For the past year or so the internet echo chamber has been ragging pretty heavily on BMW for the changes it's making to its naming structure. It's not just commenters either; the Hooniverse guys discussed it on their latest podcast, among others. I thought I'd show the new naming scheme the way I see it to maybe clear it up. Here's the way it stands right now:
Small hatchback = 1 series
Coupe/cabrio version of the 1 series = 2 series
Compact sedan/wagon = 3 series
Coupe/cabrio version of the 3 series = 4 series
Full-size sedan/wagon = 5 series
Coupe/cabrio version of the 5 series = 6 series
- "4-door coupe" of the 6 series = 6 Gran Coupe
Executive sedan = 7 Series
There you have it. Everything falls neatly into place. All core models are odd-numbered, with coupe derivations bumped up by one. Even-numbered BMW coupes have been around for a long time with the 6 and 8 coupes. Sure, there are a few stragglers like, the 6 Gran Coupe, and the GT models, that don't fit so neatly into this scheme, but they still make sense. the 3 and 5 GT's come from the 3 and 5 series respectively.
But why, you may ask, doesn't BMW leave its coupes alone? The 3 coupe and sedan used to be under the 3-series banner, all 1-series cars were called 1-series, and all was right with the world. Don't forget though, that the 6 series was always a stand-alone coupe, and rightfully so. It had unique bodywork and a more exclusive image than the 5-series. Calling it the 535i Coupe would have made the model a lot more ... ordinary. The reason BMW is expanding this idea to the 3- and 1-series is the same - to distinguish the coupe/cabrio as a unique product with a more exclusive appeal. The shift comes down to this: what is a coupe? is it simply anything with two doors, Or is it something more special?
To illustrate this point take a look at these two coupes. One is a 2-door e46. It's handsome enough, but its proportions and silhouette are barely distinguishable from the e46 sedan. Does that make it awful? No, just more pedestrian. But take a look at this GTV: it is a completely unique piece of kit. Though based on the 155, the GTV is designed from the ground up to have two doors. It couldn't exist any other way. The GTV truly embraces why people buy coupes: for themselves to enjoy. Otherwise, why pass up the practicality and, in most cases, pay more? Now to go back to BMW's. The e90 coupe already had some unique bodywork and the differences will be even more pronounced in the upcoming 4 series. Karim Habib, head of BMW design, says as much:
Where things get a little confusing is the engine designations. In the good old days you'd read "325i" on the back of a BMW, and you would know it had a 2.5 liter engine; "540i" denoted a 4 liter engine, and so on. Nowadays the 328i has a 2 liter turbo four, the 320i also has a 2 liter turbo four, and the 335i has a 3 liter six. Why is that? Because as turbos become more prevalent, engine displacement is less relevant as a marker of performance, especially when there are multiple same-displacement versions of the same car. As a result the ending letters of BMW model names are abstract representations of how powerful a particular model is in relation to others. 320<328
If any company is truly a culprit of confusing naming, it's Mercedes and their coupes. The C class coupe was at various times called the C Coupe, CLC, CLK. (Pictured above is a C-based CLK, which inexplicably had the E's rear.) So, at least all C-derived coupes start with C, right? Wrong! The E class coupe used to be the CL. The "4-door coupe" of the E/CL is the CLS. Ok, so add an S to the end of a coupe name, and you have a faux-coupe, right? Wrong! The SLS has nothing to do with the SL. Neither does the SLK, the smallest Mercedes coupe/roadster. The CLA isn't based on the CL/C/CLK . That's a company that truly has no clue about coherent naming structures.*
What does the internet say? Is it ready to get over BMW's new naming structure?
*I may have gotten some of the Merc designations wrong, which doesn't help their case either way. - edit - Yep, I definitely messed up. Refer to Aya-'s and AMGWTFBBQ's posts for more accuracy.