gran coupe. There are six and eight-cylinder versions with both RWD and AWD.

BMW offers dueling high-performance editions of the 6 Series. There’s the 560hp M6 Gran Coupe ($119,900). There’s also the 600hp Alpina B6 Gran Coupe ($124,400) that is a half-second quicker from 0-60mph (3.6sec).

Body Style: Gran Turismo, Gran Coupe, Alpina B6 Gran Coupe

Models:

• 640i
• 640i xDrive
• 650i
• 650i xDrive
• M6
• Alpina B6 xDrive

Engines:

• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six
• Turbocharged 4.4-liter V8

Base MSRP: $70,300 [Manufacturer price of lowest model]

7 Series

The 7 Series is BMW’s flagship full-size luxury sedan. BMW terms owning one living “life at the apex.” That may be a bit strong. The 7 Series can be ordered in six-cylinder, eight-cylinder, and twelve-cylinder (601hp) versions. Buyers can also choose a 322hp combined four-cylinder hybrid electric.

Alpina produces a 600hp B7 ($139,350). The current edition is limited in the U.S. to 192mph. Without the limiter, it has a top speed north of 200mph and lays claim to being the world’s fastest sedan.

Body Style: Sedan

Models:

• 740i
• 740i xDrive
• 740e
• 750i
• 750i xDrive
• M760i xDrive
• Alpina B7 xDrive

Engines:

• Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with an integrated electric motor
• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six
• Turbocharged 4.4-liter V8
• Turbocharged 6.6-liter V12

Base MSRP: $83,650 [Manufacturer price of lowest model]

Read our review of the Alpina B7

8 Series

The 8 Series is BMW’s luxury grand tourer. It’s available in both coupe and convertible body styles. With a 523hp version of the 4.4L V8 engine, the 8 Series can accelerate from 0-60mph in 3.6 seconds.

Body Style: Coupe, Convertible

Models:

• M850i xDrive

Engines:

• Turbocharged 4.4-liter V8

Base MSRP: $111,900

Z4

The Z4 is BMW’s small roadster. It’s a descendant of the BMW Z3 that appeared in Goldeneye, which was a movie before becoming perhaps the greatest video game of all-time. The “Z” stands for “zukunft,” the German word for future. It’s only available as a RWD four-cylinder with 255hp and 295lb-ft.

Body Style: Roadster

Models:

• Z4 sDrive30i

Engines:

• Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four

Base MSRP: $49,700

Read more about the BMW Z4

X1

The X1 is BMW’s entry-level subcompact crossover. It uses a 228hp four-cylinder engine, is available in FWD and AWD variants, and has a base MSRP below $35,000. Car and Driver named it one of their 10 best Trucks and SUVs for 2019.

Body Style: Crossover

Models:

• X1 sDrive30i
• X1 xDrive30i

Engines:

• Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four

Base MSRP: $34,950 [Manufacturer price of lowest model]

X2

The X2 is BMW’s sportier, driving-oriented, and more BMW-y subcompact crossover. It’s lower to the ground than the X1. It has a sleeker “coupe” body shape and less cargo space. The base models come in FWD and AWD. The X2 M35i (AWD) has a tuned up version of the four-cylinder producing 302hp and 322lb-ft and accelerating from 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds.

Body Style: Crossover Coupe

Models:

• X2 sDrive28i
• X2 xDrive28i
• X2 M35i

Engines:

• Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four

Base MSRP: $36,400

X3

The X3 is BMW’s compact SUV. BMW first introduced it in 2003 as a smaller version of the X5. The third generation was introduced for the 2018 model year. The base four-cylinder model comes in both rear and all-wheel-drive. There’s also a 355hp m40i version. BMW plans to introduce X3 M and X3 M Competition models in the 2020 model year. The latter will have more than 500hp.

