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What are the best BMW models?

BMW has made some cracking cars over the years, but which are the best? Here are 10 that sit above the rest

a dark green and gold BMW M5 driving on a countryside road in britain

Ever since 1916, BMW has been designing, engineering, and building some of the world’s best and most advanced cars.

Like many car companies in the early 1900s, BMW began building planes but soon moved onto the motor car – and it’s a good thing they did because otherwise, the cars below wouldn’t exist.

To celebrate over 100 years of the German brand, here are 10 of the best BMW models ever made, including some from the past, and some you can still buy nearly new today.

BMW E30 M3 (1986-1991)

a red bmw e30 m3 driving on a narrow road

Every company has its legacy model, whether it’s Ferrari with the F40, Lamborghini with the Countach, or even Apple with the iMac – they all have one, and so does BMW.

In the mid-80s, the world was introduced to the BMW E30 M3 – the first in the hardcore 3 Series model range.

It saw the arrival of a large rear wing and a glorious 238hp naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, which helped it to become the street version of the most successful DTM racing car of all time, giving it a top speed of 146mph.

While you can’t buy a BMW E30 M3 on cinch, you can buy a newer used BMW 3 Series or M3 that’s much more comfortable and modern, meaning you can impress your friends without the risk of breaking down.

BMW i8 (2014-2020)

a blue bmw i8 driving on a country road in the uk

When the world first became interested in fast electric cars and hybrid technology, BMW made sure to take advantage with its i8 coupé (later available as a roadster).

Not only did this sports car feature a clever plug-in hybrid system, but it also had an environmentally-friendly design that used lightweight, high-strength carbon fibre and aluminium to form its base.

This meant it was ahead of its time when compared to models from rival brands. Power came from an electric motor paired with a turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, allowing for a 0-62mph time of just 4.4 seconds.

The i8 also looks and sounds like a spaceship, so you know that wherever you go, you’ll be the coolest person in the car park.

Another model that’s similar in many ways yet serves a completely different purpose is the BMW i3, which to many people is the future classic hybrid/electric car to have.

BMW M2 (2015-present)

a hockenheim silver bmw m2 driving on a narrow country road

The BMW M2 is the smallest ‘M’ car you can buy, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive. It's a highlight among small BMW models.

In fact, the 2 Series-based M2 is a desirable pocket rocket that’s perfect for both those wanting to show off and thrill-seekers who are after an excellent road trip cruiser.

Under the bonnet, you’re greeted by the same twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre engine you’d find in a BMW M3 or M4 but with less power, as it’s been detuned.

Well, we say less power – it’s still punting out 460hp and 550Nm of torque.

If you’re a driving fanatic then the six-speed manual gearbox option is probably the one you’ll pick, but the eight-speed automatic transmission is better if you do a lot of city driving or just want those lightning-fast shifts and grunty downshifts.

BMW M4 (2014-present)

a yellow bmw m4 competition driving around the nurburgring race track

Like the four-door M3, the M4 coupé is a swish, practical sports car that attracts those who want strong performance, great looks, and rumbling exhaust notes.

Powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six engine that produces 510hp, this German brute stacks up well against its Alfa Romeo Giulia and Audi RS5 rivals.

Newer models include variants such as the manual M4 CSL, hardcore M4 Competition, and the calmer M440i xDrive model.

Being based on the 4 Series, you’re getting an excellent driving experience no matter which trim you choose – all of them are stylish, practical (for a 500hp sports car) and packed full of tech.

BMW X5 (1999-present)

a blue BMW X5 M driving

To purists, it may seem slightly strange to include an SUV on a list of the best BMWs, but the X5 M offers way more than you may think.

When it was first launched, it offered a higher driving position and off-road capabilities – things we didn’t know we wanted/needed until years after.

But aside from that, the ‘M’ performance variant – launched in 2009 – was one of the first super-SUVs you could buy, offering the first-ever turbocharged M Power V8 that produced 560hp.

To put that into perspective, that was more power than you’d find in a Ferrari F430 from that time – in an SUV!

Since then, it has gone on to become one of the most popular models in BMW’s lineup, making way for others such as the X2, X4, X6, and larger X7.

BMW Z8 (1999-2003)

a red BMW Z8 driving on a road

There’s always that one dark horse in a car company’s lineup – you can get a used Audi RS2, or the AMG Hammer from Mercedes, but BMW has the Z8.

Most popular for its role in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, the Z8 is a two-door roadster powered by a V8 that sent 395hp directly to the rear wheels.

It had a short production run of just four years, but in that time, BMW made just shy of 6,000 units, with some being sent to Alpina for some performance and visual upgrades.

Being so old and rare, you’re almost never going to see one for sale – let alone on the road – but the closest thing BMW makes now is the Z4 sports car. It may not be as unique, but it sure is a keen driver’s dream.

BMW E46 M3 CSL (2000-2006)

a silver bmw e46 m3 csl parked in front of a hill

Sure, there’s already an M3 on this list, but these two models couldn’t be further apart in terms of driving experience and capabilities.

The E30 is a cult classic that was made famous by its race car twin, but the E46 M3 CSL is living proof of what the ‘M’ division boffins can do when given free rein over a product.

Sitting at its heart is a 3.0-litre straight-six engine that produces 360hp. With that engine combined with the fact it weighs just 1,385kg, there’s no wonder it can smash a 0-62mph sprint in just 4.9 seconds.

Modern iterations of this don’t really exist, at least not on the standard used car market. If you want to get a similar experience then your best option is a modern M3 or a Porsche 718 Cayman GT4.

BMW M5 (1984-present)

a dark green and gold BMW M5 driving on a countryside road in britain

BMW has been making the 5 Series since the ‘70s, but it was only about 10 years later that it decided to take it up a notch and send it to its M Division.

The ‘80s was the decade of excess, so why not take an ordinary family saloon and turn it into a supercar killer?

At the time of writing, there have been six different generations of M5 – each with a different character, but all with the same thrill.

Some of the most popular generations were the E28, E39 and E60. While all models were and are excellent, the best are the ones from 2016 onwards.

These offer so much more power, increased comfort, and all the tech you could possibly want to make your commute or weekend cruise as easy as possible.

BMW M8 Competition (2018-present)

A blue BMW 8 Series driving on a mountain road

The motoring world was left without the BMW 8 Series for almost two decades, so when it made its return in 2018, it was a relief.

It was reintroduced to rival the likes of the Porsche 911, Maserati GranTurismo and Audi RS7 by being one of the most luxurious ways to race across continents and eat up the miles.

Power comes from a 4.4-litre V8 that produces 630hp via an automatic gearbox. It’s also impressive inside thanks to its plush leather seats and high-quality infotainment system, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

You can also get the standard 8 Series, which isn’t as shouty, and it’s just as good on those longer journeys. Picking up a used BMW 8 Series is a great way to save money on a model as well.

BMW 1M Coupe (2010-2012)

an orange BMW 1m coupe driving on a race track

Before the M2 was released, the best small BMW sports car you could buy was the 1M Coupe, not to be confused with the BMW M1 supercar from the 70s.

This high-performance model based on the E82 1 Series range is a hoot to drive, offering increased driver involvement and great power.

Speaking of which, the engine in this is a six-cylinder unit that produces 340hp and sounds all the better for it.

Other than a larger engine, the 1M was also widened by 74mm at the front and 46mm at the rear to increase its corner capabilities and gave it a mean-looking stance.

Being the little icon that they are, finding one on the used market isn’t always easy, but great alternatives are the M140i or M135i models, which pack a serious punch for their size.

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