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It’s difficult to pick the five cars that conclusively define the BMW brand. The German manufacturer has been associated with some of the most powerful, and high performing vehicles in automotive history, and has been particularly distinguished by its luxury, coupe, sedan, and sports cars, many of which have gone down as bestselling vehicles around the world. Choosing cars for this list consequently means having to leave out some worthy models, with the list broadly representing a subjective overview of some of the cars that are best associated with the BMW brand. These cars include the BMW 3, 5, and 7 Series, the M Series, and the BMW Z4.

1 – BMW 7 Series

This full size luxury series was introduced in 1977 around sedan and limousine models, and represents the pinnacle of size and power for the BMW brand. Early models included the E23 and the E32, which made use of a straight six V8 engines, and also features stretch versions. The E38, produced from 1994 to 2001, also highlighted the 7 Series’ pioneering of new automatic assists and other electronic technologies. The 7 Series also became associated with flagship sedans, while the E65 and E66 models, produced from 2001 to 2008, introduced iDrive and new engine specifications, setting up the current F01 and F02 V8 and V12 petrol and diesel versions of the car.

2 – BMW 3 Series

One of BMW’s most popular brands, the 3 Series has long been regarded as the market leader for compact executive cars. Introduced in 1975, the 3 Series led BMW’s changing production habits alongside the M Series, and was intended as a replacement for the BMW New Class. Successive variants on the 3 Series have included compact, saloon, touring, coupe, and convertible ranges, which have formed the basis of E21, E30, E36, E46, and E90 cars. These models have been traditionally engineered to make use of an inline six engine, and four cylinder diesel engines, as well as lightweight aluminum bodies.


3 – BMW 5 Series

Just as iconic, in some respects, has been the 5 Series, arguably BMW’s ideal combination of power and accessibility. The 5 Series typically uses six to eight cylinder engines with automatic and six speed automatic transmissions, with more recent models using 2.0 litre turbo petrol, and 3.0 litre diesel types. The midsized executive 5 series was first launched in 1972, and is most typically associated with sedan and touring cars. The more recent F10 and F11 series has made use of a twin turbo V8 engine.

4 – BMW M Series

This high performance sports series was developed as part of BMW’s M-Technik program, and was launched in 1972. Models adapted existing parts of the New Class and 3 and 5 Series, with early cars including the 3.0 CSL, and the M1. As a race car modified for road use, the M series became one of BMW’s flagship sports cars in the 1980s and 1990s. The M Series has been particularly distinguished by its decision to avoid supercharging and turbocharging, and by its use of manual and semi-automatic transmissions, as well as naturally aspirated engines. Recent models have been adapted to reduce CO2 emissions.

5 – BMW Z Series

BMW’s roadster series has had many different iterations, which have included two door convertibles in the 1950s, and the more recent Z1, Z3, and Z8 models. The Z4 is the current model, and reflects experiments in 2 door roadster and 2 door coupe cars. The inline six engine, and manual and automatic transmission options for the Z series have also anchored coupes, super cars, and concept vehicles. The roadster design, which has gone from being a limited production model, to one of BMW’s most popular brands, has also been joined with the M Series to produce the Z3.

Rob James is a mechanic and kit car enthusiast.  His first car project was a BMW Series 3 he bought at an auction and renovated back in 1999.  Rob likes to blog about kit cars, general maintenance, and BMW enthusiast rallies.