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The Complete BMW Buying Guide: Every Model, Explained

BMW produces cars and SUVs, and uses an alphanumeric naming system many in the industry have come to imitate.

bmw steering wheel
Uwe Fischer

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Bavarian automaker BMW, once upon a time, claimed to produce the "ultimate driving machine." Though its fidelity to that mission may have strayed some in recent years, the brand generally distinguishes itself from its German rivals by being sporty and driver-centric; the classic BMW archetype is a powerful rear-wheel-drive sedan with a manual transmission and great handling.

However, BMW has adjusted to the modern car market like any other company. Stick shifts have been all but phased out from the lineup, and much of the track-tuning goes to four-door crossovers. Still, the cars remain instantly recognizable for their dual kidney grilles — though some have ballooned to cartoonish proportions.

BMW History

BMW stands for Bavarian Motor Works (Bayerische Motoren Werke in German). The company, formally BMW AG, was founded in Munich in 1916. BMW began as a WWI airplane engine manufacturer. Its first car did not appear until 1928. Only after WWII did building cars become the primary enterprise. Cars like the 2002 and its successor, the 3 Series, laid the foundation for BMW to become a luxury and performance powerhouse from the 1980s onward.

How BMW Names its Cars

BMW, like Mercedes-Benz and Audi, uses an alphanumeric naming system. BMW models comes in numbered series ranging from 1 to 8. Larger odd-numbered series mean a bigger car. Even-numbered series tend to be body style variants of the previous series. (Note that series names are not hyphenated like Mercedes-Benz classes: 3 Series versus E-Class.) X models are SUVs. Z models are roadsters. Models starting with a lowercase i are electric or hybrid models; models can also have the suffixes sDrive (two-wheel-drive) or xDrive (all-wheel-drive) — although not all RWD Bimmers are marked with an sDrive badge.

The second set of numbers in a model name indicate how big the engine is. They used to track engine displacement. Now, a bigger number just means a bigger engine. The final letter (e.g. 230i) indicates what type of engine the car has. Most cars end in i, for gasoline fuel injection. There are also "e" electrified hybrids and, in other markets, "d" diesel cars.

There are "M Cars" (like the M5) that are designed by BMW's M performance division. These are distinct from cars like the M550i xDrive which typically have more power and sportier tuning and styling than the standard models. An additional tuner, Alpina, produces high-performance BMWs built and sold by BMW. These contain the letter B (i.e. XB7).

Put it all together, and if you speak BMW, “X6 xDrive50i” concisely tells you exactly what the car is...although telling someone you just bought that can be a mouthful.

BMW Terminology

Bimmer: A colloquial nickname for BMW cars, as opposed to "Beemer" for motorcycles.
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.”
Hofmeister Kink: Signature BMW design element where the rear passenger windows curve forward at their lower rear corner.
Sport Activity Vehicle: What BMW calls SUVs.

The BMW Buying Guide

2 Series

bmw 2 series
daniel kraus

BMW opted for mass confusion with the 2 Series. It is actually two distinct cars: the 2 Series Coupe and the 2 Series Gran Coupe. The 2 Series Coupe has two doors, comes in RWD or AWD and is all-new for 2022, losing both its previous convertible option and manual transmission. The 2 Series Gran Coupe, using a different platform, debuted in 2019. It's a four-door sedan and comes in FWD or AWD. Top of the line for now is the outgoing M2 Competition Coupe with 405 hp from its 3.0-liter inline-six.

Body Styles

  • Coupe
  • Gran Coupe

    Models

    • 228i Gran Coupe
    • M235i xDrive Gran Coupe
    • 230i Coupe
    • M240i xDrive Coupe
    • M2 Competition

      Engines

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

        Base MSRP: $35,700

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        3 Series

        bmw 3 series viewed from the front parked in front of an office building
        Fabian Kirchbauer

        The 3 Series is BMW's compact sedan. It has been a standout for decades since its 1976 debut, and is is BMW's best-selling vehicle of all-time. The new seventh-generation launched for the 2019 model year; BMW dropped the wagon and gran turismo body styles in the U.S. market, as well as the manual transmission. It comes in 255-hp four-cylinder, 288-hp plug-in-hybrid and 382-hp six-cylinder versions. The new M3 arrived this year, as well, packing a 473- or 503-hp turbocharged inline-six.

        Body Style

        • Sedan

          Models:

          • 330i
          • 330i xDrive
          • M340i
          • M340i xDrive
          • 330e
          • 330e xDrive
          • M3

            Engines

            • Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four
            • Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four plug-in-hybrid
            • Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six

              Base MSRP: $41,450

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              4 Series

              bmw 4 series coupe
              BMW

              BMW created the 4 Series in 2014, breaking off 3 Series body style variants into their own series. The 4 Series an come as a coupe, convertible or (new for 2022) a four-door gran coupe model. Power outputs range from a 248-hp four-cylinder to a 503-hp inline-six in the M4. The M4 can be fitted with a six-speed manual transmission, but only in base model forms; all others use an eight-speed automatic. In a recent test, we found the M440i coupe technologically packed, but a disappointing drive.

