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The Complete BMW Buying Guide: Every Model, Explained

BMW produces the “ultimate driving machine” and uses a Germanic alphanumeric naming system.

bmw m5 f80
BMW

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BMW claims to produce the "ultimate driving machine." The brand distinguishes itself from German rivals by being sporty and driver-centric. The classic BMW is a powerful, well-handling, rear-wheel-drive sedan with a manual transmission. 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. The cars are recognizable for their dual kidney grilles, some ballooning to cartoonish proportions.

Jump to learn more about the X7.

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 be labeled sDrive (two-wheel-drive) or xDrive (all-wheel-drive), although not all RWD Bimmers are marked sDrive. 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 (XB7).

So, 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.

Buying Guide

2 Series

complete bmw buying guide gear patrol 2 series
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
    • M240i
    • M240i xDrive

      Engines

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

        Base MSRP: $35,300

        Learn More

        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 performance M3 version should arrive early next year.

        Body Style

        • Sedan

          Models:

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

            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

              Learn More

              4 Series

              complete bmw buying guide gear patrol 4 series
              BMW

              BMW created the 4 Series in 2014, breaking off 3 Series body style variants into their own series. It comes in coupe, Gran Coupe and convertible editions. Power outputs range from a 248 hp four-cylinder to a 425-hp inline-six in the M4. The 430i, 440i, 440i xDrive and M4 can be fitted with a six-speed manual transmission. The new 4 Series should arrive for 2021, without a manual transmission option.

              Body Styles

              • 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: $44,950

                    Learn More

                    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 617-horsepower monster that is the $110,000 M5 Competition sedan, which now only has all-wheel-drive and an automtic transmission.

                    Body Style

                    • Sedan

                      Models:

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

                        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

                          Learn More

                          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 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

                                Learn More

                                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.

                                Body Styles

                                • Coupe
                                • Gran Coupe
                                • Convertible

                                  Models

                                  • 840i
                                  • 840i xDrive
                                  • M850i xDrive
                                  • M8
                                  • M8 Competition

                                    Engines

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

                                      Base MSRP: $87,900

                                      Learn More

                                      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 sDrive 40i

                                          Engines

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

                                            Base MSRP: $49,700

                                            Learn More

                                            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

                                            • Crossover

                                              Models

                                              • X1 sDrive28i
                                              • X1 xDrive28i

                                                Engine

                                                • Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four

                                                  Base MSRP: $34,950

                                                  Learn More

                                                  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) has 302 hp and accelerates from 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds.

                                                  Body Style

                                                  • Crossover Coupe

                                                    Models

                                                    • X2 sDrive28i
                                                    • X2 xDrive28i
                                                    • X2 M35i

                                                      Engine

                                                      • Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four

                                                        Base MSRP: $36,600

                                                        Learn More

                                                        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

                                                        • Crossover

                                                          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: $41,950

                                                              Learn More

                                                              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

                                                              • Crossover Coupe

                                                                Models:

                                                                • X4 xDrive30i
                                                                • X4 M40i
                                                                • X4 M

                                                                  Engines

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

                                                                    Base MSRP: $51,600

                                                                    Learn More

                                                                    X5

                                                                    complete bmw buying guide gear patrol 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

                                                                    • Crossover

                                                                      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

                                                                          Learn More

                                                                          X6

                                                                          complete bmw buying guide gear patrol x6
                                                                          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 the car buyers love the most.

                                                                          Body Style

                                                                          • Crossover Coupe

                                                                            Models

                                                                            • X6 sDrive40i
                                                                            • X6 xDrive40i
                                                                            • X6 M50i
                                                                            • X6 M

                                                                              Engines

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

                                                                                Base MSRP: $64,300

                                                                                Learn More

                                                                                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

                                                                                • Crossover

                                                                                  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

                                                                                      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.

                                                                                      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

                                                                                            Learn More

                                                                                            i8

                                                                                            complete bmw buying guide gear patrol i8
                                                                                            BMW

                                                                                            The i8 is a plug-in hybrid performance roadster BMW launched in 2014. It comes as either a coupe or a roadster. Its electric and gas motors produce 369 hp combined. It looks like the future...but it struggles to get great gas mileage in real driving conditions, and costs more than $50,000 more than a Tesla Model S Performance.

                                                                                            Body Styles

                                                                                            • Coupe
                                                                                            • Roadster

                                                                                              Models

                                                                                              • i8 Coupe
                                                                                              • i8 Roadster

                                                                                                Engines:

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

                                                                                                  Base MSRP: $147,500

                                                                                                  Learn More

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