A comprehensive guide: The different types of BMW cars

Date Posted 11th March 2022
Read Time 21 min read

Welcome to our comprehensive BMW guide; an in-depth look at the brand, the different types of BMW cars available and the pros and cons of each. 

Whether you already know which car you want, are just starting your search, or even if you just want to swot up on the BMW terminology, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know. 

BMW Series Overview

From the city-centric 1 Series up to the luxurious 8, each BMW is purposeful and striking in design.

The naming of each model follows a similar alphanumeric trend (using both letters and numbers) to that of its German competitors, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, as well as other car manufacturers around the world. 

However, a bigger Series number doesn’t always mean a bigger car. It does where the odd numbers are concerned – 1 Series, 3 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series, all of which ascend in size – but that’s not the case with the evens. The evens are usually an adaptation of the odds. 

BMW Range

The alphanumeric combination after the first number also tells its own story. They used to depict the size of the car’s engine – for example, BMW 520 would mean a 5 Series with a 2-litre engine – but that’s no longer the case. 

Instead, nowadays it’s used as a rough power guide. So even though a BMW 520 may still have a 2-litre engine, a BMW 530 won’t necessarily have a 3-litre engine. It’s just more powerful than a 520. 

The letters also hold meaning, too. A ‘d’ after the numbers, for example, the BMW 530d, means the car has a diesel engine. If you see a ‘T’ it means it’s a Tourer, or what we’d usually call an estate. And ‘xDrive’ means it’s all-wheel-drive. 

The ‘i’, however, has two meanings. If it’s before the numbers, the vehicle belongs to BMW’s electrified range. Whereas if it comes after, it means the vehicle is fuel injected. 

BMWs also follow similar design traits. For instance, the synonymous kidney-shaped grille at the front of the car, which was first seen on the BMW 303 at the Geneva International Motor Show in 1933, has remained a prominent feature since.

Another shared feature is the crease line which runs along the side of the bodywork, on which the door handles sit, which gives each model a distinctively tapered shape. And to accentuate the Bimmer’s typical rear-wheel-drive, as well as “emphasise the dynamic forward thrust of the vehicle”, there’s a forward curve at the lower corner of each rear window. 

This is known as the Hofmeister kink – named after the former head of BMW body design, Wilhelm Hofmeister – and has been seen on almost every BMW since its inception in 1961. It’s also been adopted by nearly every other car manufacturer in the world.

BMW Terminology

ALPINA: Alpina is a separate vehicle manufacturer that modifies BMWs. Unlike the M series, where BMW takes its car’s mechanical parts and replaces them with more racetrack-centred components, Alpina makes changes across the board. So, instead of just improving the engine, they’ll upgrade the interior and other parts, too.

Bimmer: A slang phrase for a BMW. It’s pronounced “Bee-mer”, but that spelling, as well as ‘Beamer’, typically refers to a BMW motorcycle. 

Competition: A type of BMW specification that comes with increased power and suspension and handling improvements as well as some interior aesthetics. Usually only found on the M Series. 

Gran Coupe: A four-door version of a coupe. Despite the increase in the number of doors, the styling remains the same.

Gran Turismo: A four-door saloon that has a higher driving position and a bigger boot. 

Gran Tourer: A seven-seater family vehicle. Only features in the 2 Series. 

Hoffmeister Kink: A forward curve at the rear corner of each rear window.

i: ‘i’ has two meanings. If it sits before the vehicle series, i.e. ‘i3 and i4’, the vehicle belongs to BMW’s electrified range. If it sits after, for example, 520i, it means the vehicle is fuel injected. 

M: Different from M Sport. The M range is BMW’s track-based, sportier, harder and more aggressive upgrade package to their standard cars.

BMW M Badge

M Sport: A specification available across almost all BMW models, often binging styling tweaks and increased engine performance. 

Roadster: A sport-centric, two-seater, open-top car.  

sDrive: BMW’s two-wheel-drive system.

Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV): BMW’s own terminology for Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), also known as their X range. 

xDrive: BMW’s all-wheel-drive system. 

X: BMW’s SUV range. 

