Understanding BMW naming conventions

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Most car buyers can intuitively understand that a 3 Series is smaller (and less expensive) than a 5 series or a 7 Series. Beyond that, however, the naming conventions can feel somewhat confusing. BMW uses a number of proprietary terms such as Gran Coupe, xDrive and M Sport Line that can require an orientation for those who are new to the brand.


BMW Series and Models

BMW currently assembles its lineup into 10 distinct groupings. The sportier coupe-style are designated by even numbers (2 Series, 4 Series and 6 Series) while the sedan-style models are given odd numbers (3 Series, 5 Series and 7 Series):

  • 2 Series – A smaller two door model available as either a coupe or convertible

  • 3 Series – A compact four door model available as a sedan, sports wagon or Gran Turismo

  • 4 Series – A compact coupe-style model available as either a two-door coupe or convertible, or a four-door Gran Coupe

  • 5 Series – A mid-size four door model available as a sedan or Gran Turismo

  • 6 Series – A mid-size two door model available as a two-door coupe or convertible, or a four-door Gran Coupe or ALPINA Gran Coupe

  • 7 Series – A full-size four door model available as a sedan or ALPINA sedan

In addition to the numbered series, BMW has four groups of vehicles designated by letters:

  • X Models – A line of SUVs and crossovers (or what BMW refers to as Sports Activity Vehicles and Sports Activity Coupes)

  • Z4 Model – A two door roadster

  • M Models – A high-performance version of many BMW models is grouped into the M Models (e.g. the M3 is a high-performance version of the 3 Series sedan).

  • BMW i – BMW’s line of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles


Gran Coupe, Gran Turismo and ALPINA

As you may have noticed above, BMW offers a number of brand-specific vehicle types. These include:

  • Gran Coupe – A Gran Coupe is a four door version of a coupe. It retains the curves and styling of a smaller two door vehicle with the added roominess of a four door. Both the 4 Series and 6 Series are available as Gran Coupes.

  • Gran Turismo – A Gran Turismo is a four door sedan with a higher driving position and a wagon-like trunk. This higher roofline car is available in the 3 and 5 series.

  • ALPINA Sedan and ALPINA Gran Coupe – ALPINA Automobiles is a separate company from BMW. The BMW ALPINA lines are a higher performance variant of the 6 Series and 7 Series (think of the Shelby Mustang vs. the standard Ford Mustang). Because of the close relationship between the two brands, ALIPNA vehicles are all produced in BMW factories on their normal production lines. 


Numbering within Series

In past years the last two digits of the number in each series used to refer to the displacement size of the engine (e.g. the 328i Sedan had a 2.8-liter engine). Now the numbers roughly show the performance of the engine with a higher number reflecting more power. The 328i Sedan now has a 240-hp 2.0-liter Twin Power Turbo inline 4-cylinder engine while the 335i Sedan has a 300-hp 3.0-liter Twin Power Turbo inline 6-cylinder engine.


Gas, Diesel and Hybrid Designations

Traditionally, the first letter after the number of each vehicle was an “i” on gas models (the “i” stands for fuel-injected) or a “d” for diesel vehicles. This changed with the addition of a hybrid engine to the 3 Series, 5 Series and 7 Series sedans. BMW refers to these as the ActiveHybrid 3, ActiveHybrid 5 and ActiveHybrid 7.


xDrive vs. sDrive

This designation simply refers to whether a vehicle is 2-wheel drive (sDrive) or 4-wheel drive (xDrive). The full name of the all-wheel drive version will have xDrive spelled out (e.g. 328i xDrive Sedan).

To add further confusion the X Models are available in both 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive. The X1, X3, X5 and X6 are all available with both sDrive and xDrive resulting in a model name like X5 sDrive35i or X3 xDrive28d. (Hopefully you’ve learned enough to deduce that the former has a gas engine while the latter is a diesel vehicle.)



Finally, BMW offers several line choices within individual models to enhance the look and feel of the standard trim. These are essentially specialized configurations of options, some of which are only available as part of a line. Available lines include:

  • Luxury Line – The Luxury Line upgrades include the wheels, steering wheel and interior trim.
  • xLine – BMW adds one final “x” to the collection with the xLine which is available on select X Models. Upgrades include wheels, roof rails and steering wheel.
  • Sport Line – The Sport Line adds features like upgraded wheels and a sports steering wheel and seats.

  • M Sport Line – In addition to the M Models discussed above, BMW also offers an M Sport Line on select vehicles. This adds features such as M wheels, an M steering wheel, a sports instrument cluster and an M aerodynamic kit. The M Sport Line also adds unique color choices to certain models.


Whether or not your next vehicle is a BMW, Cartelligent can help you understand your options and get a great deal on exactly what you want. Call our team of car-buying experts at 888-427-4270 or get started today.