BMW vehicles follow a certain nomenclature; usually a 3 digit number is followed by 1 or 2 letters. The first number represents the series number. The next two numbers traditionally represent the engine displacement in cubic centimeters divided by 100. However, more recent cars use those two numbers as a performance index, as e.g. the 116i, 118i and 120i (all 2,0L gas-powered), just like the 325d and 330d (both 3,0L diesel) share the same motor block while adjusting engine power through setup and turbocharging. A similar nomenclature is used by BMW Motorrad for their motorcycles.
The system of letters can be used in combination, and is as follows:
- A = automatic transmission
- C = coupé, last used on the BMW E46 and the BMW E63 (dropped after 2005 model year)
- c = cabriolet
- d = diesel†
- e = eta (efficient economy, from the Greek letter 'η')
- g = compressed natural gas/CNG
- h = hydrogen
- i = fuel-injected
- L = long wheelbase
- s = sport, also means "2 dr" on E36 model††
- sDrive = rear-wheel drive
- T = touring (wagon/estate)
- Ti = hatchback for the BMW 3 Series hatchback
- x / xDrive = BMW xDrive all-wheel drive
† historic nomenclature indicating "td" refers to "Turbo Diesel", not a diesel hatchback or touring model (524td, 525td)
†† typically includes sport seats, spoiler, aerodynamic body kit, upgraded wheels and Limit Slip Differential on pre-95 model etc.
For example, the BMW 750iL is a fuel-injected 7 Series with a long wheelbase and 5.4 litres of displacement. This badge was used for successive generations, E65 and F01, except the "i" and "L" switched places, so it read "Li" instead of "iL".
When 'L' supersedes the series number (e.g. L6, L7, etc.) it identifies the vehicle as a special luxury variant, featuring extended leather and special interior appointments. The L7 is based on the E23 and E38, and the L6 is based on the E24.
When 'X' is capitalised and supersedes the series number (e.g. X3, X5, etc.) it identifies the vehicle as one of BMW's Sports Activity Vehicles (SAV), their brand of crossovers, featuring BMW's xDrive. The second number in the 'X' series denotes the platform that it is based upon, for instance the X5 is derived from the 5 Series. Unlike BMW cars, the SAV's main badge does not denote engine size; the engine is instead indicated on side badges.
The 'Z' identifies the vehicle as a two-seat roadster (e.g. Z1, Z3, Z4, etc.). 'M' variants of 'Z' models have the 'M' as a suffix or prefix, depending on country of sale (e.g. 'Z4 M' is 'M Roadster' in Canada).
Previous X & Z vehicles had 'i' or 'si' following the engine displacement number (denoted in litres). BMW is now globally standardising this nomenclature on X & Z vehicles by using 'sDrive' or 'xDrive' (simply meaning rear or all-wheel drive, respectively) followed by two numbers which vaguely represent the vehicle's engine (e.g. Z4 sDrive35i is a rear-wheel-drive Z4 roadster with a 3.0 L twin-turbo fuel-injected engine).
BMW last used the 's' for the E36 328is, which ceased production in 1999. However, the 's' nomenclature was brought back on the 2011 model year BMW 335is and BMW Z4 sDrive35is. The 335is is a sport-tuned trim with more performance and an optional dual clutch transmission that slots between the regular 335i and top-of-the-line M3.
The 'M' – for Motorsport – identifies the vehicle as a high-performance model of a particular series (e.g. M3, M5, M6, etc.). For example, the M6 is the highest performing vehicle in the 6 Series lineup. Although 'M' cars should be separated into their respective series platforms, it is very common to see 'M' cars grouped together as its own lineup on the official BMW website.
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