Each letter and number means something different.
BMW has a wide variety of cars and crossovers for buyers to choose from. The brand's design language makes its vehicles easily identifiable as originating from the Munich marque, but although it's easy to tell when a car is a BMW, it's a little more difficult to understand what its model designations mean. You get a 320i, a 530d, a 745e, an X5, a Z4, and even an iX. So how do you tell what each of these mean?
BMW has just released a new podcast that brushes on the history of the brand's naming convention while also giving insight into how current models are named.
All pre-war BMW models got a '300' designation, following on from the '100' designation assigned to aircraft engines and '200' models referring to motorcycles. But by the Sixties, things had gotten very confusing with cars like the 3200 CS, the 507, 2002, and even the Isetta.
The Seventies saw BMW looking to create a successor to its Neue Klasse vehicles of the era, so in 1972, the 520i was revealed, introducing a new structure for naming that has been in effect for the past 50 years. Here, the '5' indicated that this was a 5 Series, the '20' meant a 2.0-liter engine, and the 'i' stood for gasoline fuel injection.
A similar system carries through today, with the first number indicating the segment and model series. On that note, even numbers are typically meant to signify sporty vehicles and coupes, although there are exceptions like the 2 Series Active Tourer, which was so named to imply a sense of superior class.
These days, the two numbers following the model series no longer refer to engine displacement and instead mean virtual displacement. For example, a 745e is a 7 Series with a virtual displacement of between 300 and 350 kilowatts (402 to 469 horsepower). The lowercase letter always appears last, and in this case, indicates a plug-in hybrid.
Vehicles with a 'd' suffix are naturally diesel-powered. This naming convention doesn't apply to concepts, which typically get an X or Z name, although for production cars this means an SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle), an SAC (Sports Activity Coupe), or a roadster.
Vehicles like the X5 and Z4 get an additional designation. This designation can be xDrive (indicating all-wheel drive) or sDrive (meaning either front- or rear-wheel drive).
These rules all go out the window with battery-electric vehicles. These follow the naming strategy of X models but get an 'i' preceding them to indicate electric drive. For the BMW iX, the 'i' means "innovative flagship" due to the vehicle's "independent positioning."
Moving on to M Performance models, an uppercase M precedes the name, but this changes again with Z and X models, like the X5 M50d. Here, the additional designation of xDrive or sDrive is omitted unless there are multiple versions of the exact same vehicle. The same applies to full M models like the X4 M or M4, the latter of which can be had as both RWD and AWD variants. Other suffixes like L mean long wheelbase, while CSL stood for Coupe Sport Lightweight.
It takes a little getting used to, but BMW does have a structure that can help fanatics identify each individual vehicle.