Z: BMW’s two-seater roadster. 

BMW 1 Series

The 1 Series is BMW’s city-friendly hatchback. It comes in five model types: the entry-level SE, Sport, M Sport, 128ti and M Models. 

As standard, the 1 Series comes with keyless entry and start, SatNav, cruise control, Apple CarPlay and parking assist. Further up the specs, you’ll jump between 16”, 17” and 18” alloy wheels, single and dual-zone aircon, upgraded suspension and different styling options. 

The 1 Series is available in a range of six different colours, including metallic and non-metallic.   

Body Styles

  • Hatchback

Models

  • 118i M Sport
  • 116d M Sport
  • 118d M Sport
  • 120d M Sport
  • 120d xDrive M Sport

Advantages Of 1 Series

  • Well equipped interior
  • Wide range of powertrains to choose from
  • Practical
  • Fun to drive
  • Spacious for a city car

Disadvantages Of 1 Series

  • No rear-wheel-drive option
  • No M1 super-hatch available

BMW 2 Series

The 2 Series is one of BMW’s most varied range. It comes in three different bodystyles: Coupe, Gran Coupe, and Active Tourer. 

Following the same specification pattern as the 1 Series, the Coupe is available as M Sport and M Models with a 220i and 230i petrol and 220d diesel engines. 18” and 19” alloy wheels are available depending on spec, while Sat Nav, keyless start and rear park assist are standard. 

The Gran Coupe expands the offering with entry-level Sport, M Sport and M Models available. Two petrol and two diesel engines are available across the range tuned to 218 and 220. Seven colours in metallic and non-metallic are available as well as a choice of 18″ and 19″ alloys.

In the more family-orientated Active Tourer is available in Sport, Luxury and M Sport models. Two petrol engines (220i and 223i) are available as well as a 218d diesel. Offering practicality via its seven seats, it offers a high level of standard equipment and a great driving dynamic for an MPV. 

Body Styles

  • Coupe 
  • Gran Coupe
  • Active Tourer

Models

  • 220i
  • 223i
  • 218d

Advantages Of 2 Series

  • Wide range of design styles to choose from
  • All styles provide an excellent driving experience
  • Rear-wheel-drive as standard
  • Efficient engines

Disadvantages Of 2 Series

  • Rear less spacious than 1 Series in the coupe
  • More expensive than 1 Series

BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series is one of most popular models in the BMW range, and is available in Saloon and Touring bodystyles, giving you have the choice between a comfortable five-door or the same sterling ride with even more space.

since its inception in the mid-1970s, the 3 Series has been BMW’s constant. It’s the company’s highest-selling car across the globe, and following the latest incarnation that shows no signs of changing. 

Available in four models: SE Pro, M Sport, Sport Pro and M Models, the range offers petrol, diesel and Plug-in Hybrid across the range.

Body Styles

  • Saloon
  • Touring

Models

  • 318i
  • 320i
  • 320i xDrive
  • 330i
  • 318d
  • 320d
  • 320d xDrive
  • 330d
  • 330d xDrive
  • 330e
  • 330e xDrive

Advantages Of 3 Series

  • Engine range
  • Handling
  • Design
  • High levels of standard equipment
  • Low road noise

Disadvantages Of 3 Series

  • Lower fuel economy to some rivals
  • More powerful models can be challenging to drive in wet conditions

BMW 4 Series

You’d be forgiven to believe that the is simply a 3 Series Coupe. However, you’d be wrong. 

While the 4 Series shares the 3 Series’ success in drive, grit and feel, it is very much its own beast. Stunningly designed, the 4 Series comes in three forms; the Coupe, Convertible and Gran Coupe. 

Depending on your choice of engine, of which there are several – from the entry-level 420i to the 440i xDrive – you can either have a six-speed manual gearbox or BMW’s eight-speed auto, which comes as standard on all but two models.

Of course, there’s also the M Series, which packs an atomic punch. Spurred on by a 4-litre, turbocharged, straight-six, the M4 is available in both hard and soft top and will smash 62mph from nothing in less than four seconds. 

