With the proliferation of crossovers, BMW’s lineup has blossomed in recent years and it will continue to grow with the imminent addition of a flagship SUV sitting at the very top of the X family. Concomitantly, the electric portfolio is blossoming with more and more i-badged models like the i4, iX, and forthcoming EV versions of the X1, 5 Series, and 7 Series.
Then there are the traditional models, with the 3 Series Sedan spawning a not-a-coupe 4 Series Gran Coupe while the sole member of the 6 Series is now the oddball Gran Turismo. The 8 Series has returned and is offered in coupe, convertible, and four-door “coupe” forms. With the lineup booming, BMW even has a dedicated department called Strategic Naming and Vehicle Identification.
These people are working around the clock to come up with new names that make sense in regards to the model’s positioning in the range, the type of traction (FWD, RWD, AWD), and the identity of the engine and how much power it delivers. Sounds simple? Well, it isn’t.
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In its official podcast dubbed “Changing Lanes,” BMW explains how the cars are named. The ol’ simple days when the digits in the middle represented the engine displacement are mostly gone, and the example provided by the company is the 745e. The “7” still refers to the model series, in this case being the 7 Series, with uneven numbers used for conventional models while even ones are typically for sportier offerings. You knew that, right?
This is where it gets really interesting because the digits in the middle, “45” in this case, don’t necessarily represent the engine displacement in liters since a 745e is not powered by a 4.5-liter unit. Instead, BMW models are ranked by power per kilowatt, and vehicles with 300 to 350 kilowatts fall into the “45” category. Audi has had a similar nomenclature in India and China for a while, with Euro cars adopting the same strategy from early 2018. However, the intervals in kilowatts are different than what BMW is using because “45” in Audi’s lineup means cars with 169-185 kW, so far less powerful.
Gallery: BMW M340i xDrive Touring First Edition
That might sound confusing (and it still kind of is), but BMW argues it was necessary given how diverse powertrains are nowadays, with plenty of gasoline diesel, mild-hybrid, and plug-in hybrid configurations available. The last letter shouldn’t be a mystery as the “e” represents a plug-in hybrid, much like “i” stands for gasoline injection cars and “d” for diesels.
The roadster and X models also get the “sDrive” or the “xDrive” suffix depending on whether these have two- or four-wheel drive, respectively. sDrive used to exclusively mean rear-wheel drive until a few years ago, but some of BMW’s compact cars now come with front-wheel drive, such as the 1 Series hatchback, 2 Series Active Tourer, 2 Series Gran Coupe, and the X1 / X2 crossovers. Thankfully, the new 2 Series Coupe still has a tail-happy character.
Gallery: 2019 BMW Z4 M40i: First Drive
Then there are the M Performance cars, which have the “M” before the car”s designation, but there are two exceptions as the X and Z models have the “world’s most powerful letter” after the vehicle’s name: X5 M50i, Z4 M40i, etc. In the rare case an M Performance car is available with both two- and four-wheel drive, the “sDrive” or “xDrive” term is added at the end.
As for the full-fat M models, SUVs have the “M” at the end while the sedans, coupes, and convertibles have it in the beginning, with the first-ever M3 Touring to follow suit. A fully fledged M version of the Z4 roadster used to follow the same strategy as the SUVs, but the Z4 M is now a thing of the past.
In regards to the fully electric versions, the “i” (from “innovation”) comes first. There used to be i-badged cars that still had a combustion engine, but the i8 roadster has been discontinued and the i3 is no longer available with a range-extending gasoline engine (i3 REx). If the EV is only two-wheel drive, there’s an “eDrive” at the end to mirror the “sDrive” used for ICE-powered models. Four-wheel-drive models get the familiar “xDrive” suffix.
This puzzle of letters and words makes it easier for BMW to have consistency when it comes to giving new cars logical designations as compared to using actual names. That makes sense since even though real names are more appealing, it would be quite difficult to come up with so many monikers (that would reflect the positioning in the range, type of propulsion, etc.) given the expanding portfolio.
Needless to say, there are exceptions. The iX and we’re fairly certain it will be the same story with the new SUV debuting at the end of the month. Contrary to reports stating it would be called X8, the new X-badged range topper is expected to go by the Citroën-esque name of XM to signal it’s a dedicated M car taking the shape of an SUV (X model). The hotly anticipated model is rumored to get a twin-turbo, 4.4-liter V8 hybrid with over 700 horsepower. It debuts on November 29, complete with an already controversial split headlight design.
Eventually, things will be simplified what with the combustion engine living on borrowed time…
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