              Body Styles

              • Coupe
              • Gran Coupe
              • Convertible

                Models:

                • 430i (Coupe/Gran Coupe/Convertible)
                • 430i xDrive (Coupe/Convertible)
                • M440i (Coupe/Convertible)
                • M440i xDrive (Coupe/Convertible)
                • M440i xDrive (Gran Coupe)
                • M4 Coupe

                  Engines:

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

                    Base MSRP: $45,800

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                    5 Series

                    complete bmw buying guide gear patrol 5 series
                    BMW

                    The 5 Series is BMW's midsize car. It was the first numbered series in BMW's lineup when it debuted in 1972. It is now sedan-only in the U.S. market; it comes in four, six, and eight-cylinder versions ranging from the 248-hp 530i to the 627-horsepower monster that is the $142,995 M5 CS sedan, which has all-wheel-drive and an automatic transmission. BMW also sells a 530e plug-in hybrid with 21 miles of electric range.

                    Body Style

                    • Sedan

                      Models:

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

                        Engines:

                        • Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four
                        • Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four hybrid
                        • Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six
                        • Turbocharged 4.4-liter V8

                          Base MSRP: $54,200

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                          7 Series

                          complete bmw buying guide gear patrol 7 series
                          BMW

                          The 7 Series is BMW's flagship full-size luxury sedan, the competitor for cars like the Lexus LS and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. You can get six, eight, and 12-cylinder versions. All models are all-wheel-drive except the base 740i. There is no M7, but there is the 600-horsepower Alpina B7 ($143,200) which is the fastest sedan in the world — although it's limited to 192 mph in the U.S. market.

                          Body Style

                          • Sedan

                            Models

                            • 740i
                            • 740i xDrive
                            • 745e xDrive
                            • 750i xDrive
                            • M760i xDrive
                            • Alpina B7 xDrive

                              Engines

                              • Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six
                              • Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six hybrid
                              • Turbocharged 4.4-liter V8
                              • Turbocharged 6.6-liter V12

                                Base MSRP: $86,800

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                                8 Series

                                complete bmw buying guide gear patrol 8 series
                                BMW

                                The 8 Series is BMW's luxury grand tourer, revived for the 2018 model year. It can be ordered as a coupe, convertible, or a four-door gran coupe. The top-tier M8 Competition is a sleeker — and at $143,000-plus, more expensive — version of the M5. An Alpina B8 Gran Coupe version joins the lineup in spring 2021.

                                Body Styles

                                • Coupe
                                • Gran Coupe
                                • Convertible

                                  Models

                                  • 840i Coupe/Gran Coupe/Convertible
                                  • 840i xDrive Coupe/Gran Coupe/Convertible
                                  • M850i xDrive Coupe/Gran Coupe/Convertible
                                  • M8 Coupe
                                  • Alpina B8 xDrive Gran Coupe

                                    Engines

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

                                      Base MSRP: $85,000

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                                      Z4

                                      complete bmw buying guide gear patrol z4
                                      BMW

                                      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 comes in two versions, a 255-hp four-cylinder and a 382-hp six-cylinder. Both cars are RWD. Toyota uses the Z4 platform and engines for the Supra.

                                      Body Style

                                      • Roadster

                                        Models

                                        • Z4 sDrive 30i
                                        • Z4 M40i

                                          Engines

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

                                            Base MSRP: $49,900

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                                            i3

                                            complete bmw buying guide gear patrol i3
                                            BMW

                                            The i3 is BMW's subcompact all-electric vehicle. It debuted in the early EV days for the 2014 model year — hence the avant-garde styling and maximum range of just 153 miles. There are two versions, the i3 and the sportier i3s. Both can be equipped with a two-cylinder gasoline-powered range-extending generator, or simply a battery alone.

                                            Body Style

                                            • Hatchback

                                              Models

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

                                                Engines

                                                • 170 hp AC electric motor
                                                • 181 hp AC electric motor

                                                  Base MSRP: $44,450

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                                                  iX

                                                  bmw ix on a stone driveway in front of a modernist building
                                                  BMW

                                                  The iX is BMW's new all-electric midsize crossover. It will deliver 516 hp, accelerate from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds and provide an estimated 300 miles of range. BMW says deliveries will start by June 2022.

                                                  Body Style

                                                  • SUV

                                                    Model

                                                    • iX xDrive50

                                                      Engine

                                                      • Dual-motor AWD

                                                        Base MSRP: $83,200

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                                                        i4

                                                        bmw i4
                                                        Fabian Kirchbauer

                                                        The i4 is BMW's compact, four-door electric sedan. It comes in two versions. A RWD i4 eDrive 40 has 335 hp and 300 miles of range. The i4 M50 model will deliver 536 hp, more than the M3, and around 245 miles of range. Deliveries to reservation holders will start by June 2022.