Body Styles

  • Coupe
  • Convertible
  • Gran Coupe

Models

  • 420i
  • 430i
  • 420d
  • 420d xDrive

Advantages Of 4 Series

  • Stunning styling
  • Excellent handling
  • Fun to drive
  • Great engine choice

Disadvantages Of 4 Series

  • A smaller amount of cabin technology compared to some rivals

BMW 5 Series

Since its birth in 1972, the 5 Series has always kept the same philosophy; a luxury five-door saloon which delivers a premium driving experience. 

The latest reincarnation is no different. Coming in three trim options; the SE, M Sport and M Sport Edition. A choice from 17” to 20” alloy wheels span the range as well as a plethora of aesthetics and two engine options – either a six or four-cylinder.

There is also, of course, the track-focussed M5, which combines practicality and performance like no other car in its class. It’ll conquer 0-62 in 3.3 seconds despite being littered with technology, offering a 530-litre boot – which given its all-wheel-drive system is very impressive –  and has more than enough space for five adults. 

Body Styles

  • Saloon
  • Touring

Models

  • 520i
  • 520d
  • 520d xDrive
  • 530d xDrive
  • M5
  • M Competition

Advantages Of 5 Series

  • Excellent driving experience
  • Economical engines
  • Stunning attention to detail 
  • Very well equipped

Disadvantages Of 4 Series

  • No manual gearbox available

BMW 7 Series

The 7 Series is BMW’s flagship luxury saloon. No craftsmanship too fine, no material too expensive; it’s truly an automotive paradise.  

The 7 Series comes in two variants; the standard saloon and the long-wheelbase model. This adds around an extra 200mm for added comfort for those wishing to be chauffeured around as well as HD touchscreens, a panoramic roof – which BMW label the “Sky Lounge” – and massage seats.

Body Styles

  • Saloon
  • Saloon LWB

Models

  • 740i
  • 745e
  • 750i
  • 730d
  • 730d xDrive
  • 740d xDrive

Advantages Of 7 Series

  • Driving at its most luxurious
  • Surprisingly powerful 
  • Excellent experience behind the wheel

Disadvantages Of 7 Series

  • Only two rear seats
  • Divisive styling

BMW 8 Series

If ever a car looked as sporty as it actually is, it’s the BMW 8 Series. It’s absolutely stunning from every angle, no matter which version you choose, with performance to match. 

Both the Coupe and Gran Coupe and verging on explicit, but the convertible passes that line. 

The exterior is made up from a mixture of metal and carbon fibre – as is the case with the 7 Series – and inside provides luxury and space. 

Unlike the 6 and the 7, the 8 Series does come with an M version. BMW say the M8 Competition raises the bar of their whole M division. Within it, not only do you have access to more than 625hp, but an instinctive differential, compound brakes, a racetrack cooling system and you can even enhance the exhaust noise. 

Body Styles

  • Coupe
  • Gran Coupe
  • Convertible

Models

  • 840i xDrive
  • M850i xDrive
  • M8 Competition

Advantages Of 8 Series

  • Sensational driving performance
  • Exceptional quality
  • Features Apple’s iDrive in-car system

Disadvantages Of 8 Series

  • Can be expensive to own

BMW i3

BMW’s i Series is its unique and ever-growing electric range.  

The first EV released by the manufacturer was the BMW i3: a city car-sized zero emission model offered in two styles; the original i3 and sportier i3s. 

They’re both powered by the same synchronous electric motor with a single gear drawing from a lithium-ion high-voltage battery with a performance of 125 kW (roughly 170hp). Charging from a 7.4 kW wallbox takes 6h 15m at a rate of 23 miles per hour of charge.

The green power source gives the original i3 170bhp, a real world range of around 145 miles according to EV Database, a top speed of 93mph and a 0-62 time of 7.3 seconds. Meanwhile, the sportier s possesses an extra 14bhp, which may not sound a lot, but you can certainly feel the difference. 

The s also comes with a different roof, bumpers, lower sports suspension and upgraded alloy wheels. On top of that, you also get Dynamic Traction Control, which, as well as a few other driving improvements, gives you the ability to drift the i3. 

