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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 complete buying guide m5
BMW

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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

Sedans, Coupes and Convertibles

2 Series

2 series gran coupe
BMW

The 2 Series is BMW's sporty, entry-level subcompact vehicle in the U.S. The second generation debuted in 2019. The 2 Series comes in coupe, four-door gran coupé and convertible body styles. Power outputs range from a 248-hp four-cylinder to the 405-hp inline-six in the M2 Competition Coupe. RWD cars can be optioned with a manual transmission.

Body Styles

  • Coupe
  • Gran Coupe
  • Convertible

    Models

    • 228i xDrive Gran Coupe
    • 230i
    • 230i xDrive
    • M235i xDrive Gran Coupe

      Engines

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

        Base MSRP: $35,700

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        3 Series

        complete bmw buying guide gear patrol 3 series
        BMW

        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: $41,250

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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. It comes in coupe and convertible editions. 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
              • Convertible

                Models:

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

                  Engines:

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

                    Base MSRP: $45,600

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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.

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

                                    Engines

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

                                      Base MSRP: $87,900

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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.

                                      Body Style

                                      • Roadster

                                        Models

                                        • Z4 sDrive 30i
                                        • Z4 M40i

                                          Engines

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

                                            Base MSRP: $49,700

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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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                                                  SUVs and Crossovers:

                                                  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: $43,000

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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: $51,600

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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 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 are RWD and AWD base versions 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 sDrive40i
                                                                                  • X6 xDrive40i
                                                                                  • X6 M50i
                                                                                  • X6 M

                                                                                    Engines

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

                                                                                      Base MSRP: $65,050

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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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