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May 2014 Behind the Wheel - The Numbers Simply Don’t Add Up

Greg Emmerson
Mar 18, 2014

I've had some surprisingly heated debates with people confused by BMW's new numbering system. The division of the 3 Series range and subsequent introduction of the 4 Series seems to have riled people.

The concept is relatively straightforward, although exceptions to the rule do muddy the waters. So anything with two doors gets an even number - 2, 4, 6. While anything with four doors gets an odd number - 1, 3, 5, 7. This includes the X models - X1, X3 and X5 being conventional SUVs, whereas the X6 and forthcoming X4 (plus rumored X2) are coupes.

And here comes the mud in the water. Those X coupes are also four-door models, as is the 6 Series Gran Coupe and imminent 4 Series Gran Coupe. So the new rule is odd numbers are sedans, even numbers are coupes and convertibles.

The new format will make models easier to identify. Imagine if all the derivatives about to be spawned by the 3 Series - sedan, wagon, coupe, convertible, Gran Turismo, Gran Coupe and who knows what else - were called 335i? At least the 435i has halved the possible variations the badge could refer to...

While I know there are more important issues in the world, it's not the model number that's troubling me, it's the remainder...

I imagine there was a small room in a large office building in Munich where a man used to sit and think of numbers for BMW. His greatest hits included M3 and M5, while 320 was pretty good, Z1 and X5 weren't bad, and M535i had a nice ring to it.

Sadly, he lost his job. He must have done. Have you seen the new naming system? It used to be that a 325i was simply a 3 Series with a 2.5-liter engine that was fuel injected. However, what should be called the BMW 330i Turbo is actually the 335i because it's trying to sell against larger capacity competitors.

What's wrong with 330i Turbo? Or is "Turbo" too cliched since it's applied to everything from vacuum cleaners to toasters?

I'll concede there's precedence for increasing the engine numbers when a turbo is fitted, such as the E23 745i, which had a 3.2-liter motor with a 1.4 multiplier applied for the turbo installation.

In fact, there were always exceptions to its model number/engine capacity badging rule, but they were few and far between.

That can't excuse the latest naming system. Who can forget the classic 1 Series M Coupe? Or how about the Z4 sDrive35is: This catchy name indicates it's a Z4 with RWD with a 3.0L turbo motor with the hotter "s" specification.

In BMW speak, "sDrive" refers to rear-wheel drive, with "x" meaning AWD. And we can expect another prefix when the proposed FWD models arrive...

Let's just say these new names are clumsy and leave it there. With so many (too many) models, differentiating between them was always going to be a problem. And while I don't necessarily have a simpler solution, is this the best way to do it?

Let us know if you have any better BMW badging ideas.

Moby Dick

I particularly enjoyed the photos from the gathering of Porsche Le Mans winners in this issue. I've always been a fan of the 935 derivatives and figured that if a car deserved a nickname, it had to be extra special. And "Moby Dick" was a great way to describe the giant whaletail on its rump.

The cars had a fearsome reputation, both for winning races and terrifying drivers, which added to the mystique of these Martini-liveried machines that would kickstart the dreams of so many young enthusiasts. After all, the 911 Turbo was the first pinup for most of us, and the 935 was the ultimate expression of this bedroom wall favorite.

I'd love to have seen video from this event but we didn't have anybody filming it. However, you can see footage of our adventures with the Audi RS4 replica online at In addition to our featured videos, you'll find the latest news and events. Or join our Facebook page to see what we're up to each month..

Greg Emmerson

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By Greg Emmerson
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