Body Styles

  • Hatchback

Models

  • i3
  • i3s

Advantages Of i3

  • Distinctive styling
  • Clean, spacious interior
  • No emissions
  • Fast acceleration
  • Fun to drive

Disadvantages Of i3

  • Small boot
  • Can be expensive

BMW i4

Having just been launched in November 2021, the BMW i4 is a striking gran coupe which introduces all-electric mobility to the heart of the BMW brand.

Combining next-level performance with modern comforts to deliver a truly outstanding driving experience, it is equipped with fifth-generation BMW eDrive technology and delivers up to 544hp and offers up to 367 miles in range (WLTP).

All of this has helped the BMW i4 be recently named Saloon of the Year by Top Gear.

Body Styles

  • Gran Coupe

Models

  • Sport
  • M Sport Package
  • M Models

Advantages Of i4

  • Newest all-electric BMW
  • Excellent mileage range
  • Stylish and modern

Disadvantages Of i4

  • Expensive OTR price

BMW iX

Launched at the same time as the BMW i4, it’s safe to say the manufacturer is making their intentions clear when it comes to the all-electric market.

The fully electric BMW iX is a Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) based on a new, modular, scalable toolkit with the range comprising the BMW iX xDrive50 with a combined output of 523hp and a range of up to 380 miles (WLTP), plus the BMW iX xDrive40 that produces 326hp and is able to cover up to 257 miles on a single charge. 

Both variants will be available in Sport or M Sport trim levels, with a super sporty ix M60 set to join the model line-up at a later date offering an expected output in excess of 600hp.

Body Styles

  • SAV

Models

  • Sport
  • M Sport
  • M60

Advantages Of iX

  • Newest all-electric BMW
  • Excellent mileage range
  • Stylish and modern

Disadvantages Of iX

  • Expensive OTR price

BMW iX3

Launched in the UK in summer 2021 with an electric range of up to 285 miles, the BMW iX3 was the first fully electric-powered BMW X model, combining emissions-free travel, dynamic handling and performance with the comfort, functionality and spaciousness that customers would expect of a BMW SAV.

The maximum power of the BMW iX3 is 210 kW, which is equivalent to 282hp, and the maximum torque is 295 lb-ft.

The BMW iX3 is rear wheel drive and can accelerate from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 6.8 secondsWith a range of up to 285 miles, the iX3 features an 80 kWh battery which can be charged in 11h45m using a 7.4 kW wallbox.

Body Styles

  • SAV

Models

  • M Sport
  • M Sport Pro

Advantages Of iX3

  • Newest all-electric BMW
  • Excellent mileage range
  • Rugged design

Disadvantages Of iX3

  • Expensive OTR price

BMW X1

The BMW X Series is the company’s Sports Activity Vehicle, or SAV, range. 

Based loosely on their hatchback, saloon and coupe counterparts, the X Series adheres to the growing public desire for bigger, more aggressive vehicles. 

However, as opposed to the standard Series, where there are eight cars, the Sports Activity Vehicle range only has seven, starting from the X1 up to the X7. 

The X1 is BMW’s most compact off-roader. But despite its size, versatility is still a strong point, and it’s a lot more spacious inside than you might think. 

On the spec front, you have four trim options; the SE, Sport, xLine, and M Sport, as well as power up to 220hp in the plug-in hybrid powered xDrive 25e. Although it’s billed as an off-roader, you can still have front-wheel-drive only, albeit there is an all-wheel-drive option at all spec levels. 

Body Styles

  • SAV

Models

  • sDrive18i
  • sDrive20i
  • xDrive20i
  • sDrive18d
  • xDrive18d
  • xDrive20d
  • xDrive25e

Advantages Of X1

  • Strong vehicle performance
  • Excellent balance and handling
  • Lots of cabin space
  • Great styling

Disadvantages Of X1

  • Interior not as up to date as other models
  • More expensive than most competitors

BMW X2

The X2, much like the 2 Series to the 1, is a sportier take on the compact SAV range. BMW calls the X2 a Sports Activity Coupe, rather than a vehicle. And given its slightly more contemporary styling compared to a standard off-roader, it’s hard to say they’re wrong. 