Body Style: Crossover

Models:

• X3 sDrive30i
• X3 xDrive30i
• X3 m40i

Engines:

• Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four
• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six

Base MSRP: $41,000

Read more about the BMW X3 M and X4 M Competition models

X4

The X4 is a sportier version of the X3 compact crossover. It has a sloping coupe body style. As with the X3, there are four-cylinder (248hp) and six-cylinder versions (355hp). Though, the X4 only comes with all-wheel-drive. There’s also an X4 M edition coming in the 2020 model year.

Body Style: Crossover Coupe

Models:

• X4 xDrive30i
• X4 m40i

Engines:

• Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four
• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six

Base MSRP: $50,450

X5

The X5 is BMW’s midsize SUV. It was the first SUV BMW introduced in 1999. It was one of the first SUVs to use a more crossover-like unibody architecture while the Mercedes-Benz M-Class and others were still light trucks. It comes in inline-six and V8 versions. The X5 M ($101,700) tunes the 4.4-liter V8 to 567hp and 553lb-ft of torque. It accelerates from 0-60mph in 4.0 seconds, perfect for when you need to get the kids to school very aggressively. Notably, the X5 M doesn’t follow typical ‘M’ nomenclature, which would make it the ‘MX5’, because Mazda already makes a vehicle by that name: the MX-5 Miata.

Body Style: Crossover

Models:

• X5 xDrive40i
• X5 xDrive50i
• X5 M

Engines:

• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six
• Turbocharged 4.4-liter V8

Base MSRP: $60,700 [Manufacturer price of lowest model]

Read more about the BMW X5

X6

The X6 is BMW’s midsize crossover coupe. BMW says it is the “commanding sports activity coupe” with “striking looks, aggressive stance, and large proportions.” The base six-cylinder (300hp) engine is available with either all-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive. There’s an eight-cylinder version with 445hp. BMW’s X6 M ($105,700) receives the same tuning as the X5 M to 567hp.

Body Style: Crossover Coupe

Models:

• X6 sDrive35i
• X6 xDrive35i
• X6 xDrive50i
• X6 M

Engines:

• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six
• Turbocharged 4.4-liter V8

Base MSRP: $63,550

X7

The X7 is BMW’s full-size three-row SUV debuting in the 2019 model year. It’s the largest BMW ever built. BMW describes it as “the culmination of comfort, luxury, and powerful living.” BMW offers six-cylinder and eight-cylinder versions. The X7 can be optioned as a seven-seater or as a six-seater with second-row captain’s chairs. Those living powerfully need captain’s chairs.

Body Style: Crossover

Models:

• X7 xDrive 40i
• X7 xDrive 50i

Engines:

• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six
• Turbocharged 4.4-liter V8

Base MSRP: $73,900

i3

The i3 is BMW’s subcompact all-electric vehicle. Per BMW it “turns the everyday into the adventurous.” We’re still not sure whether that’s a good thing. Basically, it’s a high-roofed hatchback EV. It looks like what people in the early 2010s thought an EV would look like. The i3s is a slightly more powerful version. Both versions can be equipped with a two-cylinder gas range extender that can stretch the range to about 200 miles. Its price is competitive with the Tesla Model 3. Its performance is not.

Body Style: Hatchback

Models:

• i3
• i3 w/range extender
• i3s
• i3s w/range extender

Engines:

• 170hp AC Electric Motor
• 181hp AC Electric Motor

Base MSRP: $44,450

i8

The i8 is a plug-in hybrid performance roadster BMW launched in 2014. It comes in both Coupe and Roadster editions. The electric and gas motors produced 369hp combined. The i8 Coupe can accelerate from 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds. It looks like the future. Skeptics will note that it doesn’t perform quite like a supercar, doesn’t get great mileage in real driving conditions with a small battery, and costs $15,000 more than a maxed out Tesla Model S Performance.

Body Style: Coupe, Roadster

Models:

• i8 Coupe
• i8 Roadster

Engines:

• AC Synchronous Motor with Turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder

Base MSRP: $147,500

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