                                                        Body Style

                                                        • Sedan

                                                          Models

                                                          • i4 eDrive40
                                                          • i4 M50

                                                            Engines

                                                            • Rear-motor RWD
                                                            • Dual-motor AWD

                                                              Base MSRP: $55,400

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                                                              X1

                                                              complete bmw buying guide gear patrol x1
                                                              BMW

                                                              The X1 is BMW's entry-level subcompact crossover. It comes in FWD and AWD versions with a 228 hp inline-four. It's larger, boxier and rides higher than the related X2. It's a multiple-time Car and Driver 10Best award winner.

                                                              Body Style

                                                              • SUV

                                                                Models

                                                                • X1 sDrive28i
                                                                • X1 xDrive28i

                                                                  Engine

                                                                  • Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four

                                                                    Base MSRP: $35,400

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                                                                    X2

                                                                    complete bmw buying guide gear patrol x2
                                                                    BMW

                                                                    The X2 is BMW's sportier subcompact crossover. It's lower to the ground and less spacious than the X1 with a sleeker coupe-like body shape. The 228-hp base models come in FWD or AWD. The tuned-up X2 M35i (AWD-only) has 302 hp and accelerates from 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds.

                                                                    Body Style

                                                                    • SUV

                                                                      Models

                                                                      • X2 sDrive28i
                                                                      • X2 xDrive28i
                                                                      • X2 M35i

                                                                        Engine

                                                                        • Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four

                                                                          Base MSRP: $36,600

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                                                                          X3

                                                                          complete bmw buying guide gear patrol x3
                                                                          BMW

                                                                          The X3 is BMW's compact SUV. First introduced in 2003 as a smaller alternative to the X5, it has become the brand's best-selling vehicle. BMW debuted the third generation for the 2018 model year. It has a more traditional SUV shape than the X4. Recent additions include the 473-hp X3 M (which can be pumped up to 503 hp with the Competition package) and a 288-hp plug-in hybrid version.

                                                                          Body Style

                                                                          • SUV

                                                                            Models

                                                                            • X3 sDrive30i
                                                                            • X3 xDrive30i
                                                                            • X3 xDrive30e
                                                                            • X3 M40i
                                                                            • X3 M

                                                                              Engines

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

                                                                                Base MSRP: $43,700

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                                                                                X4

                                                                                complete bmw buying guide gear patrol x4
                                                                                BMW

                                                                                The X4 is the sportier-styled version of the X3 compact crossover. It has a sloping coupe-like body style. It only comes with all-wheel-drive. Like the X3, BMW launched an X4 M edition with 473 hp (or 503 with the Competition package) for the 2020 model year.

                                                                                Body Style

                                                                                • SUV

                                                                                  Models:

                                                                                  • X4 xDrive30i
                                                                                  • X4 M40i
                                                                                  • X4 M

                                                                                    Engines

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

                                                                                      Base MSRP: $51,800

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                                                                                      X5

                                                                                      bmw x5
                                                                                      BMW

                                                                                      The X5 is BMW's midsize SUV. It was the first SUV the brand introduced in 1999. It was one of the first luxury SUVs to use a more crossover-like unibody architecture when the Mercedes-Benz M-Class and others were still truck-based. The fourth generation launched for the 2019 model year. Outputs for the family hauler range from the 335-hp base model to the track-tuned 617-hp X5 M Competition.

                                                                                      Body Style

                                                                                      • SUV

                                                                                        Models

                                                                                        • X5 sDrive40i
                                                                                        • X5 xDrive40i
                                                                                        • X5 xDrive45e
                                                                                        • X5 M50i
                                                                                        • X5 M

                                                                                          Engines

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

                                                                                            Base MSRP: $59,400

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                                                                                            X6

                                                                                            bmw x6m
                                                                                            BMW

                                                                                            The X6 is BMW's midsize crossover coupe, a body-style variant of the X5. The new third generation debuted for the 2020 model year. There is an AWD base version — BMW dropped the RWD model — and higher performance M versions. According to J.D. Power, the BMW X6 is one of the cars buyers love the most.

                                                                                            Body Style

                                                                                            • SUV

                                                                                              Models

                                                                                              • X6 xDrive40i
                                                                                              • X6 M50i
                                                                                              • X6 M

                                                                                                Engines

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

                                                                                                  Base MSRP: $67,350

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                                                                                                  X7

                                                                                                  complete bmw buying guide gear patrol x7jpg
                                                                                                  BMW

                                                                                                  The X7 is BMW's new full-size, three-row luxury SUV that debuted for the 2019 model year. It is the largest BMW road car ever built. There's no X7 M, but Alpina offers the 612-hp XB7 which can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in four seconds and starts at $141,300.

                                                                                                  Body Style

                                                                                                  • SUV

                                                                                                    Models

                                                                                                    • X7 xDrive40i
                                                                                                    • X7 M50i
                                                                                                    • Alpina XB7

                                                                                                      Engines

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

                                                                                                        Base MSRP: $74,900

                                                                                                        LEARN MORE SHOP PRE-OWNED

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