Setting its sights firmly towards the success of the Range Rover Evoque, the X2 is lower, sleeker and more nimble to drive than the X1. The X2 features adaptive suspension, meaning it’ll adjust to the terrain it’s tackling automatically, a double-clutch paddled sports gearbox and the option of a new generation four-cylinder twin-turbo 2-litre petrol engine. 

The BMW X2 is available in Sport, M Sport and M Models guise. Power wise, the entry-level X2 engine produces around 136hp, while you can choose to upgrade that to 220hp PHEV in both front and all-wheel-drive. 

However, for ultimate performance, BMW also provides a 306bhp version in the form of an M-inspired power unit which will take you to 62mph in under five seconds. 

Body Styles

  • SAC

Models

  • sDrive18i
  • sDrive20i
  • xDrive20i
  • sDrive18d
  • xDrive18d
  • xDrive20d
  • xDrive25e

Advantages Of X2

  • Excellent powertrains
  • Stand-out styling
  • Modern interior
  • Fun to drive

Disadvantages Of X2

  • Less space than X1
  • More expensive than X1

BMW X3

The latest incarnation of the BMW X3 is actually bigger than the original X5, and BMW has certainly taken advantage of that space. Three specs to choose from; the xLine, M Sport, and M Modles as well as a range of petrol, diesel and PHEV powertrains make this a standout in its class on driving alone. 

On the inside, BMW appears to have spared no expense. An airy, light cockpit is complemented by the company’s latest infotainment system. With its size, the cabin remains comfortable off-road or on long motorway journeys. And although it’s bigger than it ever has been before, smart manufacturing has made the X3 lighter than its predecessor, meaning it’s more fun in the corners and more responsive when you put your foot down. 

The X3 also comes with a hardened M model. This 510bhp brute takes its momentum from a 3-litre, six-cylinder, twin-turbo engine which blasts from 0-62mph in a little over four seconds. 

Body Styles

  • SAV

Models

  • xDrive20i
  • xDrive20d
  • xDrive30d
  • xDrive30e
  • M40i
  • M40d
  • M Competition

Advantages Of X3

  • Stunning interior
  • Excellent handling
  • Lots of high-tech options
  • Strong engines
  • Big boot

Disadvantages Of X3

  • Although strong, a lower number of engines to choose from than other models
  • Top-end petrol engines can be uneconomical

BMW X4

Like the standard Series, the X4 provides a sportier, more nimble offering than the X3. And like the X2, BMW labels the X4 as a Sports Activity Coupe, rather than a more conventional off-roader. 

Spec wise, the X4 is solely available M Sport and M Models trim, really highlighting the are of the market BMW believes this car belongs. 

Aside from the M version, the X4 only comes with diesel powertrains, and there’s no option for two-wheel-drive. 

Speaking of the M, you have the choice of either a petrol or diesel engine, both of which will get you to 62 in under five seconds. 

Body Styles

  • SAC

Models

  • xDrive20d
  • xDrive30d
  • M40i
  • M40d
  • M Competition

Advantages Of X4

  • Surprisingly spacious inside despite coupe label
  • Excellent equipment as standard
  • Modern interior

Disadvantages Of X4

  • Divisive styling
  • Less practical than X3

BMW X5

The original BMW SAV, the X5 has been around for more than two decades. But don’t think it hasn’t evolved in that time. 

The most recent version focuses its attention towards luxury, connectivity and performance, while its styling has also taken on a new chapter. An enlarged one-piece kidney grille up front coexists with a more upright overall design; accentuating the X5’s stature both physically and in a motoring hierarchal sense. 

With the X5 you have two trims to choose from; the xLine and M Sport. The main difference between the two being an aerodynamic pack on the M Sport, more aesthetic alloy wheels and a sporty steering wheel. 

The X5 also brings with it an M variant, which houses a 4.4-litre powertrain which produces 625bhp and takes just 3.8 seconds to hit 62mph.  

Body Styles

  • SAV

Models

  • xDrive40i
  • xDrive30d
  • xDrive40d
  • xDrive45e
  • M50i
  • M Competition

Advantages Of X5

  • Great drive both on and off-road
  • Comfortable no matter the terrain
  • Strong engines
  • Rich, luxurious cabin

Disadvantages Of X5

  • Size difficult to manage in the city
  • Boot not as big as competitors’

BMW X6

Following the trend, BMW’s X6 is a SAC spin-off of the conventional X5. But it certainly hasn’t been overlooked by the Germans. 

Stunning exterior design is matched only by the ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing interior, which doesn’t lose much space to the X5 despite its sloped roof. You’re provided two options in trim; the Sport and M Sport – the latter adding aerodynamic styling, a new braking system and an M steering wheel.

Under the bonnet, you’re provided three standard engine choices – one petrol and two diesel – all of which will get you to 62mph between around five and six seconds, as well as two M versions, as is the case with the X5. 

But the X6 does come with its own little party piece. It’s what BMW calls the Iconic Glow Kidney Grille. Essentially, a light-up grille which looks incredibly smart when driving at night. 

As you’d expect, there’s also an M version of the X6. Like the X5, it houses the most powerful engine on the BMW production line; a 4.4-litre, twin-turbo, eight-cylinder beast which produces 625bhp and 750Nm of torque. All this power gets you from 0-62 in just 3.8 seconds, which, for a car of this size, is madness. 

Body Styles

  • SAC

Models

  • xDrive40i
  • xDrive30d
  • xDrive40d
  • M50i
  • M Competition

Advantages Of X6

  • Great drive both on and off-road
  • Comfortable no matter the terrain
  • Strong engines
  • Rich, luxurious cabin

Disadvantages Of X6

  • Size difficult to manage in the city
  • Slightly less space than the X5

BMW X7

The BMW X7 rewrites the rule book on luxury vehicles. From its first inch to its last, the X7 is refined and relaxing but on a massive scale. 

Alloys which measure up to a huge 21”, the choice of six or seven seats – depending on if you’d prefer two thrones or a plush three-seater bench on the second row – and an unmissable front grille, in the X7 you’re going to be noticed. But that’s the point. 

Inside, you’re greeted with ample space, sumptuous leather, all the technology you’ll ever need and a road-conquering driving position. And that final point contributes to how good the X7 is off-road. 

Too many technological systems to count litter the X7 behind the scenes to help it become more than capable of leaving the tarmac, while they also don’t spoil the ride on it. 

With the intimidating SAV, there are two engine choices – one petrol and one diesel. 

And although there’s no outright M version of the X7, you can enjoy the speed of one, with both a diesel and petrol M engine available.

Body Styles

  • SAV

Models

  • xDrive40i
  • xDrive40d
  • M50i

Advantages Of X7

  • Unadulterated luxury
  • Huge amounts of cabin space
  • Well-equipped
  • Refined and comfortable

Disadvantages Of X7

  • Size difficult to manage in the city
  • No diesel entry-level option

BMW Z4

The BMW Z4 is the only option when it comes to an out-and-out petrol-powered sports car in the range. Yes, they have the M range, but they’re hot versions of cars that already exist. The Z4 starts and lives life with one goal; enjoyment. 

Stunning with both the roof up and down, the Z4 comes with two trims to choose from; the Sport and M Sport. There are three engine options available – all of which are turbocharged six-cylinder powertrains – producing between 197bhp and 340bhp. 

At the top end, you’ll reach 62mph from a standing start in 4.5 seconds. With the entry-level spec, it’ll take you a little over two seconds more. 

Stunning with both the roof up and down, inside the cockpit is awash with plush leather and easy-to-use technology, all displayed in a minimalist modern styling. 

Body Styles

  • Roadster

Models

  • sDrive 20i
  • sDrive 30i

Advantages Of Z4

  • Superb top-end engine
  • Offers both sportiness and comfort
  • Great infotainment system

Disadvantages Of Z4

  • Less aggressive drive compared to others in its class
  • Low power entry-level engines